If you turn 65 and qualify for Medicare while incarcerated,

  • You should actively enroll in Medicare Parts A and B when you become eligible.
    • You will not be automatically enrolled in Medicare.

You can enroll in Part A and Part B during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), which is the seven months that surround your 65th birthday. Your IEP includes the three months before, the month of, and the three months following your 65th birthday. If you enroll during your IEP, you shouldn’t have any late enrollment premium penalties or gaps in coverage when you leave prison.

To enroll in Part A and Part B, send a signed and dated letter to Social Security that includes your name, Social Security Number, clear statement that you want to enroll, and the date coverage should be effective. Protect yourself by keeping a copy of the letter you send and a copy of the envelope. Or, send the letter by certified mail with return receipt. Your application must contain your signature in order to be valid.

If you fail to enroll into Medicare while incarcerated, you may go months without health coverage upon your release. You may have to wait until the General Enrollment Period (January 1 –March 31 of every year) to enroll and wait until July 1 for your Part B coverage to start again. Also, if you are disenrolled from Part B you may face lifelong premium penalties which will make your Medicare coverage more expensive.

You can avoid premium penalties and gaps in coverage, if you qualify for a Medicare Savings Program (MSP) upon your release. MSPs pay your Part B premium, waive late enrollment penalties and allow you to enroll into Medicare outside of enrollment periods. In some states, you may be able to apply for an MSP while you are still in custody. If you do qualify for an MSP, aim to enroll into the MSP in the two months before your release or, if your state does not allow you to apply while you are in custody, as soon as you are released.

For more information regarding eligibility and application requirements for an MSP in your state, contact your local Medicaid office or your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). You can find you SHIP phone number at www.shiptacenter.org.

Keep in mind that you if you are under 65 and qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), are in the middle of your two-year waiting period for Medicare before incarceration, the time you spend in prison will not count towards to your two year waiting period. Once your SSDI benefits restart after your release, time spent against your two-year waiting period will resume.