Incarceration affects your Medicare coverage. You are incarcerated if you are in prison, jail or in the custody of correctional authorities.

Medicare generally will not pay for your health care while you are incarcerated. Instead, your correctional facility will typically provide and pay for medical care while you are in custody.  Once you are released, Medicare will cover your care as long as you remain enrolled in Medicare and follow Medicare’s rules.

It’s best to keep Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (outpatient insurance) coverage while you are in prison or jail. If you become eligible for Medicare while you are incarcerated, it is best to enroll into Parts A and B when you qualify – even if you are still in prison. Although Medicare won’t cover your care, keeping it will ensure that Medicare is ready to pay for your care upon your release.

Most people pay no premium for Part A but to keep Part B coverage, you should continue paying Part B premium ($134 per month in 2018) while you are in custody. If you have a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan, you should stop paying these premiums while you are incarcerated.

If you fail to pay your Part B premiums while incarcerated, you will be disenrolled from Part B. If you are disenrolled from Part B, 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.

To avoid these premium penalties and gaps in health coverage when you are released, you need to take steps regarding your Medicare coverage once you are incarcerated. These steps will differ depending on whether you qualified for Medicare while you were incarcerated, or you had Medicare before incarceration.