If you turn 65 and qualify for Medicare while incarcerated, you should actively enroll in Medicare Parts A and B during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). You will not be eligible for automatic enrollment while you are incarcerated. If you enroll during your IEP, you can avoid late enrollment penalties and gaps in coverage when your incarceration ends.

To enroll in Part A and Part B, send a signed and dated letter to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that includes your name, Social Security number, clear statement that you want to enroll, and the date coverage should be effective. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter that you send. If possible, it is best to send paperwork via certified mail to ensure their delivery. 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 through March 31 of each year) to enroll, meaning your Medicare coverage won’t start until July 1. Also, delaying enrollment means that you may incur a Part B premium penalty, which will make your Medicare coverage more expensive.

Be sure to learn about how Medicare coverage works while you are incarcerated. For example, you will typically need to pay the Part B premium ($134 in 2018) each month to avoid being disenrolled, but Medicare typically will not pay for your medical care until you are released.

If you are under 65, qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and are within your two-year waiting period for Medicare before incarceration, the time you spend incarcerated will not count toward your two-year waiting period. Once your SSDI benefits are reinstated after your release, time spent toward your two-year waiting period will resume.