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25-Sep-2017 16:54

What if you haven't contributed enough in payroll taxes to get Part A benefits without having to pay premiums?

You may qualify on the work record of your spouse or, in some circumstances, a divorced or dead spouse.

En español l If you're just becoming eligible for Medicare, the open enrollment period at the end of the year (Oct. As a Medicare newbie, you get an enrollment period of your very own. But you don't need any credits to qualify for the other parts of Medicare: Part B (doctors' services, outpatient care and medical equipment) and Part D (prescription drug coverage).

That time frame specifically allows people who are already in Medicare the option to change their coverage for the following year if they want to. (Part A covers stays in the hospital and skilled nursing facilities, some home health services and hospice care.) If you don't know how many credits you have, call Social Security at 800-772-1213.

With that awesome milestone coming up fast — the one with 65 written all over it — you may be panicking about what to do about Medicare. As long as you're 65 or over and an American citizen or a legal resident who's lived in the United States for at least five years, you can get these benefits just by paying the required monthly premiums, same as anybody else.

Those payroll taxes that were deducted from your paycheck while you worked mean only that after turning 65 you can get Part A benefits without paying monthly premiums for them — provided that you've contributed enough to earn 40 credits (or "quarters"), which is equivalent to about 10 years of work.

This is also true if you're self-employed or if it's your spouse who is the working partner.

To avoid late penalties, you must sign up for Medicare within eight months of the employment ending, whether or not you've returned to the United States by that time.

Getting it right is crucial in avoiding mistakes that could cost you a lot of money and hassle in the future. The when, what, where, who and why of Medicare depend on your own circumstances.

But if your income and savings are limited, you may qualify for programs that can eliminate or reduce those costs: To find out if you qualify for any of these programs, and for help in navigating Medicare's options, contact your state health insurance assistance program (SHIP), which provides personal help from trained counselors on all Medicare and Medicaid issues — free of charge.

Toll-free phone numbers for each SHIP are provided on the program's website, SHIPtalk. Medicare" column and is the author of Medicare for Dummies.

Otherwise, you can choose to buy Part A by paying a monthly premium.

In 2015, this amounts to 7 a month if you have fewer than 30 work credits, or 4 a month for 30 to 39 credits.

If you're abroad and want to sign up for Medicare, you can do so by contacting the American embassy or consulate in your host country.