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Under the federal Extra Help program, you get low-cost Part D prescription drug coverage.

To see if you qualify for either program, contact your state health insurance assistance program (SHIP), which provides free counseling on Medicare issues.

In many such plans, Medicare automatically becomes primary coverage and the plan pays only for a few services that Medicare doesn't cover.If you buy a medigap policy within six months of enrolling in Part B or in a few other specific circumstances, medigap insurers can't deny you coverage or charge higher premiums based on your current health or pre-existing medical conditions. (People under 65 don't get this federal umbrella, but some states provide similar protections.) The six-month window that you are given after enrolling in Part B is a one-time opportunity.So if you sign up for Part B when you're 65, but continue to have employer insurance from your own or your spouse's current employment beyond the six-month deadline, you will fail to qualify for federal protections if you want to buy medigap when you (or your spouse) retire.And when you do finally enroll, you'd risk late penalties permanently added to your Part D premiums — unless you have "creditable" drug coverage from elsewhere (such as retiree benefits) that Medicare considers at least as good as Part D. If you're coming into Medicare for the first time, you get your own enrollment period — either around the time that you turn 65, or throughout the time you have your own health coverage from your employment or your spouse's employment, and for up to eight months after it ends.One solution (if you don't have such drug coverage from elsewhere): Pick the plan with the lowest premium, so you get coverage at the least cost. Misunderstanding enrollment periods You may have read about "open enrollment" and gotten the idea that this is the only time you can sign up for Medicare. If you miss your personal deadlines because you're waiting for open enrollment, you risk delayed coverage and permanent late penalties.You don't pay monthly premiums for Part A if you (or your spouse) paid sufficient Medicare payroll taxes while working.

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