If you're like most Americans, you must actively disenroll from Medicare to be free of it: The government enrolls you automatically for both Medicare Part A (hospital services) and Part B (out-of-hospital services) when you turn 65.
Canceling any part of Medicare is a simple step with big implications for your bank account, even if you re-enroll later.
Canceling Part B
Part B premiums cost most enrollees $104.90 per month as of this writing. If you're enrolled automatically, premiums are deducted from your Social Security check. You must disenroll to avoid paying the premium.
Three months before you turn 65, you should receive your Medicare card in the mail. Opt-out instructions are included with that card. Benefits begin on the first day of the month you turn 65.
Otherwise, contact Social Security. You can find your local office through the Social Security website lookup page or phone 1-800-772-1213. You must speak in person to a Social Security agent, who will make sure that you know you're signing away a financial benefit. You'll also get a form that essentially double checks whether you really want to disenroll. The actual disenrollment form is CMS 1763.
If you drop Part B, you are on the hook for the full cost of out-of-hospital health care. You can re-enroll during the Open Enrollment Period for Parts A and B, which is the first quarter of every year. You will pay a late enrollment penalty of about 10 percent for each year you were out of the Part B program for as long as you have Part B
Canceling Part A
If you don't want Part A for whatever reason, you must disenroll from it separately from Part B. Contact your local Social Security office or phone 1-800-772-1213.
Having Part A, however, doesn't mean you have to use it -- and if you get Part A premium free, keeping it doesn't cost you a dime.
Canceling Part C
If you're in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) health plan, your Part B premium is helping pay for it. To discontinue Medicare, you'll have to disenroll from both the health plan and Part B.
If you just want to get out of your Part C plan, however, do not disenroll from Part B, and don't just stop paying Part C premiums. Your coverage will not automatically revert to original Medicare.
Instead, wait for the Open Enrollment Period (October 15 through December 7), when you can switch to original Medicare or a different plan. You can also wait for the Disenrollment Period (January through March), when you can go back to original Medicare, or find a way to qualify for a special enrollment period.
Canceling Part D
To disenroll from a Part D (prescription drug) plan, you must wait for the either the Open Enrollment Period to change or end the plan or the Disenrollment Period to end it. To drop or change the plan, call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), send a letter to the insurer, or fill out the insurer's disenrollment paperwork.
If you drop prescription drug coverage outside these periods for more than 63 days and then re-enroll, you'll pay a late enrollment penalty.
- Medicare.gov: When and How to Sign Up for Part A & Part B -- What if I Don't Want Part B?
- SocialSecurity.gov: Social Security Office Locator
- Medicare.gov: Special Circumstances (Special Enrollment Periods)
- Medicare.gov: Part A Costs (first bullet point)
- (5)SocialSecurity.gov: Medicare -- page 4, subhead "What is Medicare," last graf)
- Medicare.gov: Who Pays First? (Medicare and Veteran's Benefits, pp. 23-24)
- Medicare.gov: Medicare Costs at a Glance
- Medicare.gov: When can I join, switch, or drop a Medicare Advantage Plan?
- SocialSecurity.gov: Acknowledgment of Request for Medicare Part B Termination
- Texas Department of Insurance: Medicare Advantage Plans (Enrollment Periods, graf 1; Disenrollment, graf 1)
Sarah Brumley has written extensively on business and health-industry topics since 1995. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from Funk & Wagnall's yearbooks to "Medical Economics," a magazine for physicians. She holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.