The following is a question submitted by a Federal Times readers about retirement and other issues facing the federal workforce. It is answered by Reg Jones, a charter member of the senior executive service and a Federal Times columnist since 1995.

Question: My husband and I both recently retired. From what I understand, we have an eight month special enrollment period after my retirement as holder of the FEHB. In order to avoid the penalty, he would need to sign up for Medicare Part B by sometime in February (or as of March 1?).

Does he have to sign up for Part B by next February/March 1 or can he wait until May/June since it’s within the year after eligibility before the part B penalty would kick in? In other words, does it follow the holder of the health plan instead? Do we have one year before the penalty would kick in, or does the eight month SEP take precedence and the penalty would be effective after March 1?

Since I won’t be 65 yet when his eight month special enrollment period ends, what should we do? I heard it mentioned one can change plans once outside of open season? Could this apply in some way to our situation?

Reg’s Response: The rules are straightforward. You and your husband may enroll in Medicare during the eight-month period that begins the first full month that you are no longer covered under the group health plan based on your current employment. You may switch your FEHB enrollment at any time beginning on the 30th day before becoming eligible for Medicare under exception 2L of the Qualified Life Events That Permit Enrollment to Change. As you noted, this change may only be made once in a lifetime. However, that doesn’t prevent you from making other plan or option changes during any annual Open Season.

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Reg Jones is the resident expert on retirement and the federal government at Federal Times. From 1979 until 1995, he served as an assistant director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management handling recruiting and examining, white and blue collar pay, retirement, insurance and other issues. Opinions expressed are his own.

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