Signing Up for Medicare

If you’re new to Medicare, you may understandably have a lot of questions about how and when to sign up for Medicare.

Most people qualify for Medicare if they are 65 or older. However, how you sign up may vary, depending on your situation and, in some cases, how you qualify for Medicare. For example, some beneficiaries are automatically enrolled in Medicare, while others need to manually sign up for it.

Read on to learn more about how Medicare enrollment works and what you need to do to get coverage.

When to sign up for Medicare

In most cases, you’re automatically enrolled in Original Medicare, Part A and Part B, if you’re already receiving retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board before you turn 65. In this situation, your Medicare coverage will automatically start on the first day of the month that you turn 65. If your birthday falls on the first day of the month, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare on the first day of the month before you turn 65.

You’ll generally also be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B if you’re receiving disability benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board for at least two years; if you qualify for Medicare because of disability, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare in the 25th month of disability benefits. If you get Medicare because you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare in the first month that your disability benefits starts; you don’t need to wait two years in this case.

You can expect to get your Medicare card in the mail about three months before your 65th birthday or the 25th month of disability benefits if you’re automatically enrolled.

If none of the above situations applies to you, you’ll need to manually sign up for Medicare. This includes:

  • If you’re not receiving retirement benefits yet.
  • If you qualify for Medicare because you have end-stage renal disease.
  • If you live in Puerto Rico and want to sign up for Medicare Part B. Note: You’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A

Most people who qualify by age can sign up for Medicare during their Initial Enrollment Period, which is the seven-month period that starts three months before you turn 65, includes the month of your 65th birthday, and ends three months later.

If you missed your Initial Enrollment Period, your next chance to enroll in Medicare is during the General Enrollment Period, which runs from January 1 to March 31 each year. However, keep in mind that you may face a late-enrollment penalty for Medicare Part A and/or Part B if you didn’t sign up when you were first eligible.

You may be able to enroll in Medicare outside of the above situations if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. For example, you may have delayed Medicare enrollment if you were working when you turned 65 and had health coverage through your current employer. In this situation, you’ll have an eight-month Special Enrollment Period to sign up for Medicare that starts when your health coverage ends or when you stop working, whichever happens first. You usually won’t owe a late-enrollment penalty if you sign up through a Special Enrollment Period.

Keep in mind that COBRA insurance doesn’t count as health coverage based on current employment, so don’t wait until your COBRA coverage ends to enroll, or you could wind up having to pay a late-enrollment penalty.

Medicare eligibility if you have end-stage renal disease

You may qualify for Medicare at any age if you have end-stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure, also known as ESRD), need regular kidney dialysis, or if you’ve had a kidney transplant. In addition, you’ll need to be already receiving or eligible for retirement benefits or have worked long enough under Social Security, the Railroad Retirement Board, or as a government employee in order to qualify. You can also qualify for Medicare through the work history of your spouse or dependent child.

Certain waiting periods may apply before your Medicare coverage can start. Contact Medicare for more details on eligibility and enrollment if you have end-stage renal disease by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), 24 hours a day, seven days a week (TTY users, please dial 1-877-486-2048).

How to sign up for Medicare

You can enroll in Original Medicare through the Social Security Administration or, if you worked for a railroad, the Railroad Retirement Board.

You can apply through Social Security in the following ways:

  • Online: Visit SSA.gov to apply through the Social Security website. In many cases, you can apply for retirement benefits and Medicare at the same time. If you’re not yet ready to retire, you can apply for Medicare only.
  • By phone: Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users, call 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday, from 7AM to 7PM.
  • In-person: Visit a Social Security office near you to apply in person. Use the Social Security Office Locator to find office locations near you.

If you worked at a railroad, you can sign up for Medicare through the Railroad Retirement Board by calling 1-877-772-5772 (TTY users, call 1-312-751-4701), Monday through Friday, 9AM to 3:30PM.

Signing up for Medicare plans

Once you’re enrolled in Original Medicare, Part A and Part B, you may have other options available to you. Some of those might include:

  • Medicare Prescription Drug Plans, which provide stand-alone prescription drug coverage that works alongside Original Medicare.
  • Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans, which also work alongside Original Medicare and help cover costs like copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.
  • Medicare Advantage plans, which are an alternative way to get your Original Medicare coverage and may also cover extra benefits like routine vision, dental, or prescription drugs.

Enrollment for each of these types of coverage works differently, including eligibility and when you can enroll. If you’re interested in Medicare prescription drug coverage, Medigap insurance, or Medicare Advantage plans, you can contact the plan directly to sign up. You can also find plan options through a licensed insurance broker like eHealth.

If you’d like to learn more or get help finding Medicare plan options that may work for your situation, contact an eHealth licensed insurance agent to get personalized assistance with your Medicare needs. Or, if you prefer, you can start comparing Medicare plan options right now using the eHealth plan finder tool on this page.

This website and its contents are for informational purposes only. Nothing on the website should ever be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your medical provider regarding diagnosis or treatment for a health condition, including decisions about the correct medication for your condition, as well as prior to undertaking any specific exercise or dietary routine.


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