When Do I Sign Up for Medicare?

Subtitle: 

In this section:

  • When do I sign up for Medicare to avoid a penalty?
  • If I am enrolled in Medicare is my spouse automatically enrolled?
  • How do I sign up for Medicare?

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Am I eligible for Medicare?

Medicare is available to people 65 and older and people under 65 who meet certain criteria. See if you are eligible by clicking below:

65 or older

If you are 65 or older, you qualify for Medicare if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • You or your spouse receives or is eligible to receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement Benefits.
  • You or your spouse (living or deceased, including divorced spouses) worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid.
  • You are the dependent parent of a fully insured deceased child.

Under 65 and have certain disabilities

If you are younger than 65, you qualify for Medicare if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • You have been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for 24 months.
  • You receive a disability pension from the Railroad Retirement Board and meet certain conditions. See RRB.gov for details.
  • You receive Social Security disability benefits because you have Lou Gehrig’s disease—also referred to as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
  • You worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid and you have been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for 24 months.
  • You are the child or widow(er) age 50 or older, including a divorced widow(er), of someone who has worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid and you meet the requirements of the Social Security disability program.
  • You have permanent kidney failure and you receive maintenance dialysis or a kidney transplant and meet at least one of the following criteria:
    • You are eligible for or receive monthly benefits under Social Security or the Railroad Retirement system.
    • You have worked long enough in a Medicare-covered government job.
    • You are the child or spouse (including a divorced spouse) of a worker (living or deceased) who has worked long enough under Social Security or in a Medicare-covered government job.

When do I sign up for Medicare?

When you sign up for Medicare depends on your situation:

I am almost 65

Initial Enrollment Period

You can sign up for Medicare (Part A and Part B) 3 months before the month of your 65th birthday, during your birthday month, or 3 months after your 65th birthday month. This is called the Initial Enrollment Period.

If your birthday falls on the 1st of the month, Medicare treats it as if your birthday took place in the previous month. So, if your birthday is on May 1, Medicare treats it as an April birthday and your 7-month window is shifted back 1 month.

Calculate your Initial Enrollment Period

Your coverage doesn't begin right away.

When your coverage begins depends on when you sign up within the 7-month window.

Sign up 3 months before birthday

If you sign up for Medicare Part A and/or Medicare Part B during the first 3 months of your Initial Enrollment Period, your coverage begins on the first day of the month in which you turn 65.

Example:

Your 65th birthday is on May 20. If you sign up for Medicare in February, March, or April, your coverage will start on May 1.

Sign up during your birthday month or within 3 months after your birthday month.

The chart below lists when your coverage starts if you sign up during the month of your 65th birthday or if you signed up within three months after your birthday.

If you sign up... Your coverage begins...
The month you turn 65 1 month later
1 month after you turn 65 2 months later
2 months after you turn 65 3 months later
3 months after you turn 65 3 months later

I am 65 or older

65 or older and ready to retire

If you work past the age of 65 and get health care coverage through your employer, you can wait to sign up for Medicare (Part A and Part B) until you retire or your coverage with your employer expires. You have an 8-month window to sign up for Medicare (Part A and Part B) in this scenario. This is considered a Special Enrollment Period.

65 or older and still working

If you are 65 or older, currently employed, and get health care coverage through your employer, you can wait to sign up for Medicare (Part A and Part B) until you retire or your coverage with your employer expires. You have an 8-month window to sign up for Medicare (Part A and Part B) in this scenario. This is considered a Special Enrollment Period.

65 or older and have health insurance through my spouse

If you have health insurance through your spouse’s employer, you don’t need to sign up for Medicare (Part A and Part B) when you turn 65 or retire. You can sign up for Part A and Part B up to 8 months after your spouse’s employer coverage ends. This is considered a Special Enrollment Period.

However, you are not automatically covered by Medicare through your spouse. Unlike health insurance you may have had through your employer, Medicare does not allow you to receive coverage through your spouse. In order to receive Medicare coverage, you must apply for it individually.

Special enrollment situations

Medicare Special Enrollment Periods

There are certain Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) for Medicare that let you make changes to your Medicare Advantage plan and Medicare prescription drug coverage. Some situations that qualify as a Special Enrollment Period include moving, losing your current coverage, and more. Rules about when you can make changes and the type of changes you can make are different for each Special Enrollment Period. You can view a more comprehensive list of these scenarios on the Federal government’s Medicare website by clicking here.

Medicare Special Enrollment Periods

There are certain Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) for Medicare that let you make changes to your Medicare Advantage plan and Medicare prescription drug coverage. Some situations that qualify as a Special Enrollment Period include moving, losing your current coverage, and more. Rules about when you can make changes and the type of changes you can make are different for each Special Enrollment Period. You can view a more comprehensive list of these scenarios on the Federal government’s Medicare website by clicking here.

Medicare Part A late enrollment penalty

A 10% late enrollment penalty is applied to your monthly premium for twice the number of years you did not have Part A despite being eligible.

Medicare Part B late enrollment penalty

A 10% late enrollment penalty is applied to your monthly premium for twice the number of years you did not have Part B despite being eligible.

If you didn’t sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period or during a Special Enrollment Period, you can still sign up during the General Enrollment Period (January 1—March 31 of each year). However, it’s something you’ll want to avoid because coverage won’t begin until July 1. That may leave you uncovered for several months—and 100% responsible for any medical expenses you may have.

If your spouse is enrolled in Medicare, you are not automatically enrolled too

Unlike health insurance you may have had through your employer, Medicare does not allow you to receive coverage through your spouse. In order to receive Medicare coverage, you must apply for it individually.

How do I sign up for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)?

You sign up for Medicare (Part A and Part B) through the Social Security Office. You can complete your enrollment online at socialsecurity.gov, by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or by visiting your local Social Security office in person.

Find your local office

It’s important to remember that enrolling in Part A and B is just the first step in the process. Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) may not provide enough coverage. You will want to consider adding a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) and prescription drug coverage (Part D) for complete coverage. There is a penalty for not adding Part D when you are first eligible. 

Next Section: What do I need to know about prescription drug coverage?