You’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare at age 65 if you’re already receiving Social Security. If you aren’t receiving those benefits, you can enroll in one of three ways:
Applying online at Social Security’s site.
Calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
Visiting a local Social Security office in person.
The online application typically takes less than 10 minutes. If you want to visit a Social Security office, consider making an appointment in advance (which you can do online or by calling).
Medicare is also available to younger people who get Social Security disability benefits. Usually, they’re enrolled in Medicare automatically after 24 months. People who have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, automatically receive Medicare coverage the same month that they get their first disability check. People with kidney failure can apply for Medicare, with coverage typically starting on the first day of the fourth month of dialysis treatments.
When to enroll (if it’s not automatic)
If you’re not enrolled automatically, you should sign up in the three months before your 65th birthday. That way, coverage will start on the first day of your birthday month (unless you were born on the first day of the month, in which case coverage begins on the first day of the prior month).
You technically have seven months around your birthday to enroll. But your coverage could be delayed if you wait until your birthday month or the three months afterward to enroll. If you miss your initial window, there are several Medicare open enrollment periods that may apply to your situation.
Medicare comes in several parts
People who are enrolled automatically are generally enrolled in both Medicare Part A, which covers hospitals, and Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits. Part A normally doesn’t have premiums, but Part B does.
People who enroll themselves generally choose both Part A and Part B, although some delay signing up for Part B because they have other coverage. There could be penalties for delaying, so make sure you understand the rules.
You also can opt for additional coverage from private insurance companies. If you want prescription drug coverage, for example, you can enroll in a Medicare Part D plan. Many people also buy Medicare supplement insurance or “Medigap” to cover co-pays, deductibles and other expenses Medicare doesn’t cover. You have a six-month period after starting Part B to select a supplemental policy with “guaranteed issue,” meaning the insurer can’t turn you down or charge you more for preexisting conditions or other issues.
Another private insurance option to consider is Medicare Advantage, also known as Part C. These plans include all the benefits offered by Medicare Part A and Part B, as well as additional coverage.
After you sign up for Medicare, you’ll be mailed information about how Medicare works and how to shop for additional coverage.