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The Medicare eligibility age is 65, unless you qualify sooner because of certain health conditions. Before age 65, people can qualify for Medicare based on disability, end-stage renal disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS.
But don’t wait until after your 65th birthday to sign up for Medicare. You can and should sign up a few months before you turn 65.
Here’s what you need to know about your Medicare eligibility age and when to sign up.
What's the Medicare eligibility age?
For most people, Medicare eligibility starts at age 65. There are over 58 million people who qualify for Medicare based on age as of March 2023 — about 88% of all Medicare beneficiaries.
It’s also possible to qualify for Medicare before age 65 if you have certain disabilities.
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Do I automatically get Medicare when I turn 65?
Some people automatically get Medicare when they turn 65 — but not everyone does.
If you’re already receiving Social Security payments as you turn 65, you’ll be automatically signed up for Medicare Part A and Part B when you become eligible. (Even though the full retirement age for Social Security is 67 for people born in 1960 or later, you can start claiming reduced benefits as early as age 62.)
So if you started taking Social Security payments early, you’ll automatically get Medicare when you turn 65.
But you won’t automatically get Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) or a Medicare Advantage plan. If you want any of those options, you’ll still need to sign up as you’re turning 65.
Enroll in Medicare before your 65th birthday
You become eligible for Medicare at age 65, but you should sign up before that if you want your coverage to start as soon as possible.
You can sign up for Medicare during your initial enrollment period, which starts months before you turn 65 and lasts for seven months. For most people, it starts three months before the month you turn 65. So if your birthday is in April, for example, you could sign up starting Jan. 1. Your initial enrollment period ends on the last day of the month three months after you turn 65.
If your birthday is on the first of the month, your initial enrollment period starts earlier — four months before your birthday month, rather than three. So if your birthday is April 1, you could sign up starting the previous Dec. 1. For this example, your initial enrollment period would end June 30, or two months after your turn 65.
If you enroll before the month you turn 65, your coverage starts on the first day of your birthday month. If you sign up during or after your birthday month, Medicare coverage starts the month after you sign up.
If you miss the initial enrollment period, you might face late enrollment penalties when you sign up later.