When to Sign up for Medicare

Many Americans aren’t sure about how and when to sign up for Medicare and that confusion may lead to unnecessary penalties for late enrollment. It’s worth your time to familiarize yourself with the enrollment deadlines and to understand how they affect you and your coverage.

When to Sign up for Medicare

Figuring out when to sign up for Medicare can be confusing, and understanding many of the terms and acronyms can further add to the confusion. Here are answers to some of the top questions people have when they are trying to figure out when to enroll:

How do I enroll in Medicare for the first time?

You can sign up for Medicare Part A which is often called hospital insurance, and Medicare Part B, which is often called medical insurance, (also known as Original Medicare) when you meet any one of the following situations:

  • You are 65 or older
  • You have a disability
  • You have end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)

When you are ready to sign up for Medicare, you should contact the Social Security Office to begin the process. They will help you determine if you are eligible for Original Medicare and explain how to sign up.

When should I start my application for Medicare?

If you are a qualifying person who has already started receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits at least four months before becoming eligible for Medicare, you do not need to file a separate application to become entitled to premium-free Part A. 

Applications for premium Part A, Part B or both are accepted only during these three specified enrollment periods:

  • Initial enrollment period: A seven-month period that starts three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after.
  • General open enrollment period: Jan. 1 through March 31 of each year.
  • Special enrollment period for the working aged and people working with disabilitiesAn eight-month-long opportunity for people who did not enroll when they were first eligible because they were covered by an employment-based health insurance plan.

What happens if you don't sign up for Medicare at 65?

If you or your spouse work past 65 years of age, Medicare sign up occurs a bit differently based on the size of the company, the coverage they offer, and a variety of other considerations.

If you are eligible to sign up for Medicare but do not enroll, you may have to pay late enrollment penalties that:

  • Are added to your monthly premium (not simply a one-time fee).
  • Are usually charged for the entire time that you have that type of coverage, which could amount to a lifetime fee.
  • May increase the longer you wait to sign up after being eligible to enroll for Medicare.

Once you have signed up for Medicare Part A hospital coverage, and Medicare Part B medical coverage, you may decide that you would like to get additional coverage, or select a plan from a private insurance company through a programs called Part C or Medicare Advantage Plan, and Part D Prescription Drug coverage. No matter which plans you choose, the most important thing is to remember to begin the sign-up process within the deadline periods to ensure you will be covered.

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