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When to Sign Up for Medicare and How to Apply

It’s not uncommon for new beneficiaries to be unsure of when to sign up for Medicare, as well as how to apply for Medicare. Below, we’ll answer the most common questions we get from our clients that are just aging in.

When Do I Have to Sign Up for Medicare?

Many different factors determine when you have to sign up for Medicare. Typically, the best time to sign up is when you first turn 65 years old.

If you’re collecting Social Security, you’ll automatically be enrolled in both Part A and Part B. If you’re not receiving Social Security, then you’ll want to sign up manually during your Initial Enrollment Period.

Three months before your 65th birthday, your Initial Enrollment Period window will start. Your IEP is a once-in-a-lifetime enrollment window that you don’t want to miss.

If you do happen to miss it, you’ll have another opportunity to enroll during another enrollment period. However, you could get a penalty for not signing up when you first become eligible. The only way around the penalty is if you have creditable coverage.

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Do You Have to Sign Up for Medicare When You’re 65?

As long as you have creditable coverage, you don’t have to enroll in Medicare when you are 65. Technically, you don’t have to sign up for Medicare at all if you don’t want to. Medicare is not mandatory, but it is important to be aware that if you choose to sign up later without creditable coverage, you’ll incur penalties that you may be stuck with for the rest of your life.

The most common reason a new beneficiary may delay enrolling in Medicare is that they have coverage through their employer. However, not all group coverage is creditable coverage. The size of your employer will determine if the coverage is creditable.

When Do I Need to Apply for Medicare?

The best time to apply for Medicare is when you’re first eligible. Generally, three months before you turn 65 is the standard recommendation. By applying before you turn 65, you’ll know that there is no lapse in coverage. Plus, you don’t want to incur a late enrollment penalty.

When Do I Need to Sign Up for Medicare Part A?

As stated above, if you’re collecting Social Security benefits, you’ll automatically get Part A and Part B. If you’re not automatically enrolled, the best time to enroll in Part A is during your Initial Enrollment Period.

As long as you worked a minimum of ten years, Part A will be premium-free. Even if you’re still working, it makes sense to join Part A to help keep your out-of-pocket medical costs to a minimum.

When to Sign Up for Medicare Part B?

If you’re retiring, the best time to enroll in Part B is during your Initial Enrollment Period. For those still working past 65, check with your health administrators whether your employer coverage is creditable.

If it is, you can enroll in Part B when you retire or leave your group health plan. You’ll be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period when you can enroll without any penalties. If your group health plan is not considered creditable coverage, then you should register for Part B during your Initial Enrollment Period.

If you missed your Initial Enrollment Period, the next enrollment window you can enroll in Part A and Part B is the General Enrollment Period.

Do I Need Medicare Part B?

We always advise our clients to contact their employer or union benefits administrator before delaying Part A and Part B to learn more about how their insurance works with Medicare. Employer coverage may require that you enroll in both Part A and Part B to receive full coverage.

Common reasons beneficiaries delay Part B include:

  1. Health insurance through a previous employer (such as COBRA or retiree health insurance)
  2. To remain with spousal coverage, if available, since Part B premiums are based on income reported two years prior (IRMAA)
  3. Union coverage
  4. Employer coverage

How long before I turn 65 should I sign up for Medicare?

You can join as soon as three months before your 65th birthday.

What Happens if you don’t sign up for Medicare 65?

Delaying enrollment can result in penalties if you don’t have creditable coverage.

Can you sign up for Medicare at any time?

No, you can only enroll in Medicare during one of the enrollment periods. The first opportunity you have to enroll is during your Initial Enrollment Period. If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, your second opportunity to sign up is during the General Enrollment Period. Outside both of these enrollment windows, you can sign up during a Special Enrollment Period if you qualify.

When Can I Sign Up for Medicare Supplement Insurance?

As long as you have Part B, you can sign up for Medicare Supplement insurance at any time. The best time to enroll is during the first six months following your Part B effective date, also known as your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period.

When is the last date to sign up for a Medicare Supplement?

As stated above, you can sign up for a Medicare Supplement at any time of the year. However, the last day to sign up for a Medicare Supplement with Guaranteed Issue is the end of the sixth month after your Part B effective date.

When do I sign up for Medicare Advantage?

Before you sign up for Medicare Advantage, make sure you weigh the pros and cons of Medicare Advantage vs. Medicare Supplements. If you choose to sign up for Medicare Advantage, you can do so during your IEP.

If you missed your IEP, you can join during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period. For those currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you also have another opportunity to make changes during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.

How to Apply for Medicare

Medicare enrollment is easier than ever. Once you meet eligibility requirements, you are ready to choose from a variety of plans in which to enroll. As we mentioned earlier, some beneficiaries can receive automatic enrollment, and some have to apply manually.

There are three ways to apply for Medicare Part A and Part B:

  1. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM
  2. Fill out an online application at
  3. Visit a local Social Security office in person

If you have previously been a railroad employee, you can enroll in Medicare by contacting the Railroad Retirement Board, Monday – Friday, from 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM at 1-877-772-5772.

Medicare applications generally take between 30-60 days to obtain approval.

Applying for Medicare Online

Applying for Medicare online is a quick and easy process on the Social Security website, taking approximately ten minutes. After you have applied for Medicare online, you can check the status of your application and/or appeal, request a replacement card, and print a benefit verification letter.

You can easily apply online for Medicare and Social Security retirement benefits or just Medicare.

Once you apply for Part B, give us a call so we can help you choose a supplement plan to cover what Medicare doesn’t.

If you’re not comfortable applying for Medicare online, you can do so over the phone.

Applying for Medicare by Phone

Just like applying online, applying for Medicare by phone is easy. You can contact a representative at 1-800-772-1213.

Depending on the volume of calls, there might be a wait time. If the wait time is above average, you can schedule an appointment to have a representative call you.

The only downfall with applying for Medicare by phone is that it can take longer compared to online. If you’re ahead of the game and start well before your birthday, then applying by phone shouldn’t cause any issues. If you do not wish to apply online or by phone, you can choose to do so in person.

Applying for Medicare in Person

If you would prefer to do so in person, you can apply for Medicare at your local Social Security office. Their website has a ZIP Code lookup tool that will show you the closest office to you.

Applying for Medicare with Employer Coverage

Can you still enroll in Medicare coverage, even if you’re not yet seeking retirement? The answer is yes! Medicare coverage can coincide with your group coverage through your employer. If your employer has more than 20 employees, your group coverage will work as your primary insurance, and Medicare will be your secondary insurance.

You can choose to apply for Part B, or you can wait until leaving your employer group coverage. For more information on the benefits of obtaining Medicare while receiving group coverage through work, give our team a call, and we can review the pros and cons.

Sometimes beneficiaries don’t want to apply for Part B when they initially become eligible because of employer health coverage. Should you lose your health insurance through your employer, or if you prefer to switch over to Medicare, you can apply any time while receiving coverage through your employer.

Documents You Need to Apply for Medicare

To begin the application process, you’ll need to ensure you have the following documentation to prove identity:

  • A copy of your birth certificate
  • Your driver’s license or state I.D. card
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or proof of legal residency

You may need additional documents as well. Make sure to have on hand:

  • Your Social Security card
  • W-2 forms if still active in employment
  • Military discharge documents if you previously served in the U.S. military before 1968
  • Information about current health insurance types and coverage dates

If you are already enrolled in Part A and have chosen to delay enrollment in Part B, you will need to complete additional forms (listed below).

  1. 40B form: This form allows you to apply for enrollment into Part B only. The 40B form must be included in your online application or mailed directly to the Social Security office.
  2. L564 form: Your employer must complete this form if you delayed Part B due to creditable group coverage through a said employer. The completed L564 form also must be included in your online application or mailed directly to the Social Security office.

Medicare Application Forms

There are many different forms that you can access on You can find Medicare application and enrollment forms, as well as appeal forms online.

Medicare Connex

The National Government Services developed Medicare Connex as a platform for beneficiaries to access self-service functions. Some of the things you can accomplish on the site include checking eligibility, looking at claim status, submitting claims, and so much more. Many people find by using this platform they can save time and money. Waiting on hold with Medicare can be a challenge, but this website removes that issue.

Can I sign up for Medicare online?

Yes, you can sign up for Medicare on

Is it Difficult to Sign Up for Medicare Online?

Medicare makes it as easy as possible to sign up using their online application. Most of our clients felt that the online process was not difficult at all.

What Happens After I Register for Medicare Online?

Once you have submitted your application, it will be reviewed by Medicare to ensure all the information is accurate and complete. You should double-check your contact information to make sure it is correct. This is important to ensure prompt delivery of your Identification Card, as well as in the event Medicare needs to contact you about your enrollment.

After your application is received and processed, a letter will be mailed to you with the decision. If you encounter any questions or problems during the process, you can always contact Social Security for assistance.

Can I Sign Up for Medicare Easy Pay Online?

Yes, you can sign up for Medicare Easy Pay by creating an account on

When do I Get My Medicare Card?

In most circumstances, you’ll get a Medicare I.D. card several weeks after your initial application. However, waiting times can be up to 90 days. If you are automatically enrolled in Medicare because you already get Social Security benefits, you will receive your I.D. card two months before turning 65.

Is There a Local Medicare Office?

To receive information about Medicare in person, go to your local Social Security office.

Don’t Register for Medicare Alone

If you’re uncomfortable with applying for Medicare alone, we can help! Our services are completely free for you. If you would like an agent by your side when applying, contact us. We can walk you through setting up all your coverage, including Medicare, Medigap, Part D, and more.

Plus, when you use us to apply, you get unlimited support from our Client Service Team. That means if you have any issues with claims or appeals, we can help at no additional cost. You can compare rates online or give us a call today at the number above.

How to Sign Up for Medicare

We know that was a lot of information. Signing up for Medicare can be overwhelming, but we're here to help you! Give us a call, and we'll be more than happy to walk you through all the steps of signing up, as well as get you enrolled in a supplement plan. You can also see supplement plan rates in your area now by using our online rate form.

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Jagger Esch

Jagger Esch is the Medicare expert for MedicareFAQ and the founder, president, and CEO of Elite Insurance Partners and Since the inception of his first company in 2012, he has been dedicated to helping those eligible for Medicare by providing them with resources to educate themselves on all their Medicare options. He is featured in many publications as well as writes regularly for other expert columns regarding Medicare.

14 thoughts on “When to Sign Up for Medicare and How to Apply

  1. HI – i will be retiring in April 2022, 3 months shy of my 65th birthday. It was my intention to pay for COBRA (my employer has 5000 employees and has notified us that our Rx plan is considered credible coverage) for the 3 months until Medicare kicks in. But, now folks are telling me that COBRA is not considered credible coverage and if i have a gap between coverage from work and Medicare, i will incur lifetime penalties. Does this mean i HAVE to work until I am 65 but should apply at 64 and 9 months?

    1. Hi Bernadette – COBRA is not creditable coverage, and that will start to matter when you turn 65. It does not matter if you retire without creditable coverage for Medicare when you are 64 – that will not count toward a penalty – but the clock will start ticking at your 65th birthday. We recommend you utilize your Initial Enrollment Period, which will begin for you on April 1, 2022.

  2. I have been retired from the Federal Gov since 31 Dec 2017 and have been collecting SS pension since August 2019. I turn 65 years old this coming December 16, 2021. Am I automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B on my 65th Bday?

    1. Hi Aris! If you’re collecting SS benefits, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Part A & Part B with an effective date of 12/1/21. You’ll receive your Medicare card in the mail the month before your birthday. Once you receive your Medicare card, you can reach out to us to sign up for a supplemental Medicare policy so it will go into effect the same day as your Part B.

  3. I will end my current employment October 31. I’ll be 66 and 3 months old. I started receiving SS benefits in March, while still working. I have Medicare Part A but will need Part B when I leave current employment, October 31. Can I apply for Medicare Part B now so it’s effective November 1 or do I have to wait until January 1, 2022. If so, this will leave me without insurance for a few months and I don’t want that! Please lead me in the proper direction with the information I provided

    Thank you

    1. Hello! Yes, you can apply now to have your coverage become effective once your group employer coverage ends. There are two forms you need to fill out and provide to Medicare, you can upload the forms to your account dashboard with Social Security/Medicare. One form will need to be completed by your employer to show proof of creditable coverage. Once you do this, you’ll be able to also enroll in a supplement plan so it goes into effect with your Part B.

  4. I just turned 65 aug 16, I am still working with large company, I have health coverage, am I automatically enrolled in hospital?

  5. I recently mailed Form 40B and Form L564 to my local SS office. I called the toll-free number for SS and was told this could take up to 90 days! But my group health insurance coverage ends on August 31. I retired last month. I need Part B Medicare to begin on September 1. I’ve had Part A Medicare for about 15 months. My eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits began last month and the first monthly payment will be July 28. How do I get them to go ahead and process my forms for Part B Medicare so that coverage begins September 1? I’ve called SS and received no help other than being told my application hasn’t yet been entered in their system by my local SS office, and that it takes about two weeks for the local SS office to do that. Followed by up to 90 days for SS to then actually enroll me in Part B. I’ll end up going several weeks with only Part A Medicare which will be very risky and frightening. Additionally, I need to purchase a Medigap plan but I cannot do that until I have Part B!

    1. Hi Helen! Unfortunately, there is no expedited option for your Medicare application. Ideally, the forms should have been mailed into SS sooner. The good news is, it does not normally take 90 days. Once you know your Part B effective date, you can contact a Medicare agent to enroll in Medigap so that your Part B and Medigap have the same effective date.

  6. i have to mail forms CMS-L564 and CMS-40B and do not know the correct address to snail mail these forms and i can’t seem to find on website. Would appreciate this addition to your websites. thank you.


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