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When to Sign Up for Medicare and How to Apply


It’s not uncommon for new beneficiaries to have questions when signing up for Medicare. It is important to be confident that you enroll correctly to ensure you have the necessary health coverage. Below, we tell you how to effectively apply for Medicare.

Signing Up for Medicare

Many different factors determine when you can sign up for Medicare. For most, the first time they can sign up is when they turn 65. However, there are instances where you can become eligible for Medicare before age 65.

Signing up for Medicare is simple. Three months before the month of your 65th birthday, your initial enrollment window will open. This period lasts through your birthday month and ends on the last day of the third month following.

In total, your initial enrollment period (IEP) lasts seven full months. This is a once-in-a-lifetime enrollment window that you do not want to miss.

If for any reason, you happen to miss it, there are other opportunities to enroll. Keep in mind that no part of Medicare is mandatory. However, if you don’t sign up when you’re first eligible, you could incur penalties when you eventually sign up. The only way around the late penalties that result from delaying Medicare enrollment is to have creditable coverage.

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Signing Up for Medicare Part A and Part B

If you’re collecting Social Security benefits, you’ll automatically enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B upon turning 65. However, if you’re not automatically enrolled, the best time to enroll in Medicare Part A is during your initial enrollment period.

If you worked a minimum of ten years while paying Medicare taxes, you can receive Medicare Part A premium-free. So, regardless of whether you’re still working when you become eligible for Medicare, it makes sense to get Medicare Part A as soon as you can. This will help keep your out-of-pocket hospital inpatient costs to a minimum.

With Medicare Part B, you have different enrollment options. Medicare Part B medical insurance requires every beneficiary to pay a monthly premium. Therefore, if you have health coverage at age 65, you may delay Medicare Part B without penalties – unless you lose creditable coverage before getting Medicare Part B.

Common reasons beneficiaries delay Medicare Part B include:

Signing Up for Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage Plans

As long as you have Medicare Part A and Part B, you can sign up for a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan at any time. However, the best time to enroll is during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period.

You can enroll in any Medigap plan for which you’re eligible, with no health underwriting questions during this time. Thus, you won’t face denial due to pre-existing conditions.

If you choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, it is best to do so during your initial enrollment period. This is the same timeframe as applies to Medicare Part A and Part B enrollment.

You can enroll in any Medicare Advantage plan available in your service area during this window. If you miss this enrollment period, you must wait until the Annual Enrollment Period to enroll in a plan.

Keep in mind, when enrolling in a plan, it is important to note that you are not able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan and a Medigap plan at the same time. So, before you enroll, it is essential to compare all options available.

Signing Up for Medicare Part D

Signing up for Medicare Part D is simple. Once you enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B, you can enroll in Medicare Part D.

Like other parts of Medicare, unless you have creditable coverage, it is best to enroll during your initial enrollment period to avoid future penalties. To enroll, you must apply through Medicare and choose to enroll in any plan in your service area.

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 must 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 SSA.gov
  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 through 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.

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 call volume, 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 than online. If you’re ahead of the game and start well before your birthday, applying by phone shouldn’t cause any issues.

Applying for Medicare in Person

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

Documents You Need to Apply for Medicare

To begin the application process, you’ll need to ensure you have the following documentation to verify your 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 Medicare Part A and have chosen to delay enrollment in Medicare Part B, you must complete the additional forms (listed below).

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

What Happens After I Register for Medicare?

Once you have submitted your application, Medicare will review it to ensure all the information is accurate and complete. Be sure to double-check the accuracy of your contact information. 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.

In most circumstances, you’ll get a Medicare I.D. card several weeks after your initial application is approved. Unfortunately, waiting times can be as long as 90 days in some cases.

However, if you automatically enroll in Medicare because you already get Social Security benefits, you will receive your I.D. card two months before turning 65.

Don’t Register for Medicare Alone

If you’re uncomfortable with applying for Medicare alone, we can help! Our services are entirely free for you. When applying, if you would like an agent by your side, we can walk you through setting up all your coverage.

How to Sign Up for Medicare

We know that was a lot of information. Signing up for Medicare can seem overwhelming, but we're here to help you! Give us a call, and we'll be more than happy to walk you through the process. Complete our online rate form to get started!

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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 MedicareFAQ.com. 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.

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

  1. Can my Dad drop his Medicare Advantage Patriot Plan 2 and sign up for Medicare and get a supplemental plan for more coverage? If so, what type of timeline are we expecting? The AARP Medicare Advantage Patriot Plan 2 is HORRIBLE! My Dad keeps thinking all he has to pay out of pocket is $4800.00 but we are learning that they can pull the plug on his in house rehab with just a couple of days notice and then we are scrambling to place him…on a weekend no less! The hospital discharged him even though he was still experiencing dizziness. They take his blood pressure laying down (low) , sitting up (lower) and standing (VERY LOW) with help only. I am completely lost as my husband and I have medicare and a supplemental plan offered through his former employer. Why are they offerieng the elderly these medicare advantage plans when they don’t cover what is needed when a major health crisis happens? We really need help to get him settled in and taken care of in a proper and just way. Need your advice…PLEASE!!!

    1. Robin, I am very sorry to hear about your father’s situation. Unfortunately, unless he qualifies for a Special Enrollment Period, he may be stuck on the Medicare Advantage plan through the end of the year. These plans are typically a one-year contract. Depending on the state he resides in, he may be required to answer health questions when enrolling in a Medicare Supplement plan. Without a SEP, his next opportunity to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan would be the Annual Enrollment Period in October.

  2. Hello. I turn 65 on April 26, 2022. I have read that I sign up 3 months in advance. Can I sign up now, or do I need to wait for the 26th of this month? When will my Medicare go into Effect?

    1. Elizabeth, Happy early birthday! You are actually in your Open Enrollment Period now! This begins 6 months prior to your 65th birthday and allows you to lock in your rate for Medicare Supplemental coverage. During this time, it is important to speak with a licensed agent to enroll in the best plan to fit your needs. When enrolling in Part B, you can do so 3 months priors to turning 65. Our licensed agents can help you walk through the process, so you do not miss a beat. To speak with an agent, complete this form.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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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