How to register for Medicare coverage in 3 easy steps

Grandchildren play with the family dog.

Original Medicare coverage may help individuals who hope to reduce high out-of-pocket healthcare costs. Original Medicare is made up of 2 parts. Part A covers the cost of hospital-related services. Part B extends to things like doctor’s visits, preventive care, outpatient hospital services, lab tests, X-rays, and mental healthcare.1,2

Applying for Medicare for the first time may feel overwhelming. Take steps to understand the basics of Medicare enrollment to help make the process less stressful.

1. Determine your eligibility

Medicare eligibility is based in part on your age, legal residency status, disability status and retirement status. The Initial Enrollment Period for people turning 65 is the 3 months before their birth month, the month of their birthday, and the 3 months following.3

Individuals who plan to continue working after age 65 may be eligible to enroll during a Special Enrollment Period. In that scenario, you'd be able to enroll during the 8 month period beginning the month after your employer-sponsored health coverage ends, or when you stop working, whichever comes first.4

If you're already receiving benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), you're under age 65 and disabled, or you've been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), you'll automatically receive your Medicare ID card in the mail in the 3 months before your 65th birthday, or in your 25th month of disability.5

2. Choose your coverage

Individuals who are automatically enrolled in Original Medicare receive Part A and Part B coverage. If you're enrolling yourself, Part A is included but Part B is optional.6

Part A is free for most people who are receiving Social Security or RRB benefits. No premium would apply if you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years while working.7

Part B requires a regular monthly premium which may be automatically deducted from any Social Security or RRB benefits you receive. If you opt to delay enrollment in Part B and you're not covered by an employer's health plan, you'll face higher premiums once you do enroll.8

3. Complete the application

If you're not enrolled in Original Medicare automatically, you can submit an application to the Social Security Administration. You can do so by mail, online at the Social Security Administration website, opens new window, or in-person at your nearest Social Security office.

Filling out the application online typically takes between 10 and 30 minutes and you can create a “My Social Security” account to track progress. It can take a few weeks for your application to be processed and your card to be mailed.

When coverage will begin

When your coverage begins depends on the date you initially enroll. If you sign up in the month you turn 65, coverage begins the next month. If you wait until the month after your 65th birthday to enroll, coverage would begin 2 months after you sign up.

Delaying enrollment until the second or third month after turning 65 would push your coverage start date back 3 months. Keeping the timing in mind can help you avoid any temporary gaps in your health coverage.9

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