How to sign up and apply for Medicare

If you’re turning 65 soon, your chance to enroll in a Medicare plan is right around the corner.

Some people are automatically enrolled in Original Medicare, while others will need to sign up for it.

Here are some simple steps to help guide you through eligibility, coverage options and more, so you can easily get started with Medicare.

Step 1: Confirm your eligibility to enroll

Original Medicare is available to people:1

  • Age 65 or older
  • Younger than 65 with a qualifying disability
  • With end-stage renal disease (ESRD) permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant

To get an estimate of when you’re eligible for Medicare and your premium amount, use’s Eligibility & Premium Calculator.

Note: If you already get benefits from Social Security, you’ll get Medicare Part A and Part B automatically when you’re first eligible. If you live in Puerto Rico, you’ll only get Part A automatically and will need to sign up for Part B if you want it.

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Step 2: Choose your Medicare coverage

Most first-time Medicare enrollees can choose between 2 main ways to get coverage:

  1. Register for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). Medicare Part A typically helps cover inpatient services such as hospital stays and care at a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF). Medicare Part B generally covers outpatient care, home healthcare and some preventive services. You also have the option to enroll in a stand-alone prescription drug plan and/or a Medicare Supplement insurance plan offered by private insurance companies.
  2. Enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Part C, also called Medicare Advantage (MA), are private insurance plans offered by Medicare-approved companies. These plans provide Part A and Part B coverage and typically offer extra benefits such as vision, hearing and dental care. Some Part C plans also include Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

Before choosing, take the time to research each plan’s coverage options including the network, costs, and list of covered drugs. Learn more about the differences between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage and compare Medicare Advantage plans to find the best plan for your healthcare needs.

Step 3: Apply for Medicare online

Although Medicare is operated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Social Security Administration (SSA) handles Medicare enrollment.

Here are the instructions to apply for Medicare online, PDF:

  1. Before applying, visit the SSA’s Checklist for Online Applications, PDF to find out what you need to prepare.
  2. Go to the SSA’s Medicare Benefits page and select “Apply for Medicare Only.”
  3. Apply and complete the application, which normally takes 10–30 minutes.
  4. Select “Submit Now” and your application will be sent electronically to Social Security.

Note: You can also submit an application to your local Social Security Administration office in person or by mail. It may take a few weeks for your application to be processed and your card to be mailed.

When can I sign up for Original Medicare?

You can first sign up for Medicare 3 months before the month of your 65th birthday and up to 3 months after your 65th birthday. This is called your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). In total, your IEP gives you up to 7 months to shop and compare plans before making a commitment.

When does my Medicare coverage start?

The date your coverage starts depends on the month you sign up during your IEP. Coverage always starts on the first of the month.2

Let’s review some common scenarios of when Medicare coverage starts:

If you sign up
Medicare coverage will start
Before the month of your 65th birthday
The month you turn 65
The month you turn 65
The next month
1 month after you turn 65
The next month
2–3 months after you turn 65
The next month
During the General Enrollment Period, between January 1–March 31 each year*
The next month
The next month

* You might pay a monthly late enrollment penalty.

Avoid Medicare late enrollment penalties

The best way to avoid a Medicare late enrollment penalty is to sign up for Medicare during your IEP. If you don’t, you’ll pay a penalty that will be added to your monthly premium.

Here are some details for Medicare late enrollment penalties:

  • Part A late enrollment penalty. If you need to buy Part A and you don’t buy it during your IEP, your monthly premium may go up by 10%. Also, you’ll have to pay the penalty for twice the number of years you didn’t sign up.
  • Part B late enrollment penalty. The penalty for Part B is 10% for each 12-month period you delay enrollment. You may also pay a higher premium depending on your income.
  • Part D late enrollment penalty. If you don’t join a Medicare drug plan during your IEP or go 63 days or more without creditable drug coverage, you’ll pay an extra 1% for each month (12% per year). You may also pay a higher premium depending on your income.

Note: There are some exceptions that eliminate late enrollment penalties.

Another great way to avoid late enrollment penalties is to plan ahead. To learn about types of Medicare plans, costs and more, explore our library of helpful Medicare resources.

How can we help?

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  1. “What's Medicare?,”, last accessed October 4, 2023,
  2. “When does Medicare coverage start?,”, last accessed October 4, 2023,