How Do I Sign Up for Medicare?

Mike Olmos by Mike Olmos | Licensed since 2010
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This article was updated on: 08/29/2018

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You’re newly eligible for Medicare. Or, you didn’t sign up when you first qualified for Medicare. Or, you think you might be eligible but you’re not sure how to sign up for Medicare.

Does any of these statements apply to you?

If so, keep reading to find out how to sign up for Medicare and a quick list of the coverage options you might have.

You might not need to sign up for Medicare

It’s true – in many cases, people are enrolled in Medicare automatically. You’re generally automatically enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) if you’re already getting Social Security benefits when you turn 65.

You’re generally also automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B if you’re younger than 65, and qualify by disability:

  • If you’ve been receiving Social Security Administration (SSA) or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) disability benefits for 24 months in a row
  • If you receive SSA or RRB benefits because you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease). Medicare benefits generally start the same month your SSA or RRB benefits start.

How do you know if you’ve been automatically signed up for Medicare?

You typically get a “Welcome to Medicare” packet in the mail, which includes your Medicare card.

When might you need to sign up for Medicare?

You may need to sign up for Medicare if:

  • You don’t get automatically enrolled in Medicare. (For example, you delayed your Social Security benefits.)
  • You delayed enrollment in Medicare Part B (and/or Part A)
  • You’re younger than 65 and have end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which is kidney failure requiring regular dialysis or a kidney transplant. You might be qualified for Medicare, but you have to sign up for it.
  • You’re a resident of Puerto Rico. Even if you get Medicare Part A automatically, you typically have to apply for Medicare Part B manually.

How to sign up for Medicare

If you have to sign up for Medicare – whether it’s just Part B, or Part A, or both – there are a few ways you can do it.

  • Sign up online by filling out a form on the Social Security website.
  • Visit a Social Security office in person.
  • Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. TTY users can call 1-800-325-0778. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 7AM to 7PM (all U.S. time zones).

If you worked for a railroad, you can contact the Railroad Retirement Board for information about applying for Medicare. Call 1-877-772-5772 (TTY users call 1-312-751-4701). Representatives are available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 9AM to 3:30PM, and 9AM to noon Wednesday (all U.S. time zones).

What kind of Medicare coverage can you sign up for?

When you first apply for Medicare, that can be a good time to sign up for the type of coverage you want. The different types of optional coverage below have certain enrollment periods, but in general, you can usually sign up at the same time that you apply for Medicare.

Here are some coverage options you may want to consider.

Medicare Supplement – If you’re enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, you may be able to buy a Medicare Supplement plan from a private insurance company. This type of insurance is designed to help pay for your Part A and Part B out-of-pocket costs. Different Medicare Supplement plans may pay for different costs, or portions of these costs. Read more about Medicare Supplement plans.

Prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D – Medicare Part A and Part B include limited prescription drug coverage, and don’t generally cover medications you take at home. You can sign up for Medicare prescription drug coverage in either of two ways. If you stay with Part A and/or Part B, you can enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan. Or, if you’d prefer a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plan, you can sign up for that (see below).

Medicare Advantage – Also called Medicare Part C, this program gives you an alternate way to receive your Medicare Part A and Part B benefits. Many Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage, and some plans include other benefits as well. Routine dental and hearing care are just two examples.

Please note:

  • You need to continue paying your Part B monthly premium if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan – along with any premium the plan may charge.
  • Medicare Supplement plans don’t work with Medicare Advantage plans. If you’re interested in these coverage options, you’ll need to choose one or the other.

I’d be happy to answer your questions about Medicare and the various coverage options. To arrange to talk with me by phone, or ask me to send you information by email, use the links below. You can compare plans anytime by clicking the Find Plans button on this page.

The product and service descriptions, if any, provided on these Medicare.com Web pages are not intended to constitute offers to sell or solicitations in connection with any product or service. All products are not available in all areas and are subject to applicable laws, rules, and regulations.

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