As an American citizen or lawful permanent resident of at least five years, you become eligible for Medicare benefits when you turn 65. Three months before the month of your 65th birthday, you can start enrolling in Medicare. Enroll within your Initial Enrollment Period to avoid late enrollment penalties. You can reevaluate your coverage every fall during the Annual Enrollment Period.
Enrolling in Medicare
You need to sign up for Medicare through Social Security. Apply online at Social Security, visit your local Social Security office, or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778) to enroll. If you worked for a railroad, call the Railroad Retirement Board.
Your Initial Enrollment Period begins three months before the month you turn 65 and extends for seven months to end three months after your birthday month. To start getting coverage on the first day of the month of your birthday (or the first of the previous month if your birthday falls on the first day of the month), you need to sign up for Medicare during the three months leading up to your birthday.
If you sign up during your birthday month, coverage begins on the first day of the following month. Signing up in the months following your birthday will delay your coverage.
Make sure you sign up during your Initial Enrollment period to avoid late enrollment penalties. If you forget to sign up, you need to sign up during General Enrollment from January 1–March 31. Coverage begins July 1 for people who sign up during General Enrollment.
You should sign up for Part A because it is free for most people. You have to pay premiums for Part B, but you could pay a late enrollment penalty if you don’t sign up when you first become eligible.
Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment
Something you should also think about when you are nearing age 65 is whether or not you want to sign up for a Medicare Supplement plan. The best time to sign up for one is during your Medigap Open Enrollment Period, which begins when you are 65 and enrolled in Part B. You have six months to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan, during which time you cannot be denied by an insurance company for health reasons.
Medicare Advantage Enrollment
You can join a Medicare Advantage plan during your Initial Enrollment Period or switch to a plan during the Annual Enrollment Period which goes from October 15–December 7 every year. You can also enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, which starts January 1 and ends March 31.
Signing Up for Medicare Part D
You can join a Part D prescription drug plan during your Initial Enrollment Period. You can also join, drop, or switch Part D plans during the Annual Enrollment Period.
Annual Contract Renewals
Each year you will have the chance to review your coverage. Your plan will send you an Annual Notice highlighting any changes to your plan that will be in effect the following year. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you need to renew your contract with your plan or switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan every year, unless you decide to return to Original Medicare.