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How to Enroll In Medicare

The government makes it easy for people to enroll in Medicare. If you’re already getting retirement benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board, your Medicare enrollment is generally automatic. You only need to watch for your red, white, and blue Medicare card in the mail.

If you don’t qualify for Social Security benefits, are delaying retirement, or are eligible for Medicare before age 65 due to disability, the Medicare enrollment process is a little different. Here’s what you need to know about when and how to enroll in Medicare.

Will I be automatically enrolled in Medicare?

If you’re receiving Social Security benefits for retirement or disability, you are generally automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B when you become eligible. Medicare enrollment is also generally automatic if you get Railroad Retirement Board benefits.

If you want Medicare Advantage instead of Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), you need to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan with the insurance company offering the plan you want. This is usually during your Initial Enrollment Period.

Your Initial Enrollment Period(IEP) begins three months before your 65th birthday month, includes the month you turn 65, and extends an additional three months. For example, if your birthday is April 15th, your initial Medicare enrollment period would be January 1 through July 31. Be sure to apply in the first three months if you want your benefits to be effective by your 65th birthday.

Can I drop Medicare Part B if I am automatically enrolled in Medicare?

If you have health coverage from your or your spouse’s employer, you may want to postpone Medicare Part B because it requires a premium payment. If your Medicare enrollment is automatic, simply wait for your cards to arrive in the mail and follow the instructions in your Medicare packet. If you enrolled in Medicare through Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board, you’ll need to contact them to drop Medicare Part B.

How do I enroll in Medicare if I’m not automatically enrolled?

You have three options to enroll in Medicare:

  • In person at your local Social Security office

  • Over the phone by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 7 am through 7 pm

  • Online at

If you will get retirement benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board, contact them directly at 1-877-772-5772 (TTY users 1-312-751-4701) Monday through Friday from 9 am to 3:30 pm to enroll in Medicare.

How do I enroll in Medicare Advantage?

Medicare Advantage plans are private insurance plans offered by several major insurance companies. Many people may opt to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans online, either directly through the insurance company’s website, or by using a Medicare Advantage plan comparison and enrollment tool from an insurance broker like eHealth.

Your initial enrollment period (IEP) for Medicare Advantage is the same as for Original Medicare. You’ll get your plan effective date from the insurance company after you apply.

How do I enroll in Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans?

Medicare enrollment in a Part D plan is optional. Like Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans are offered by private insurance companies instead of federal government. Your Initial Enrollment Period for Part D is the same as your Medicare IEP. If you don’t have creditable prescription drug coverage from another source, you generally need to make sure you enroll in Medicare Part D during your IEP to avoid paying a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Part D coverage.

How do I enroll in Medicare Supplement Insurance Plans?

Because Medicare Supplement plans are private plans, you need to enroll in Medicare Supplement plans directly with the insurer or through a health insurance broker like eHealth. Your Medigap Open Enrollment Period begins on the first day of the month in which you are both age 65 and enrolled in Part B, and lasts for six months. It’s very important to buy a Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan during Open Enrollment, because you have guaranteed issue rights during that time. That means you can enroll in any plan sold in your state at the lowest available premium, and you can’t be turned down due to your health status.

If you wait to apply after open enrollment, the insurer can ask questions about your health history before selling you a plan. If you have a pre-existing condition, you may not be able to buy a plan, or you could be charged a much higher premium for your coverage.

What happens if I miss my Medicare enrollment IEP?

If you don’t enroll in a Medicare coverage when you are first eligible, you have to wait until the Fall Annual Election Period to sign up. The AEP runs from October 15 through December 7. You can enroll in Medicare Advantage, or a Part D Prescription Drug Plan during this time, but you may have to pay late enrollment penalties if you went without creditable health coverage during the year.

If you want a different Medicare Advantage plan, you can switch during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period January 1 to March 31 each year.

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