When should I apply?
If you are already getting Social Security retirement or disability benefits or railroad retirement checks, you will be contacted a few months before you become eligible for Medicare and given the information you need. You will be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B automatically. Because you must pay a premium for Part B coverage, you have the option of turning it down, however, you will be unable to obtain secondary coverage.
If you are not already getting retirement benefits, you should contact Social Security about three months before your 65th birthday to sign up for Medicare. You can sign up for Medicare even if you do not plan to retire at age 65.
Once you are enrolled in Medicare, you will receive a red, white and blue Medicare card showing whether you have Part A, Part B or both. Keep your card in a safe place so you will have it when you need it. If your card is ever lost or stolen, you can apply for a replacement card on the Internet at www.socialsecurity.gov or call Social Security’s toll-free number. You will also receive a Medicare & You (Publication No. CMS-10050) handbook that describes your Medicare benefits and Medicare plan choices.
Special enrollment situations
You also should contact Social Security about applying for Medicare if:
- You are a disabled widow or widower between age 50 and age 65, but have not applied for disability benefits because you are already getting another kind of Social Security benefit;
- You are a government employee and became disabled before age 65;
- You, your spouse or your dependent child has permanent kidney failure;
- You had Medicare medical insurance in the past but dropped the coverage; or
- You turned down Medicare medical insurance when you became entitled to hospital insurance (Part A). Initial enrollment period for Part B
When you first become eligible for hospital insurance (Part A), you have a seven-month period (your initial enrollment period) in which to sign up for medical insurance (Part B). A delay on your part will cause a delay in coverage and result in higher premiums. If you are eligible at age 65, your initial enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday, includes the month you turn age 65 and ends three months after that birthday. If you are eligible for Medicare based on disability or permanent kidney failure, your initial enrollment period depends on the date your disability or treatment began.
When does my enrollment in Part B become effective?
If you accept the automatic enrollment in Medicare Part B, or if you enroll in Medicare Part B during the first three months of your initial enrollment period, your medical insurance protection will start with the month you are first eligible. If you enroll during the last four months, your protection will start from one to three months after you enroll.
General enrollment period for Part B
If you do not enroll in Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period, you have another chance each year to sign up during a “general enrollment period” from January 1 through March 31. Your coverage begins the following July. However, your monthly premium increases 10 percent for each 12-month period you were eligible for, but did not enroll in, Medicare Part B.
Special enrollment period for people covered under an employer group health plan
If you are 65 or older and are covered under a group health plan, either from your own or your spouse’s current employment, you have a “special enrollment period” in which to sign up for Medicare Part B. This means that you may delay enrolling in Medicare Part B without having to wait for a general enrollment period and paying the 10 percent premium surcharge for late enrollment. The rules allow you to:
- Enroll in Medicare Part B any time while you are covered under the group health plan based on current employment; or
- Enroll in Medicare Part B during the eight-month period that begins with the month your group health coverage ends, or the month employment ends—whichever comes first.
Special enrollment period rules do not apply if employment or employer-provided group health plan coverage ends during your initial enrollment period.
If you do not enroll by the end of the eight-month period, you will have to wait until the next general enrollment period, which begins January 1 of the next year. You also may have to pay a higher premium, as described in General enrollment period for Part B.
People who receive Social Security disability benefits and are covered under a group health plan from either their own or a family member’s current employment also have a special enrollment period and premium rights that are similar to those for workers age 65 or older.