In the United States, the full retirement age was 65 for many years, and this is probably why most people associate the age of 65 with retirement. However, in 1983 the U.S. Congress raised the age for full retirement, affecting people who had been born as early as 1938. Now, the full retirement age increases gradually by a few months for every birth year, making the oldest age for retirement 67 for those who were born in 1960 and later. 

Also associated with 65, is the age for Medicare benefits. Medicare is health care insurance that is funded by the U.S. federal government. It’s healthcare for retirees who are 65 and meet certain requirements, as well as for younger people who have certain qualifying disabilities. The eligibility criteria for Medicare enrollment at age 65 are:

  • Being a United States citizen or a permanent legal resident who has lived in the country for at least five years. 
  • Currently receiving retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board. Or having worked long enough (at least 40 quarters) to qualify for these benefits even if you aren’t receiving them yet. 
  • Being a current or former government employee, or the spouse of one, who paid into the Medicare system while employed. 

If you are receiving retirement benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board when you turn 65, the Social Security Administration automatically enrolls you in Medicare Parts A and B. 

But, if you are still employed, or not eligible for retirement benefits yet, you have the option to enroll in Medicare on your own at age 65, or you can opt-out until later under certain circumstances. This article can help you understand more about whether you need to retire to get Medicare coverage, or how you can enroll whenever you finally stop working.

Do you have to be retired to get Medicare? 

Even if you’re still working when you turn 65, you have the right to enroll in Medicare insurance benefits if you meet the eligibility requirements mentioned above – you don’t need to be retired to get them. 

While most people enroll in Medicare Parts A and B at age 65, regardless of whether they’re retired or not, there are many who still have employer health benefits. 

Depending on your personal situation, you may choose to hold off until retirement (later than 65) to enroll in Medicare. Here’s a look at what you should consider before making your final decision:

  • Even if you have group health insurance, you should consider enrolling in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) as soon as you are eligible if you qualify for premium-free Part A. It won’t cost you anything and you can avoid possible penalties later.  
  • Medicare Part B (medical insurance) has a monthly premium. So if you don’t need it, you might not want the added expense. If you have comparable insurance through your employer, you qualify for a special enrollment period to sign up for Medicare Part B when your employer coverage ends. 
  • If Medicare is going to be your primary insurance you should enroll at age 65 when you first become eligible, even if you’re still working. However, if Medicare is going to be your secondary payer after your current insurance pays, you can hold off until your employer coverage ends. 

Is your group insurance coverage comparable to Medicare? 

To ensure that you qualify for a special enrollment period to sign up for Medicare, your current group insurance must be comparable to Medicare. You, or your spouse, must have group coverage through an employer who has more than 20 employees. If your employer has fewer than 20 employees, you should enroll in Medicare at age 65.