Medicare is a health insurance plan for people who are 65 or older, unless you qualify under the age of 65 because you have been getting certain disability benefits, or have been diagnosed with ALS or End-Stage Renal Disease.

Some people will automatically enroll in Medicare, while others will have to sign up independently. If you need Medicare benefits and have to sign up for Medicare by yourself, this guide will walk you through the general process. 

Step One – Figure Out if You Need to Sign Up

Some people will automatically get enrolled in Part A and Part B to cover hospitalizations and medical office visits. You will get an automatic enrollment if: 

  • You’re younger than 65 but have gotten 24 months of Railroad Retirement Board disability or Social Security benefits
  • You receive Railroad Retirement Board benefits or Social Security retirement benefits for a minimum of four months before you turn 65
  • If you already collect Social Security retirement benefits

The coverage will start on the first day of the month of your 65th birthday. 

Step Two – How to Sign up For Original Medicare

The best time to enroll is during Medicare’s Initial Enrollment Period. This is a window of seven months that starts three months before your 65th birthday, includes your birth month, and extends to three months after your birthday. 

You have a few options when it comes to signing up for Original Medicare if you don’t automatically enroll when you turn 65. You can sign up by: 

  • Call your local Social Security office at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 for TTY users Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Go to the Social Security Administration’s website and fill out an application 
  • Visit the local Social Security office and fill out an application in person

If you worked at a railroad, you’ll start the enrollment process by calling the Railroad Retirement Board at 1-877-772-5772 or 1-312-751-4701 for TTY users. 

Step-by-Step Guide for Online Signup

The fastest way to complete your application is to sign up online using the Social Security Administration’s website. The enrollment process should take less than 10 minutes. To do this, you’ll: 

  • Create a My Social Security Account
  • Go to the Apply for Benefits page on the Social Security Administration’s website
  • Click “Start a New Application”
  • Follow the prompts

You will have to provide your Medicaid number if you get Medicaid benefits or your current health insurance information. There may be additional documentation needs if you are: 

  • Applying under a spouse’s work record
  • Not a U.S. citizen
  • Over 65 years old and transitioning from an employer’s insurance

Once you complete the enrollment process, you’ll get your Medicare card and a welcome packet from the CMS in the mail. It should take roughly two weeks to arrive. 

Step Three – Consider Other Coverage Options

If you’re wondering about your options, consider Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage.  Once you enroll in Original Medicare, you can start considering Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. MA plans are offered by private insurance carriers who contract with Medicare to provide your Part A and Part B benefits. Most MA plans include additional benefits as little to no extra cost, such as prescription drug coverage, vision and dental care, hearing exams, and fitness programs.

During your Initial Enrollment Period, you can: 

  • Choose to keep your Original Medicare coverage
  • Enroll in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan under Part D
  • Purchase a Medigap Supplement policy (if you 65 and have Part B)
  • Change to a Medicare Advantage plan to replace Original Medicare

Private insurance companies offer Medicare Advantage plans, Medigap plans, and Medicare Part D. You can compare coverage options and look at the costs on-line. While there are certain criteria plans must adhere to, costs and benefits may vary.

Related articles:

Are All Medicare Advantage Plans Available Everywhere?(Opens in a new browser tab)

When Can I Enroll in Part D?(Opens in a new browser tab)