When to Sign Up for Medicare and How to Apply

It’s not uncommon for new beneficiaries to have questions when signing up for Medicare. It is important to be confident that you enroll correctly to ensure you have the necessary health coverage. Below, we tell you how to effectively apply for Medicare.

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Signing Up for Medicare

Many different factors determine when you can sign up for Medicare. For most, the first time they can sign up is when they turn 65. However, there are instances where you can become eligible for Medicare before age 65.

Signing up for Medicare is simple. Three months before the month of your 65th birthday, your initial enrollment window will open. This period lasts through your birthday month and ends on the last day of the third month following.

In total, your initial enrollment period (IEP) lasts seven full months. This is a once-in-a-lifetime enrollment window that you do not want to miss.

If for any reason, you happen to miss it, there are other opportunities to enroll. Keep in mind that no part of Medicare is mandatory. However, if you don’t sign up when you’re first eligible, you could incur penalties when you eventually sign up. The only way around the late penalties that result from delaying Medicare enrollment is to have creditable coverage.

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Signing Up for Medicare Part A and Part B

If you’re collecting Social Security benefits, you’ll automatically enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B upon turning 65. However, if you’re not automatically enrolled, the best time to enroll in Medicare Part A is during your initial enrollment period.

If you worked a minimum of ten years while paying Medicare taxes, you can receive Medicare Part A premium-free. So, regardless of whether you’re still working when you become eligible for Medicare, it makes sense to get Medicare Part A as soon as you can. This will help keep your out-of-pocket hospital inpatient costs to a minimum.

With Medicare Part B, you have different enrollment options. Medicare Part B medical insurance requires every beneficiary to pay a monthly premium. Therefore, if you have health coverage at age 65, you may delay Medicare Part B without penalties – unless you lose creditable coverage before getting Medicare Part B.

Common reasons beneficiaries delay Medicare Part B include:

Signing Up for Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage Plans

As long as you have Medicare Part A and Part B, you can sign up for a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan at any time. However, the best time to enroll is during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period.

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You can enroll in any Medigap plan for which you’re eligible, with no health underwriting questions during this time. Thus, you won’t face denial due to pre-existing conditions.

If you choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, it is best to do so during your initial enrollment period. This is the same timeframe as applies to Medicare Part A and Part B enrollment.

You can enroll in any Medicare Advantage plan available in your service area during this window. If you miss this enrollment period, you must wait until the Annual Enrollment Period to enroll in a plan.

Keep in mind, when enrolling in a plan, it is important to note that you are not able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan and a Medigap plan at the same time. So, before you enroll, it is essential to compare all options available.

Signing Up for Medicare Part D

Signing up for Medicare Part D is simple. Once you enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B, you can enroll in Medicare Part D.

Like other parts of Medicare, unless you have creditable coverage, it is best to enroll during your initial enrollment period to avoid future penalties. To enroll, you must apply through Medicare and choose to enroll in any plan in your service area.

How to Apply for Medicare

Medicare enrollment is easier than ever. Once you meet eligibility requirements, you are ready to choose from a variety of plans in which to enroll. As we mentioned earlier, some beneficiaries can receive automatic enrollment, and some must apply manually.

There are three ways to apply for Medicare Part A and Part B:

  1. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM
  2. Fill out an online application at
  3. Visit a local Social Security office in person

If you have previously been a railroad employee, you can enroll in Medicare by contacting the Railroad Retirement Board, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM at 1-877-772-5772.

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Medicare applications generally take between 30-60 days to obtain approval.

Applying for Medicare Online

Applying for Medicare online is a quick and easy process on the Social Security website, taking approximately ten minutes. After you have applied for Medicare online, you can check the status of your application and/or appeal, request a replacement card, and print a benefit verification letter.

You can easily apply online for Medicare and Social Security retirement benefits or just Medicare.

Applying for Medicare by Phone

Just like applying online, applying for Medicare by phone is easy. You can contact a representative at 1-800-772-1213.

Depending on call volume, there might be a wait time. If the wait time is above average, you can schedule an appointment to have a representative call you.

The only downfall with applying for Medicare by phone is that it can take longer than online. If you’re ahead of the game and start well before your birthday, applying by phone shouldn’t cause any issues.

Applying for Medicare in Person

If you prefer to apply in person, you can sign up for Medicare at your local Social Security office. Their website has a ZIP Code lookup tool to show you the closest office to you.

Documents You Need to Apply for Medicare

To begin the application process, you’ll need to ensure you have the following documentation to verify your identity:

  • A copy of your birth certificate
  • Your driver’s license or state I.D. card
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or proof of legal residency

You may need additional documents as well. Make sure to have on hand:

  • Your Social Security card
  • W-2 forms if still active in employment
  • Military discharge documents if you previously served in the U.S. military before 1968
  • Information about current health insurance types and coverage dates

If you are already enrolled in Medicare Part A and have chosen to delay enrollment in Medicare Part B, you must complete the additional forms (listed below).

  • 40B form:This allows you to apply for enrollment into Medicare Part B only. The 40B form must be included in your online application or mailed directly to the Social Security office.
  • L564 form:Your employer must complete this form if you delayed Medicare Part B due to creditable group coverage through said employer. You must also include the completed L564 form in your online application, or mail it directly to the Social Security office.

What Happens After I Register for Medicare?

Once you have submitted your application, Medicare will review it to ensure all the information is accurate and complete. Be sure to double-check the accuracy of your contact information. This is important to ensure prompt delivery of your identification card, as well as in the event Medicare needs to contact you about your enrollment.

After your application is received and processed, a letter will be mailed to you with the decision. If you encounter any questions or problems during the process, you can always contact Social Security for assistance.

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In most circumstances, you’ll get a Medicare I.D. card several weeks after your initial application is approved. Unfortunately, waiting times can be as long as 90 days in some cases.

However, if you automatically enroll in Medicare because you already get Social Security benefits, you will receive your I.D. card two months before turning 65.

Don’t Register for Medicare Alone

If you’re uncomfortable with applying for Medicare alone, we can help! Our services are entirely free for you. When applying, if you would like an agent by your side, we can walk you through setting up all your coverage.

How to Sign Up for Medicare

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Jagger Esch

Jagger Esch is the Medicare expert for MedicareFAQ and the founder, president, and CEO of Elite Insurance Partners and Since the inception of his first company in 2012, he has been dedicated to helping those eligible for Medicare by providing them with resources to educate themselves on all their Medicare options. He is featured in many publications as well as writes regularly for other expert columns regarding Medicare.

16 thoughts on “When to Sign Up for Medicare and How to Apply

  1. i have to mail forms CMS-L564 and CMS-40B and do not know the correct address to snail mail these forms and i can’t seem to find on website. Would appreciate this addition to your websites. thank you.


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