Step 1: Determine Whether You Need to Sign Up for Medicare

Some people are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Medicare Part B medical insurance.

You are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B if:
  1. You receive Social Security retirement benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits for at least four months before turning 65.
  2. You are under the age of 65 and have received Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board disability benefits for at least 24 months.

If you already collect Social Security retirement benefits, you are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B. No further action is required.

Your coverage will begin the first day of the month you turn 65.

Even if you are automatically enrolled, you may also decide to:
  • Sign up Icon
    Sign up for a Medicare Part D drug plan.
  • Pay Icon
    Buy a Medigap supplement insurance policy.
  • Care Icon
    Switch to a Medicare Advantage plan.

Step 2: Signing Up for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)

There are a few different ways to sign up for Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B if you are not automatically enrolled.

Medicare Part A and Part B are also called Original Medicare.

3 Ways to Sign Up for Medicare Part A and Part B
  1. Fill out the online application on the Social Security Administration’s website.
  2. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users 1-800-325-0778), 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  3. Visit your local Social Security office. You can use the Social Security office locator to find your nearest location.

If you worked at a railroad, call the Railroad Retirement Board at 1-877-772-5772 (TTY users 1-312-751-4701) to sign up.

Did You Know?
Medicare enrollment takes place through the Social Security Administration. After that, your benefits are administered by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.

If you are not automatically enrolled, the best time to sign up for Medicare is during your initial enrollment period.

This is a seven-month window that begins three months before the first day of the month of your 65th birthday, includes your birth month and ends three months after your birthday.

Signing up for Medicare Online Step-By-Step

Signing up for Medicare online through the Social Security Administration is the fastest way to apply.

Enrollment takes less than 10 minutes online, according to the Social Security Administration.

How to Apply for Medicare Online
  1. Create a My Social Security account if don’t have one already.
  2. Visit the Social Security Administration’s Apply for Benefits page.
  3. Click “Start a New Application.”
  4. Follow the instructions.

You will be asked to provide your current health insurance information or, if you receive Medicaid benefits, your Medicaid number.

Step-by-step guide to applying for medicare online
You may be required to provide additional documentation if you are:
  • Not a U.S. citizen
  • Applying under your spouse’s work record
  • Over age 65 and transitioning from your employer’s health coverage

After you’re enrolled, CMS will send you a welcome packet in the mail along with your Medicare card.

If you sign up for Medicare on your own, the packet should arrive about two weeks after you sign up.

You will also receive a “Medicare & You” handbook, which includes important information about your coverage.

Delaying Part B Coverage and Late Enrollment Penalties

You should enroll in Part A when you’re first eligible near your 65th birthday, but some people may choose to delay Part B.

If you receive group health insurance at work — or through your spouse’s employer — you may be able to delay enrollment in Part B.

But once you stop working or that coverage ends, you must sign up for Part B within eight months. Otherwise, you’ll face a late enrollment penalty.

If you enroll in Part B after your group health insurance ends, you have options for how to apply.

You can do so online through an application on the Social Security website or by mail.

How to Sign Up for Part B by Mail After Employer Health Insurance Ends
  1. Print out and complete CMS 40B Form Application for Enrollment in Medicare - Part B (Medical Insurance).
  2. Provide any required proof of employment or group health plan coverage on your 40B form.
  3. Print out and complete Section A of CMS L564 Form - Request for Employment Information.
  4. Ask your employer to fill out Section B of CMS L564 Form.
  5. Mail both forms together (CMS 40B and CMS L564) to your local Social Security office.
  6. Or fax your enrollment forms and evidence of employment to 1-833-914-2016.

Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users 1-800-325-0778) for help or more information.

Step 3: Explore Your Other Medicare Coverage Options

Once you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you can explore additional coverage options.

You can decide to:
  • Stick with Original Medicare.
  • Add a Medigap supplement insurance policy.
  • Add a Part D prescription drug plan.
  • Switch to a Medicare Advantage plan — also known as Part C — to replace your Original Medicare coverage.

Medicare Part D, Medigap and Medicare Advantage are all administered by private insurance companies that contract with CMS.

You can apply for these benefits online.

Use the Medicare Plan Finder tool to explore and compare plans in your area.

Screenshot of the Medicare Plan Finder tool
Screenshot of the Medicare Plan Finder tool

Step 4: Be Aware of Other Enrollment Periods

Most people sign up for Medicare during the seven-month initial enrollment period around their 65th birthday.

But what if you missed your initial enrollment period and want to make changes or add additional coverage?

There are specific times each year when you can do this.

Alternate Medicare Enrollment Periods
Medicare Open Enrollment
Each year from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, all existing Medicare users can make changes to their coverage during the open enrollment period. During this time, you can switch between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage, change your Medicare Advantage plan, sign up for a Part D plan and change or drop your current Part D plan.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment
If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can change or drop your plan between Jan. 1 and March 31 each year.
Medicare General Enrollment
If you did not enroll in Medicare when you were first eligible, the general enrollment period is an opportunity to sign up for Medicare Part A and Part B for the first time. It runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year. Once you sign up, your coverage will begin July 1.
Medicare Special Enrollment Period
Certain life events may also allow you to make changes to your Medicare coverage if you qualify for a special enrollment period. There are more than 20 qualifying special circumstances listed on Medicare’s website. Each special enrollment situation has specific rules about when you can make changes to your coverage and the types of changes you can make.

Step 5: Sign Up for a MyMedicare.gov Account

After you sign up for Medicare, you can create a MyMedicare.gov account to manage your coverage.

With your MyMedicare.gov account, you can:
  • Check your enrollment status.
  • Get details about the plans you’re enrolled in and what they cover.
  • Update your personal information.
  • Enter your health records and prescription drugs.
  • View Medicare claims.
  • Print replacement Medicare cards.
  • Share information with your providers.

Creating an account on MyMedicare.gov is quick and easy.

How to Sign Up for MyMedicare.gov
  1. Go to the Create an Account page.
  2. Have your Medicare number and Part A effective start date handy.
  3. Fill out the required information on the page.
  4. Follow the instructions and confirm your new account.

Signing up for a Medicare Part D Plan

Medicare Part D drug coverage is optional and available to anyone with Medicare Part A and Part B.

Two Ways to Get Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage
  1. With a standalone Part D plan
  2. Through a Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage

In both cases, you must already be enrolled in Original Medicare.

You can explore and compare available Part D plans on the Medicare website.

You can also call your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for free help.

Once you find a plan that meets your needs, there are a few ways to sign up.

Four Ways to Sign Up for a Part D Drug Plan
  1. Call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing and use TTY, call 1-877-486-2048.
  2. Go online and use the Medicare Plan Finder. You can enroll in a plan by clicking the “Enroll” button next to the plan’s name.
  3. Contact the insurance company that offers the Part D plan. You can visit the company’s website or call the phone number listed on the Medicare Plan Finder page.
  4. Request and fill out a paper application from the insurance company.

To sign up for a Medicare Part D plan, you will need your Medicare number and the date your Part A and Part B coverage started. You can find this information on your Medicare card or on MyMedicare.gov.

Other Information You Need to Provide
  • Mail Icon
    Your primary mailing address
  • Pill Icon
    Whether you had or have other drug coverage
  • Pay Icon
    How you want to pay your premiums

Coverage usually begins the first day of the month after enrollment.

If you switch plans during the open enrollment period (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7), your new coverage will start Jan. 1.

Signing Up for a Medicare Advantage Plan

If you prefer to get your health coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan, you must first enroll in Original Medicare Part A and Part B and then switch to a separate Medicare Advantage plan.

All Medicare Advantage plans must offer the same Medicare Part A and Part B benefits as Original Medicare, but some plans include other benefits, such as prescription drug coverage, dental and vision.

Medicare Advantage Plans do not all offer the same benefits.

Use the Medicare Plan Finder or call your local SHIP representative to compare plans in your area.

Four Ways to Sign Up for a Medicare Advantage Plan
  1. Call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 (TTY 1-877-486-2048).
  2. Go online and use the Medicare Plan Finder. Click the “Enroll” button next to the plan’s name and follow the instructions.
  3. Contact the plan provider and request a paper enrollment form. Fill it out and return it to the insurance company.
  4. Call the company that offers the plan you want or visit their website.

To join a Medicare Advantage plan, you will need your Medicare number and the date your Part A and Part B coverage began.

Signing up for a Medigap Policy

To purchase a Medigap supplement insurance policy, you must first enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B.

Medigap policies are not required but enrolling in one can help you pay out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, coinsurance and copayments.

The best time to enroll in a Medigap plan is when you are first eligible.

This is a six-month enrollment period that begins the month you’re 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B.

If you apply for Medigap coverage after this six-month window, private insurance companies may not sell you a policy if you’re in poor health.

You can find a Medigap policy by using an online tool on the Medicare website, contacting your local SHIP or calling your State Insurance Department.

How to Sign Up for a Medigap Policy Online
  1. Go to Medicare’s online Medigap finder.
  2. Enter your zip code.
  3. Get a more accurate price by entering your age, gender and tobacco use.
  4. Review the basic costs and benefits of different Medigap plans.
  5. Once you find a plan you like, click “View Policies."
  6. Review the different insurance companies that offer policies for that plan.
  7. Reach out to a few of the companies through the contact information listed on the page.
  8. Apply for a policy.
Guide to applying for a Medigap Policy online

The cost of Medigap policies can vary widely. Insurance companies may charge different premiums for the exact same coverage.

Make sure to get quotes from multiple insurers before purchasing a policy.

FAQs

Visit our Medicare FAQ page to view more frequently asked questions.

Will I be automatically enrolled in Medicare, or do I need to sign up?

If you are already receiving retirement benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board for at least four months, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B on the first day of the month you turn 65.

Otherwise, you need to sign up on your own.
What is the easiest way to sign up for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)?
The easiest way to apply for Medicare is through the Social Security Administration’s online application.
Should I sign up for Medicare Part B if I’m already receiving Veteran’s Benefits?
Yes. If you don’t sign up when you’re first eligible, you may have to wait to sign up and face late enrollment penalties.
What if I can’t afford my Part B premium or other Medicare costs?

There are several Medicare Savings Programs available to people with low incomes. These programs can help you pay your Part B premium along with other Medicare costs, such as deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

These programs are operated by Medicaid at the state level. Reach out to your local Medicaid office to see if you qualify for assistance.
Will I owe extra money if I wait to sign up for Medicare?

In most cases, yes.

If you delay enrollment in Medicare Part A, Part B or Part D, you may face various penalties. Some of these fees will apply for long as you receive Medicare benefits.

If you don’t have group health insurance from your current employer or your spouse’s current employer, the best way to avoid late enrollment penalties is to sign up for Medicare during your initial enrollment period.
Last Modified: November 2, 2020

18 Cited Research Articles

  1. Medicare.gov. (2020, June 15). Medicare enrollment periods: when to sign up. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/blog/medicare-enrollment-period-2020
  2. Social Security Administration. (2019, March 19). Special Enrollment Period. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/hlp/isba/10/hlp-med003-partb2.htm
  3. Barry, P. (2016, October). Signing Up for a Plan. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-11-2009/part6_enrolling_in_Medicare_partd.html
  4. AARP.org. (n.d.). How do I enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan? Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-qa-tool/how-to-enroll-in-medicare-advantage/
  5. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). 4 steps to buy a Medigap policy. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/supplements-other-insurance/when-can-i-buy-medigap/4-steps-to-buy-a-medigap-policy
  6. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Buying your Medigap policy. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/supplements-other-insurance/when-can-i-buy-medigap/buying-your-medigap-policy
  7. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Cost of Medigap policies. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/supplements-other-insurance/whats-medicare-supplement-insurance-medigap/medigap-costs/costs-of-medigap-policies
  8. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Get started with Medicare. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/get-started-with-medicare
  9. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). How do I get Parts A & B? Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/how-do-i-get-parts-a-b
  10. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). How do Medicare Advantage Plans work? Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/types-of-medicare-health-plans/medicare-advantage-plans/how-do-medicare-advantage-plans-work
  11. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). How to get prescription drug coverage. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/drug-coverage-part-d/how-to-get-prescription-drug-coverage
  12. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). How to join a Medicare Advantage plan. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/types-of-medicare-health-plans/medicare-advantage-plans/how-to-join-a-medicare-advantage-plan
  13. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Joining a health or drug plan. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/joining-a-health-or-drug-plan
  14. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Special circumstances (Special Enrollment Periods). Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan/special-circumstances-special-enrollment-periods
  15. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Welcome to Medicare” package (not automatically enrolled). Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/forms-help-resources/mail-you-get-about-medicare/welcome-to-medicare-package-not-automatically-enrolled
  16. Medicare.gov. (n.d.). When can I buy Medigap? Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/supplements-other-insurance/when-can-i-buy-medigap
  17. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Medicare Benefits: Your Health Insurance Coverage. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare/
  18. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions: Medicare. Retrieved from https://faq.ssa.gov/en-US/topic/?id=CAT-01092
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