How to Enroll in Medicare

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Contributor, Benzinga
May 25, 2022

If you’re used to signing up for health insurance, the idea of enrolling in Medicare might seem like it should be just as easy as other types of health insurance. However, there’s more to enrolling in Medicare that you might realize, including late penalties and automatic enrollment. Here’s what you need to know before you become eligible to enroll.

How to Enroll in Medicare

If it’s time for you to look into Medicare, you’ll need to know how to enroll. The process is a bit different than you might be used to if you’ve purchased your health insurance coverage through the Marketplace or through your employer in the past. 

Some people get Medicare automatically. This can happen if you’ve applied for retirement or disability benefits from Social Security because it also serves as your application for Medicare. If your application for Social Security is approved, you’ll automatically receive Medicare Part A coverage as soon as you’re eligible for Medicare. You won’t have to pay a premium for Part A coverage. You’ll also be signed up for Part B coverage in most cases, but since that comes with a monthly premium you can decide whether you want to keep it.

If you’re not automatically enrolled in Medicare, there’s no need to worry. You can take these steps to apply for Medicare coverage. You can enroll on your own by visiting or by calling your local Social Security office. 

Go to or call a local Social Security office: You can get started with Medicare by visiting the Medicare website or calling your local Social Security office. If you visit the website, you can go through the enrollment process online on your own time. By calling Social Security, you can also get assistance by phone in the enrollment process.

Answer a few questions: Enrolling in Medicare includes answering a few questions. The first question that you’ll be asked is if you get benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board. If you already receive benefits, you may have been automatically enrolled in Medicare.

The next question asks you to select the option that best describes you — whether you’re under 65, 65 or older or under 65 and have a disability. 

Complete the registration: After you answer these questions, you’ll be given instructions on how to continue with your enrollment process. For example, if you’re not already receiving Social Security benefits and you’re over 65, you’ll be told to contact Social Security to sign up for Medicare. You can either apply to get benefits from Social Security, or sign up for just Part A and Part B of Medicare. 

When to Sign Up for Medicare

Most people become eligible to sign up for Medicare three months before turning 65. You may also be eligible to get Medicare earlier if you have a disability, End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) or ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Can you Register for Medicare if You’re not Retired?

Yes, you can. However, there are some things you should know so you can decide whether Medicare is right for you, and if so, how to enroll. If you’re still working, your company health insurance can make a big difference.

In most cases, if you have health insurance through your employer, you don’t have to sign up for Medicare before you retire. If you’re insured through your spouse’s job-based health insurance, you can usually wait until they retire. It might seem like that’s all there is to it, but unfortunately, Medicare can be more complex, especially when it comes to employed individuals.

One thing to be aware of is that you could be subject to a Part B late enrollment penalty if you do not sign up for Medicare when you turn 65. The Part B late enrollment penalty is an extra 10% charge for each year you were eligible for Part B Medicare but didn’t have it. This penalty charge is added to your monthly Part B premium after you enroll in Medicare coverage. Some cases in which you may be charged a Part B late enrollment penalty include:

  • If you have COBRA coverage. In this case, you should sign up for Medicare when you turn 65 to avoid possible gaps in coverage and the Part B late enrollment penalty. You will likely lose your COBRA coverage after signing up for Medicare.
  • If you don’t have coverage through an employer group health plan. This circumstance could apply to you if you’re self-employed. It can also apply if you have health insurance through your company that is not available to everyone at the company.

If you work for a small business with less than 20 employees, you will want to watch out for other things. Even if you’re still employed when you turn 65, you might need to sign up for Medicare to avoid gaps in your current health insurance. In this case, it’s best to speak with your employer about your job-based health insurance.

Compare Medicare Advantage Plans

When it comes to health insurance, it’s important to make sure you have a plan that will be there for you when you need it. Here are some options to consider as you make your decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Medicare automatically enroll you at 65?

No, Medicare does not automatically enroll everybody at the age of 65. Most people will first be able to sign up for Medicare benefits three months before turning 65. This is the start of your Initial Enrollment Period. It’s important to be aware of this period because if you miss it, you may have to wait to sign up. You may also have to pay a monthly late enrollment penalty if you fail to sign up when you are first eligible to do so. 

Some special situations can allow you to enroll at another time. For example, if you are still working at age 65 and have health insurance through your job, you can sign up any time as long as you have group health plan coverage and either you or your spouse works for the employer that provides the coverage. You’ll also be eligible for an eight-month Special Enrollment Period when you or your spouse stop working or lose group health plan coverage, whichever happens first. 

If you are receiving Social Security before you turn 65, the Social Security Administration will automatically sign you up for Part A and Part B of Medicare when you turn 65. You’ll receive sign-up instructions from the Social Security Administration three months before your 65th birthday, when your Initial Enrollment Period begins.

Do you automatically get Medicare with Social Security?

You won’t receive Medicare benefits until you are eligible for them. If you’re receiving Social Security benefits before your 65th birthday, the Social Security Administration will automatically enroll you in Medicare at the start of your Initial Enrollment Period. You can also become eligible for Medicare in other situations, including:

  • If you have ESRD
  • If you have ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • If you’ve been on Social Security disability insurance for two years and have a qualifying condition, such as heart issues, cancer and other severe health problems