How do I enroll in Medicare?

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Medicare is a health insurance program run by the federal government of the United States that has had much success in providing quality health insurance at an affordable price. Available for qualifying individuals 65 years of age or older and those with disabilities, Medicare is widely accepted by most doctors and hospitals in the United States. Enrolling in Medicare can be an extensive process and being prepared for this process is vital to avoid potential mistakes that can cost an individual valuable time and money.

Sign-up and Sign-up Information

Individuals can sign up for Medicare by visiting the Social Security website or by scheduling a meeting at their local Social Security office. Those that receive disability through Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board are automatically enrolled after receiving benefits for 24 months and will not have to sign up. Below are several important pieces of information that an individual should have when applying:

  • Birth Certificate
  • Proof of US citizenship or legal residency
  • Social Security card
  • Health insurance information - In certain circumstances, Medicare can be used with other forms of insurance. Medicaid, for example, is commonly used by many lower-income individuals to help pay for medical costs not covered by Medicare.
  • Tax information (W-2)
  • Military documents (if applicable)

Individuals who are unsure of what documents apply to them for use in the application process should either visit the Social Security website or contact them by phone at 1-800-772-1213. Individuals who were employed by a railroad company should visit the Railroad Retirement Board website or contact them by phone at 887-772-5772.

Enrollment Periods

Medicare has different enrollment periods depending on an individual's situation. Failure to sign up during the appropriate enrollment period could potentially result in penalties that can significantly increase premiums.

Initial Enrollment Period

The initial enrollment period for most Medicare recipients is 7 months centering around the time they turn 65. Potential Medicare customers can enroll during the 3 months before they turn 65, the month of their 65th birthday, and the 3 months after their birthday month. Individuals can choose between Parts A and Part B of Medicare, also known as Standard Medicare or Original Medicare, or Medicare Part C, also known as a Medicare Advantage plan. If a customer opts for Original Medicare, they can also sign up for Medicare Part D, an optional prescription drug plan.

General Enrollment Period

For individuals who miss the initial enrollment period for Medicare, a general enrollment period is available from January 1 to March 31 for them to enroll. Coverage will begin for customers who enroll during this period on July 1 of the same year, albeit with increased rates due to the penalties applied for missing the initial enrollment period.

Special Enrollment Period

Special Enrollment Periods allow individuals to sign up for Medicare after the initial enrollment period without having to pay any penalties. One of the most common reasons for qualifying for a Special Enrollment Period includes current coverage by an employer group health plan. Individuals have 8 months to sign up for Medicare after their employment ends or the health plan based on their employment ends. Special Enrollment Periods may also be used by those who are volunteering or serving in a foreign country.