How to Apply for Medicare: Everything You Need to Know

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Russell Noga
by Russell Noga | Updated September 6th, 2023



Are you close to turning 65 or planning for your retirement? Navigating the world of Medicare can be overwhelming. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about Medicare, including how to apply for Medicare, from eligibility to enrollment and coordinating with other health coverage. So let’s dive in and simplify the Medicare journey.


Short Summary

  • Understand eligibility requirements for Medicare, including age, citizenship status and qualifying disabilities.
  • Become familiar with the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), General Enrollment Period (January 1 to March 31) and Special Enrollment Periods in order to avoid late enrollment penalties.
  • Coordinate other health coverage options such as employer-based insurance or Health Savings Accounts with Medicare Parts A, B, C & D. Use the Care Compare tool to find healthcare providers that accept Medicare.


Understanding Medicare Eligibility

Before diving into the enrollment process, it’s crucial to understand if you’re eligible for Medicare. Generally, you must be at least 65 years old, a U.S. citizen or legal resident, or have a qualifying disability.

In some cases, you may be automatically enrolled upon reaching age 65 or after receiving Social Security disability benefits for a specified period.

Understanding your eligibility is the first step in accessing the benefits of this federal health insurance program.


Age Requirements

Initial Enrollment Period

For most people, Medicare eligibility begins at age 65. The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is a seven-month window that starts three months before your 65th birthday, includes your birthday month, and continues for three months after your birthday.

If you miss the IEP, you can enroll during the General Enrollment Period (January 1 to March 31) or, in some cases, a Special Enrollment Period. To avoid late enrollment penalties, it’s essential to enroll during these periods.


Citizenship Status

In addition to age requirements, you need to meet citizenship status criteria to be eligible for Medicare. You must be a resident of the United States, including both citizens and permanent residents.

For premium-free Medicare Part A, U.S. citizens need to have worked at least 40 quarters (10 years) in the U.S., while the requirements for legal residents are the same as those for U.S. citizens. Non-U.S. citizens may be eligible for Medicare if they receive, or qualify to receive, Social Security retirement benefits.


Qualifying Disabilities

Individuals younger than 65 may be eligible for Medicare if they have specific disabilities or health conditions, such as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Eligibility for Medicare due to a disability usually occurs after receiving Social Security disability benefits for two years.


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How to Apply for Medicare: Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you’re familiar with the eligibility requirements, it’s time to explore the application process. You can apply for Medicare through three methods: online, in-person, or by phone.

To complete the application, you’ll need your Social Security number, your birth city, and the start and end dates of any group health insurance plans you currently have or had after turning 65.

Once you’ve submitted your application, you can expect to receive your Medicare card within two weeks.


Online ApplicationOnline Application

Applying online for Medicare is simple and convenient. To create a secure account on the Social Security website, provide your personal information, such as your name, address, and Social Security number.

After logging in, proceed with the application process and provide details concerning your income, assets, and other financial information.

Once you’ve submitted your application, you can check its status by logging into your secure account or contacting the Social Security Administration.


In-Person Application In-Person Application

If you prefer a face-to-face approach, applying for Medicare in-person is an option.

Visit your local Social Security office, where they can assist with the application process and answer any questions you may have. Bring a Social Security card, a valid photo ID, and proof of citizenship or immigration status.

During the application process, the Social Security office will review your documents, ask about your income, assets, and health insurance coverage, and help you choose the most suitable Medicare plan.


Phone ApplicationPhone Application

For those who prefer a phone application, simply contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. You’ll need to provide your Social Security number, date of birth, and other relevant personal information.

After submitting your application over the phone, Social Security will review it and contact you if additional information is required.

Once approved, you’ll receive your Medicare card by mail. To check the status of your application, you can call Social Security at the same number.


Automatic Enrollment for Specific Situations

Some individuals may be automatically enrolled in Medicare. This typically occurs for those receiving Social Security benefits or with specific health conditions.

Understanding the circumstances that lead to automatic enrollment can help you plan and avoid potential late penalties.


Receiving Social Security Benefits

If you’ve been receiving Social Security benefits for at least four months before turning 65, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B when you reach age 65.

However, if you’ve applied for Social Security but haven’t received benefits for four months before turning 65, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A when you become eligible, but you’ll need to apply for Part B.

Starting Social Security benefits before age 65 also leads to automatic enrollment in both Part A and Part B, with the monthly premium deducted from your Social Security payment.


Disability Benefits and Specific Health Conditions

Individuals under 65 who have been receiving Social Security disability benefits for 24 months or more will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B.

Also, individuals with specific health conditions such as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can be automatically enrolled in Medicare.


How to Apply for Medicare: Everything You Need to Know


Medicare Enrollment Periods

Understanding the various Medicare enrollment periods is crucial to avoid late penalties and ensure timely access to healthcare services. There are three main enrollment periods: the Initial Enrollment Period, the General Enrollment Period, and the Special Enrollment Period.

By being aware of these periods, you can better plan your Medicare enrollment and coordinate it with any existing health coverage.


Initial Enrollment Period

As previously mentioned, the Initial Enrollment Period is a seven-month window around your 65th birthday, which includes the three months before, your birthday month, and the three months after.

Enrolling during this period ensures that your coverage will begin on the first day of your birthday month, and you’ll avoid any late penalties.

It’s important to note that if you don’t enroll during the Initial Enrollment Period, you won’t enroll during the Initial Enrollment Period.


General Enrollment Period

The General Enrollment Period occurs annually from January 1 to March 31. If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, you can enroll during this time; however, you may incur a late enrollment penalty, and your coverage may not begin until July 1.

General EnrollmentKeep in mind that the General Enrollment Period is the only opportunity to enroll in Medicare without a qualifying event.


Special Enrollment Period

The Special Enrollment Period is an eight-month window that allows you to enroll in Medicare without penalty under specific circumstances, such as losing job-based health insurance, being released from incarceration, or living in extraordinary circumstances.

Special EnrollmentTo qualify for a Special Enrollment Period due to health coverage through your employer or a spouse’s employer, you’ll need to provide a form from the employer to prove that the insurance was maintained from the time you turned 65 until the coverage was terminated.


Coordinating Medicare with Other Health Coverage

Medicare can be coordinated with other health coverage options to help minimize your out-of-pocket healthcare costs. This includes employer-based insurance and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

By understanding how Medicare works with these coverage options, you can make informed decisions about your healthcare needs and finances.

For example, if you have employer-based insurance, either through your employer or your spouse’s employer, you may be able to use Medicare.


Employer-Based Insurance

If you have employer-based insurance, it’s important to coordinate it with Medicare to ensure both plans work together to provide comprehensive coverage.

Contact your employer to find out if your employer-based insurance will cover any costs that Medicare does not cover, such as long-term care.

Additionally, check your employer-based insurance to see if it will cover any gaps in Medicare coverage.


Health Savings Accounts

A health savings account (HSA) can also be coordinated with Medicare. You can use your HSA to pay for Medicare premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance. However, once you enroll in Medicare, you’re no longer allowed to contribute new funds to your HSA.

Existing funds can still be accessed and used for healthcare services.


Understanding Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D

Medicare is composed of four parts: Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D. Each part covers different aspects of healthcare, and understanding these components can help you make informed decisions about your Medicare coverage.

In the next sections, we’ll provide an overview of each part and its respective coverage options.


Medicare Part A

Medicare Part A

Medicare Parts are Medicare Parts. A is also known as hospital insurance, as it covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, laboratory tests, surgery, and home health care. You can apply for Medicare Part A online, in person, or by phone, and enrollment periods apply.

Enrollment periods vary depending on your situation, so it’s important to understand the rules.


Medicare Part BMedicare Part B

Medicare Part B is outpatient medical insurance covering services such as doctor visits, preventive care, and other healthcare provider services. It’s a voluntary program that requires the payment of a monthly premium, which is generally $144.60.

Enrollment in Part B can be done online, in person, or by phone, and the same enrollment periods as Part A apply.


Medicare Part CMedicare Part C

Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, is an alternative to Original Medicare provided by private insurance companies. It includes all the medicare benefits of Part A and Part B and often offers additional coverage, such as prescription drug coverage, dental, vision, and hearing services.

You can sign up for Medicare online, in person, or by phone, including Medicare Part C.


Medicare Part DMedicare Part D

Medicare Part D covers prescription drug costs, helping you manage your medication expenses. To be eligible for Part D, you must be enrolled in Medicare Part A and/or Part B and meet the age or disability requirements.

Application for Part D can be done online, in person, or by phone.


Late Enrollment Penalties and How to Avoid Them

Late enrollment penalties can significantly increase your Medicare costs if you don’t enroll during the appropriate periods. These penalties apply to Medicare Part A, Part B, and Part D.

To avoid late penalties, it’s crucial to enroll in Medicare during the Initial Enrollment Period, General Enrollment Period, or Special Enrollment Period, depending on your individual circumstances.


Navigating Medicare Coverage Options

Finding the best Medicare plan for your individual needs can be challenging. Consider the various Medicare coverage options, such as Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C), Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D), and Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap).

By comparing these options and coordinating with any existing health coverage, you can ensure that you receive the best possible healthcare at the lowest possible health care costs.


Finding Healthcare Providers that Accept Medicare

Locating healthcare providers that accept Medicare is essential to making the most of your coverage. The official Medicare website offers a Care Compare tool that allows you to search for providers that accept Medicare.

You can also call 1-800-MEDICARE for assistance in finding providers, or check your insurance company’s provider listings.



In conclusion, understanding the ins and outs of Medicare can help you make informed decisions about your healthcare coverage.

By knowing eligibility requirements, enrollment periods, and different Medicare parts, you can choose the best plan for your needs and avoid late penalties.

Coordinating Medicare with other health coverage options, such as employer-based insurance and Health Savings Accounts, can further minimize your out-of-pocket expenses.

Remember, healthcare is an essential aspect of your well-being, and investing time in understanding Medicare will contribute to a healthier and more financially secure future.


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Frequently Asked Questions


  What is Medicare, and who is eligible to apply for it?

Medicare is a federal health insurance program primarily for individuals aged 65 and older. You’re eligible to apply if you’re 65 or older and either a U.S. citizen or a permanent legal resident who has lived in the U.S. for at least five years.


  When should I start the process to apply for Medicare?

You can start the application process for Medicare three months before turning 65. This initial enrollment period lasts for seven months, including your birthday month.


  How can I apply for Medicare benefits?

You can apply for Medicare benefits online through the Social Security Administration’s website, by visiting a local Social Security office, or by calling their toll-free number.


  What documents and information do I need to apply for Medicare?

When applying for Medicare, you’ll need your Social Security number, information about your current or previous employment, details of any existing health insurance coverage, and your birth certificate or other proof of citizenship or residency.


  Is there a deadline to apply for Medicare?

You should enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), which begins three months before you turn 65. If you miss your IEP, you can enroll during the General Enrollment Period, but you may incur a late enrollment penalty.


  Can I apply for Medicare if I’m still working and have employer-provided health insurance?

Yes, you can still apply for Medicare if you’re working and have employer-provided health insurance. However, you should check with your employer to see if they require you to enroll in Medicare.


  Are there different parts of Medicare to apply for?

Yes, there are different parts of Medicare. Medicare Part A covers hospital care, while Part B covers medical services. You can apply for both Part A and Part B at the same time.


  Can I apply for additional coverage like Medicare Advantage or a Part D prescription drug plan?

Yes, you can apply for Medicare Advantage (Part C) or a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan when you first become eligible for Medicare or during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP).


  What if I have questions or need assistance with the Medicare application process?

You can get help and information about the Medicare application process by contacting the Social Security Administration or reaching out to a Medicare counselor through your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).


  How long does it take to receive Medicare benefits after applying?

It typically takes about a month for your Medicare benefits to begin after you apply. However, if you apply early during your Initial Enrollment Period, your coverage may start on the first day of your birth month.