The first thing you need to know before enrolling in Medicare is whether you qualify for it. You may qualify for Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) if one of the following applies to you:
- You are getting benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB): If this is the case, you will, in most cases, be automatically enrolled in Part A and B from the first day of the month you turn 65. If your birthday is on the first day of the month, your Part A and B coverage will start on the first day of the prior month. In the case of automatic enrollment, you will get your red, white, and blue Medicare Card in the mail 3 months before your 65th birthday, or your 25th month of disability.
- You are under 65, and have a disability: If you have received Social Security benefits, or disability benefits from the RRB for 24 months, you are eligible to enroll with Medicare Part A and B.
- You have ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis): If you have ALS, you can get Part A and B as soon as your disability benefits begin.
- You live in Puerto Rico and get benefits from Social Security or the RRB: You will be automatically enrolled in Part A, but will have to sign up for Part B. To do that, you can fill in and submit an Application for Enrollment in Part B (Form CMS-40B).
- You are 65 or older and not receiving Social Security or RRB benefits, but are still working: In this case, you are eligible but will have to sign up for Part A and Part B
- You have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD): If you qualify to get Medicare while having ESRD, you can sign up for Part A and B.
Once you are sure that you are eligible, you can sign up if you are not automatically enrolled. Timing is important. If you don’t enroll in time for Part A and B benefits, you will end up paying higher premiums for the rest of your life. Here is when you can enroll with Medicare Part A and B:
When you first become eligible: This is the Initial Enrollment Period, the time around your 65th birthday: your birthday month; 3 months before it; and 3 months after. If you do not sign up during this period you will very likely have to pay higher premiums.
- Between January 1 and March 31 each year: If you miss the Initial Enrollment Period, you can sign up from January 1 through March 31 each year. Your coverage will begin starting July 1. You will have to pay a higher premium for late enrollment.
- In the Special Enrollment Period: If you have missed the Initial Enrollment Period, but qualify for the Special Enrollment Period, you can sign up during this period without paying late enrollment penalties. This Special Enrollment Period is available to people working and insured by their employer or work union at the time they turn 65. These people can wait for the employer’s insurance to end before enrolling with Medicare. This is only if you or your spouse (or family member if you are disabled) is working, and you are covered by a group health plan through the employer or union, based on that work. You have an 8-month Special Enrollment Period to sign up for Part A and Part B. This period starts from the month after the employment ends, or the health insurance plan ends, whichever occurs first. This period is also available to international volunteers serving in a foreign country. Other examples of qualification for the Special Enrollment Period include relocating, qualifying for Medicaid, qualifying for extra help with Medicare Prescription Drug coverage, qualifying for skilled nursing or long term hospital care, and/or switching to a 5-star Medicare Plan.
So there are three main periods to sign up for Part A and B, both of which are necessary Plans to have before exploring additional insurance coverage. To enroll with the Plan at these times, you can contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE.