- You can sign up for Medicare on your computer when you become eligible for coverage.
- There are several parts of Medicare to choose from, each offering a different level of health care coverage.
- You can only enroll in Medicare during certain times of the year. If you don’t follow these deadlines, you may face penalties or delayed coverage.
How to Apply for Medicare Online
If you haven’t signed up for Social Security benefits, you’ll need to do that first in order to get Original Medicare (also known as Medicare Parts A and B). You can create a Social Security account and apply for benefits online here.
In your Social Security account, you should see a Medicare number. Make a note of this number because you’ll likely need it later to sign up through Medicare.gov.
Enroll in a Plan
There are several parts of Medicare you can choose from. As the process for signing up for each plan varies, it’s important to know the distinctions between them.
- Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B make up a government-supplied healthcare package known as Original Medicare. Part A, or hospital insurance, pays for inpatient care, as well as home health or hospice care. Part B, or medical insurance, pays for your doctor visits, outpatient care, and other related services.
- Medicare Advantage plans, which are also provided by private insurance carriers, include the same basic provisions of Original Medicare, but come with some added benefits, such as vision, hearing, or dental coverage. Some Medical Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage as well.
- Medicare Part D prescription drug plans help cover the costs of your medications, both brand-name and generic. These plans are offered by private insurance companies, not the government.
- Medicare Supplement (or Medigap) plans cover extra expenses, such as copayments and coinsurance, that aren’t paid for by Original Medicare. These plans are offered by private insurance companies.
Most people become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65 years old. However, there are some exceptions.
Sign up During the Medicare Enrollment Periods
It’s very important to apply for Medicare during one of the enrollment periods listed below. If you sign up for Medicare outside of these periods, you could face higher premiums and delays of your coverage start date.
Initial Enrollment Period
Most people become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65 years old. However, there are some exceptions. For example, if you’re under age 65, you can still receive Medicare benefits if…
- You’re already receiving disability benefits from Social Security.
- You have End-Stage Renal Disease.
- You already receive Social Security benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). If this is the case, you will automatically be signed on to Original Medicare at eligibility when you turn 65.
Unless one of the above exceptions applies to you, you should enroll in Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), which is the seven-month timeframe spanning three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and the three months after that.
Note that Medicare Part A does not require a premium, but Part B does. If you don’t want to enroll in Part B yet, you can hold off. However, if you choose this option, just be aware that you may have to pay a higher premium for each year you were eligible. The start of your Medicare coverage could also be delayed as a result of waiting.
During your IEP, you can also switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. You can enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan as well.
Your IEP is the best time to sign up for a Medigap (or Medicare Supplement) plan. If you don’t do so during your IEP, you might have to pay a higher premium or be denied altogether, depending on your pre-existing health conditions. This is because some insurance providers use medical underwriting to determine eligibility beyond a beneficiary’s Initial Enrollment Period.
Special Enrollment Period
If you miss your Initial Enrollment Period, you might be able to enroll if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. You’ll have to meet certain circumstantial criteria though. These include:
- If you’ve moved housing
- If you become eligible for Medicaid
- You need extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs
- You’re a nursing home or long-term care patient
- If you want to switch to a plan with a 5-star Medicare rating.
General Enrollment Period
If you don’t enroll in Original Medicare during your IEP or aren’t eligible for a Special Enrollment Period, you can still enroll during the annual General Enrollment Period, which occurs from January 1 to March 31. Just be aware that by delaying enrollment past your IEP, you’ll have to pay a higher premium for late enrollment.
Annual Enrollment Period
To sign up for Medicare Part D outside of your IEP or during the annual General Enrollment Period, you have to wait until the Annual Enrollment Period, which occurs from October 15 to December 7. During this time, you can also switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.
You can sign up for Original Medicare through Medicare.gov. As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, you should use the Medicare number listed in your Social Security account to create a MyMedicare.gov account.
If you’re interested in a Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription drug plan, you can use the “Find a Medicare Plan” search tool on Medicare.gov to compare your options.
When you sign up, be sure to do so during the right enrollment period, as outlined above.