How to Enroll in Medicare

Last updated: October 7, 2015

Some Qualify for Automatic Enrollment, Others Must Apply

Applied Enrollment

If you are not receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits (for example, if you are still working):

  • You will need to apply to receive Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance).

  • You can contact the Social Security office 3 months before your 65th birthday to receive this coverage.

  • Individuals with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) should also contact their local Social Security office to sign up for Parts A and B.

  • If you want Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans) and/or Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage), you must apply for it. There is no automatic enrollment for these.

Automatic Enrollment

Automatic enrollment in Part A and Part B occurs if you are already receiving benefits from Social Security or the RRB.

  • This coverage begins the first day of the month that you turn 65 years old.

  • If your birthday falls on the first day of the month, your coverage will begin the first day of the month before you turn 65.

  • Individuals under age 65 and disabled will automatically be enrolled in Part A and Part B after receiving disability benefits from Social Security (or some other limited sources) for 24 months.


  • Three months before your 65th birthday you will receive your red, white, and blue Medicare card. Keeping this card automatically enrolls you in Parts A and B. If you do not want to receive Part B, follow the instructions that are included with the card.

  • Enrollment periods for Parts A, B, C, and D vary. The following are guidelines to help you figure out when your enrollment period is. There are several different enrollment periods that you should be aware of when signing up for Medicare.

Initial Enrollment Period

Your initial enrollment period lasts 7 months, beginning three months before your 65th birthday

  • Or, if you are still covered under a group health plan, when you first become eligible for Part B coverage.

  • During this time, you will enroll in Part A (and, if you choose, Part B) or a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C). You will also decide if you want Part D prescription drug coverage.

  • Your initial enrollment period is the only time that you can enroll in all Parts of Medicare penalty-free. Weigh your options carefully during this time so you don’t have to pay late enrollment fees for Part B or Part D later on.

General Enrollment

  • Those who did not enroll in Part A or Part B during their initial enrollment period may do so between January 1 and March 31 each year.

    • Those who enroll during this time will begin receiving this coverage on July 1 of the same year.

    • You may have to pay a late enrollment fee if you sign up during this time.

Special Enrollment  

Special enrollment periods occur for those who chose not to enroll in Part A and/or B because they were still covered under employer or other group plan coverage when they turned 65.

  • Generally this special enrollment period occurs during the 8-month period following the end of employment or the end of group health plan coverage (whichever comes first).

  • If you have been continuously covered under employer or group-sponsored health coverage since your 65th birthday, and enroll in Part A and/or Part B during this special enrollment period, you will not have to pay a late enrollment penalty.

  • For more information about special enrollment periods, click here.

Late Enrollment Penalties

Should you choose not to enroll in Part B or Part D during your initial enrollment period, then change your mind later, you may be charged a late enrollment penalty.

  • To avoid this extra cost, make sure you weigh your options carefully during the 7-month initial enrollment period around your 65th birthday.

For more information about enrollment into Medicare, click here.

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