Signing up for Medicare is a two-part process where you first enroll in the government program through the Social Security Administration, which confirms your eligibility. Next, you'll choose your coverage and apply for Medicare plans from private insurance companies.
Medicare application overview
The Medicare program includes several different parts and plans. You'll always start by confirming your eligibility in the government program, even if you plan to get Medicare coverage from a private insurance company.
What's the process for applying to Medicare?
No matter what type of Medicare coverage you want, enrolling in Medicare starts by completing the Social Security Administration's application.
This first step is sometimes called applying for Original Medicare, or, more specifically, applying for Medicare Part A (hospitalization insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance).
The process is quick, and the application only takes about 10 to 30 minutes, according to the Social Security Administration.
You can complete your Medicare application online, by phone or in person. You cannot complete your initial Medicare application by mail. The agency recommends applying online, when possible. This will allow you to set up your accounts so you can review your application status and eventually manage your Medicare benefits.
How to apply for Original Medicare
Medicare enrollment is only automatic if you apply for Social Security and start getting benefits at least four months before turning 65.
Most people will need to fill out a Medicare application at age 65 during the initial enrollment period: This process determines if you're eligible for benefits. If you don't apply by three months after the month of your 65th birthday, you will pay a late enrollment penalty.
Some people will be automatically enrolled in Medicare: If you've been receiving Social Security benefits for at least four months before your 65th birthday, you'll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B when you turn 65, and you won't need to complete a separate Medicare application.This is because the application you completed to start receiving Social Security benefits is also used as your Medicare application. However, full retirement benefits are typically not available until age 66 or 67, and as a result, fewer people are automatically enrolled in Medicare.
The next step is to choose your coverage by visiting Medicare.gov or working with an independent insurance broker.
Because Medicare's government plans (Parts A and B) only provide basic benefits, most enrollees also get coverage through a private insurance company. Plan options include:
- Getting bundled coverage with a Medicare Part C plan (also called Medicare Advantage), which could cost as little as $0 per month.
- Alternatively, you could add on a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan and/or a Medicare Part D plan (prescription drugs) to provide coverage on top of what you get from Parts A and B.
You may not need to add on to these plans if you get supplemental coverage through a former employer or through Medicaid.
There are also about 10% of enrollees who don't have additional coverage beyond Medicare Parts A and B. However, we do not recommend this because you could face very high medical costs and will have to pay the full cost for prescriptions.
It only takes a few minutes to get Medicare quotes. But it's worth it to spend time comparing plans and choosing the right coverage for your needs.
Costs can vary widely between counties and among insurance companies. That's why requesting personalized quotes is a smart step to get the best deal on the level of coverage you want.
4 ways you can sign up for a private Medicare plan
- On Medicare.gov
- By calling the Medicare.gov hotline at 1-800-633-4227 (TTY 1-877-486-2048)
- Directly with the insurance company
- Through an independent agent or broker
For Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, you'll be able to enroll in a plan directly through the Medicare Plan Finder on Medicare.gov.
For Medicare Supplement plans, you'll be able to browse your options on Medicare.gov, but the portal won't give you quotes. For this, you'll need to go directly to an agent, broker or insurance company, or you can request quotes online.
For any Medicare plan, it usually doesn't cost anything extra to work with an independent agent or broker, and you'll be able to get personalized recommendations and compare plans from different companies.
What documents and information do you need?
In most cases, you only need basic identifying information to complete your Medicare application. You'll submit your name, address and a few other details.
What you need to apply for Medicare:
- Full name and address
- Place of birth
- Current health insurance start and end dates
- Employment start and end dates if the employer is providing your health insurance
If applying as a couple, spouse or former spouse
- Current spouse name
- Prior spouse name if the marriage lasted more than 10 years or ended in death
- Spouse(s) date of birth and Social Security number (optional)
- Marriage(s) beginning and end dates
- Marriage(s) location (city, state, country)
- A different email address for each person applying for Medicare
- Phone number for verification via text message or phone call
If not a U.S. citizen, your permanent resident card number
- If also enrolled in Medicaid, your Medicaid number
You won't need to submit a detailed work history or financial documents. Instead, verification usually happens behind the scenes. For example, the Social Security Administration uses income information directly from the IRS to determine if you need to pay more for Medicare because you earn more than $97,000 a year.
When can you apply for Medicare?
The timing of your application matters, and you'll get the best deal on plans and avoid penalties by signing up for Medicare during your initial enrollment period.
When initial enrollment begins
When initial enrollment ends
|Medicare Part A, Part B, Advantage, Part D
|Three months before the month of your 65th birthday
|Three months after the month of your 65th birthday
|The first day of the month you're 65 or older and enrolled in Part B
|Six months after your enrollment window begins
- General enrollment period (with penalties): Every year from Jan. 1 to March 31
- Special enrollment period (with a qualifying event): The eight-month period after you lose group health insurance through your job or your spouse's job. While you're still working, you can also use a special enrollment period to sign up for Part B.
Remember that enrolling in Medicare is not a one-time event. Each year, there are Medicare open enrollment periods where you can review your Medicare plans to make sure you’re always getting the best deal on coverage based on the available plan choices and your changing medical needs as you age.
Step-by-step online Medicare application process
The process of applying for Medicare is straightforward. Usually, no documentation is required, and there are no paper forms to sign. Plus, the online forms will also automatically adjust the questions based on your answers to request the information that's needed for your situation.
We'll walk you through the steps of your online Medicare application below.
How to sign up for Medicare Parts A and B (Original Medicare)
- Visit the Social Security Administration portal.
- Agree to the terms of service.
- Start a new application.
- Begin answering questions about who the application is for.
Next, either log in to your Social Security account, create a Social Security account or verify your identity with Login.gov or ID.me.
- Note that when applying for Medicare, you'll need to set up a few different accounts. This can be confusing, but think of it this way:
- Your Social Security account is where you'll apply for Medicare benefits.
- A secondary account like Login.gov or ID.me is used to verify your identity.
- Eventually, your Medicare.gov account will be how you choose your plans and monitor medical claims.
- After creating a Login.gov account, you'll probably need to confirm your phone number with an access code that's sent via text message or a phone call. This system, called two-factor authentication, adds extra security to your account.
- Next, fill out basic information about the applicant such as name, Social Security number, birth date and gender.
- Decide if the application is only for Medicare or if you want to simultaneously apply for both Medicare and Social Security retirement benefits.
- Then, answer questions about your current health benefits, including any group insurance plan information and employment information.
Review your application and resolve errors.
- Application errors can sometimes happen. Social Security does verify account information with the credit reporting agencies. So you can get an error for things like an incorrect date of birth or a misspelled name. This could be an error that you made when filling out the application. Or there could be a data error in the system where your information does not match their records. In these cases, contact the Social Security Administration by phone to resolve the issue. The agent may need to mail you an activation code to reset your account so that you can complete the application.
- Finally, accept the agreement and submit your application.
You can check the status of your application or return to a saved application by logging in to your Social Security account.
When your application is approved, you'll receive your red, white and blue Medicare card by mail. You'll also receive a "Welcome to Medicare" packet, which includes the comprehensive "Medicare & You" handbook.
How to apply for Medicare if working past 65
If you have a group health insurance plan through an employer, you can apply for Medicare at age 65 but defer enrolling in any coverage that has a monthly cost. The Medicare application process is a little different when you're still working, so follow the steps below.
- Complete your Medicare application at age 65 to avoid penalties.
- Enroll in Medicare Part A, which is nearly always free.
- Defer Part B enrollment to avoid monthly costs while you have other coverage. If your employer has fewer than 20 employees, confirm with your workplace that you can defer Part B.
- Don't apply for a Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan at this time.
- Confirm that the prescription drug plan through your job is classified as "creditable drug coverage" so that you can postpone your Medicare Part D enrollment without penalties.
- When you eventually retire and lose health insurance through your job, apply for Medicare Part B via a special enrollment period and complete the CMS 40B form (Application for Enrollment in Medicare Part B).
If you are self-employed, have COBRA or work for an employer with fewer than 20 employees, you may need to fully enroll in Medicare at age 65. Check your policy or with your employer's HR department for the specifics of how your coverage works.
How to apply for Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement and Part D
- Using the Medicare number on your Medicare card, create an account on Medicare.gov.
- Set up the account by entering your name and other basic information. To avoid any mix-ups, make sure everything you enter on Medicare.gov matches what you entered in your application with the Social Security Administration.
- Create a username and password.
- Compare the plans offered in your area, and decide between a Medicare Advantage bundle or Original Medicare with add-on plans for Medigap and Medicare Part D.
- Apply for the Medicare plan you choose.
- After enrolling, you'll get the detailed plan information and benefits information from the insurance company.
Apply for financial assistance to make Medicare more affordable
If you have a low income and are concerned about costs, you can also apply to see if you're eligible for financial assistance.
Applications for financial assistance programs are not automatically included when you apply for Medicare coverage. This means that many people pay more for Medicare coverage than they need to.
It's estimated that about 30% to 45% of those who are eligible for these programs never apply for the benefits.
For programs administered by states, income limits and asset requirements vary. After applying for Medicare, we recommend checking with your state for the exact eligibility requirements that pertain to you.
Typical eligibility (individual)
|Extra Help for drug costs
|Less than $1,699 monthly income and up to $15,510 in cash, stocks or bonds
|Social Security Administration
|Medicare Savings Programs
|Less than $1,549 monthly income and up to $8,400 in assets
|Your state Medicaid office
|Less than $1,563 monthly income in states with expanded Medicaid
|Your state Medicaid office
Frequently asked questions
How do I enroll in Medicare for the first time?
Start by applying for Medicare Parts A and B through the Social Security Administration website. Next, you can choose your coverage at Medicare.gov and see what private insurance companies are selling plans in your area for Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement and Medicare Part D.
How long does it take to apply for Medicare?
It only takes 10 to 30 minutes to apply for Medicare through the Social Security Administration, and you'll only need to enter basic information like your name, address and birth date. Afterward, it can take longer to compare the coverage options in your area and choose the best plan. But again, the actual enrollment in Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement and Medicare Part D is very quick.
How long does it take for your Medicare application to be approved?
Your Medicare application can take as little as a few weeks to be approved, and you can check your online account to find out the status of your application. However, the timing of when your coverage begins depends on when you apply. Most people will have their Part A and B coverage start on the first day of the month they turn 65. But if you apply during your birthday month or the three months after, your Medicare Part B benefits could begin one to three months after your application.
Can you sign up for Medicare over the phone?
Yes. To start your Medicare application and apply for Parts A and B, contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). After this, you can choose your Medicare plan by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227 (TTY 1-877-486-2048).
How long does it take to get a Medicare card?
Usually, you'll receive your Medicare card in about three to four weeks after completing your Medicare application. Before it arrives, you'll get a letter from the Social Security Administration confirming the receipt of your Medicare application.