If you are a US citizen age 65 or older and need medical insurance, congratulations! You are eligible to enroll in Medicare.

Medicare is separate from your Social Security application for income benefits. You age into Medicare at 65, regardless of whether you are taking your retirement income benefits yet.

However, don’t expect Medicare to notify you when it’s time to sign up. You need to be mindful of the appropriate time to apply.

If you are already taking Social Security income benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B at age 65. Your card should arrive 1- 2 months before you turn 65.

If you are NOT taking retirement benefits just yet, then you will need to submit a Medicare application yourself.

The good news is, you only have to apply once, you do not have to apply every year.  Your Medicare Parts A and B will automatically renew each year so long as you pay your premiums.

Initial Enrollment Period

Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) for Medicare Parts A, B and D last 7 months. This timeline begins 3 months before your 65th birthday month and runs for 3 months after your birth month. Enrolling in Medicare during your IEP will ensure you will have no late penalties. This is also important because there are also no pre-existing condition waiting periods.

How to Enroll

The Social Security office handles Medicare applications for Parts A and B. They offer several easy options so you can choose how to apply for Medicare. You have three choices for applying:

  1. Online
  2. By phone
  3. In person

Before you decide on how you want to apply for Medicare, start gathering documents. You will need the list of documents below no matter how you decide to apply.

Documents needed to apply for Medicare:

  • Social Security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • A copy of your military service papers (if you carried out military service before 1968)
  • A copy of W-2 forms or self-employment tax return from the previous year
  • Any marriage, divorce and death certificates
  • Bank information to set up deposits
  • A spouse’s Social Security number and date of birth

Enroll for Medicare Online

Social Security offers an online retirement application that can be completed in as little as 15 minute and from the comfort of your own home. Which means, you don’t need to brave the traffic and can stay in your pajamas. It’s a win-win!

To do so, visit the Social Security website and follow the links on applying.

In most cases, once your application is submitted electronically, you’re done. Social Security will process your application and contact you by telephone or by mail if any further information is needed.

Many people opt to apply online as it is the quickest and easiest.

Enroll for Medicare phone

To apply by phone, you will need to contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and let the customer service representation know you would like to apply for Medicare. You are usually able to get through to someone pretty quickly, but if the call volume is high, they will likely schedule an appointment to call you back.

While the phone part of the process, is relatively quick, they will have to mail forms for you to fill out, and then you have to mail those forms back in, which can take a couple of weeks. Therefore, this is only a good option if you have a month of two lead time before the application is due.

Enroll for Medicare in Person

Some people just prefer to apply face to face. If that is you, simply visit your local Social Security office. Not sure where that is? Visit the website to search for the one closest to you. When you arrive, you will meet with a representative who will walk you through what is needed from you.