When to enroll in Medicare
If you’re turning 65 soon, you have a few decisions to make before you enroll in Medicare. Do you plan to retire or keep working? Will you get a health plan on your own or through your employer? Are you going to collect Social Security or delay your benefit payments? Your answers may affect how and when you enroll in Medicare — so knowing what you plan to do will help you make timely decisions.
You typically have 7 months to choose your Medicare plan and enroll — this is called your initial enrollment period. It starts 3 months before and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65.
Here’s what you can expect throughout the process. This information can help you meet important deadlines and possibly avoid late enrollment penalties.
3 months before you turn 65
You can start enrolling in Medicare 3 months before your 65th birthday. You’ll need to be eligible for Part A and Part B (Original Medicare) before you can get Part C (Medicare Advantage). You’ll need Part A, Part B, or both before you can get Part D.
Not sure what services each part covers? Learn the basics of Medicare.
Step 1 — Learn about your Medicare benefits
As soon as possible, visit SocialSecurity.gov or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to learn about your Part A and Part B benefits. The answers to these questions will help you enroll.
- Will I get Part A at no cost? Typically, you can get Part A at no cost if you or your spouse paid into Medicare for at least 10 years. If not, you can buy it.
- Do I need to enroll in Part A and Part B? Find out if you’ll be automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B, or if you should sign up.
- How will Social Security bill me for my Medicare premiums? The monthly premium is automatically deducted from your Social Security check each month. If you’re not collecting Social Security, you’ll get a bill from the federal government every 3 months.
- When will I get my Medicare card? The federal government will mail your red, white, and blue Medicare card after you’re enrolled. You should get it 3 months before your 65th birthday if you're automatically enrolled. If you need to enroll in Part A and Part B, it can take up to 2 months to get your Medicare card.
Note: You need the information on your Medicare card to sign up for Part C or Part D.
Step 2 — Enroll in Part A and Part B
How and when you enroll in Medicare depends on your situation when you turn 65, including:
- If you’re getting Social Security benefits
- If you’re getting coverage from your (or your spouse’s) current employer or you’re eligible for coverage from your (or your spouse’s) previous employer
Automatic enrollment — If you’re getting Social Security benefits, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B through the federal government when you turn 65. Once you get your Medicare card, see if you have Part A and Part B coverage. Look for “HOSPITAL (PART A)” and “MEDICAL (PART B)” printed on your Medicare card.
Applying for enrollment — If you’re not getting Social Security benefits yet but want to move to Medicare now, you’ll need to sign up for Parts A and B. Visit SocialSecurity.gov or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Delaying enrollment — If you’re getting coverage from an employer, you should enroll in Part A but may not need to sign up for Part B. It depends on the size of the employer. If they have 20 or more employees and their coverage is equivalent to Medicare coverage, you can opt out or choose to delay enrolling without a penalty. If you’re not sure, ask the company’s benefits administrator for help. You can enroll in Part B when you retire or if your coverage changes.
Note: You may need to pay an ongoing late enrollment penalty if you enroll in Part B after your initial enrollment period.
Your birthday month and 3 months after you turn 65
Step 3 — Decide if you want more coverage (Part C or Part D)
Once you get a confirmation letter from the federal government for Part A and Part B, you’ll be eligible to enroll in optional Part C or Part D coverage through a private health plan. Your private health plan coverage will typically begin the first day of the month after your application is received.
Part C — Medicare Advantage
Medicare Advantage is an “all-in-one” alternative to Original Medicare. It includes Part A, Part B, and usually Part D.
The way you pay for care is different with Medicare Advantage than with Original Medicare — your costs may be lower, with set copays and a maximum out-of-pocket limit.
Part D — prescription drug coverage
If you want prescription drug coverage, you can either:
- Keep Original Medicare and enroll in a stand-alone Part D plan as additional coverage
- Enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) that includes Part D coverage
Note: You may have to pay an ongoing late enrollment penalty if you enroll in Part D after your initial enrollment period.
Enrolling in a Kaiser Permanente Medicare Advantage plan
Moving your current coverage to a Kaiser Permanente Medicare health plan is hassle-free. You’ll enjoy high-quality care and predictable costs. Learn more about the benefits of a Kaiser Permanente Medicare Advantage plan. Then, compare our Medicare Advantage plans side by side and find the one that fits your needs. When you’re ready to sign up, have your Medicare card handy.
When you enroll in a Kaiser Permanente Medicare Advantage plan, you can also sign up for optional benefits like vision, hearing, and dental services with Advantage Plus.
Note: If you bought your current plan through a health benefit exchange, be sure to cancel it once your Medicare health plan is confirmed. Otherwise, you’ll be billed for both plans.
Did you miss your initial enrollment period?
There are other times throughout the year when you can enroll in Medicare, change your plan, or add optional benefits. Read more about enrollment periods or watch our video “Medicare Advantage Enrollment” to learn about the different enrollment periods and when you can enroll.