Key Takeaways

  • People who choose early retirement through Social Security and those who get Social Security Disability (or Railroad Retirement benefits) are automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. 

  • All other people need to consider their options and make choices during the Initial Enrollment Period (the three months before, the month of, and the three months after your 65th birthday). Even if you are still working, make sure you understand your Medicare options and what it means to delay enrollment. 

  • When deciding about other Medicare options, including Medicare Advantage, Medigap and Part D, make sure you make a choice based on your personal situation. You can talk to a licensed agent or your local SHIP for personalized recommendations.  

Most people are eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. Some people will get Medicare automatically, others must apply.

Automatic Enrollment: If already receiving Social Security retirement (because you chose early retirement after age 62), or you receive Social Security Disability Benefits (or Railroad Retirement benefits) when you turn 65:

  • Medicare Parts A & B (Original Medicare) enrollment is automatic,
  • A “Welcome to Medicare” packet and Medicare card will arrive in the mail from the Social Security Administration about 3 months before 65th birthday.

Must apply: If you did not choose early retirement between the ages of 62 and 65, you must contact Social Security to apply for Medicare. You can enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period (the three months before, the month of, and the three months after your 65th birthday). Upon enrollment, Social Security will send a "Welcome to Medicare" packet that includes a Medicare card.

Three ways to Apply for Medicare Parts A and B

There are additional options for your health and prescription drug coverage.

  • Part C, or Medicare Advantage plans. You can choose a Medicare Advantage plan in place of Original Medicare. The Medicare Advantage plans include Original Medicare and usually your prescription drug plan. Medicare Advantage plans are run by private health insurance companies.
  • Medigap. People who choose Original Medicare (for Parts A and B coverage) usually enroll in a Medigap plan to address the “gaps” in coverage. Medigap plans are also run by private companies who contract with Medicare. Plan options are standardized across most states.
  • Part D, or prescription drug coverage. People who choose Original Medicare generally need to also chose a Part D plan for prescription drug coverage. If you do not enroll in Part D when you are initially eligible (and if you do not have other creditable drug coverage), you can face a penalty when you do enroll late.

To join an additional Medicare plan (Part C, Part D or Medigap), start by comparing local plans. Before enrolling in any of these plans, be prepared to provide Medicare number and Part A and/or Part B coverage start date. This information can be found on the Medicare card. Enrollment can be done a few ways:

Three Ways to Apply for Medicare Parts C/D/Medigap

Remember that it’s important to consider your unique situation when deciding how to receive your Medicare health and prescription drug coverage. You need to consider health status, lifestyle, costs and other factors when making the best choice.