Everything You Need to Know About Applying for Medicare

Have This Information on Hand and Avoid Costly Mistakes

Medicare enrollment
Enrolling in Medicare is more about timing than paperwork. Johnrob/E+/Getty Images

Applying for Medicare is easy, if you have to do it at all. People who are already receiving Social Security retirement benefits will be automatically enrolled in the program when they reach Medicare eligibility age. For those who have not yet signed up to receive those benefits, this is what you need to know.  

Where You Can Apply

Applications for Medicare are processed by the Social Security Administration (SSA), not the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

All questions about your Medicare card should also be directed to the SSA.

If you are already receiving Social Security benefits, the SSA already has your information. This is why enrollment is automatic when you turn 65 years old. For everyone else, these are your three options to apply for Medicare.

  1. In person. You can go to your local Social Security office to complete a paper application.
  2. By telephone. You can call the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to complete your application with a Social Security representative . For those who are hearing impaired, a TTY number is available at 1-800-325-0778.
  3. Online. You can apply for Medicare with this simple application. It may take 10 to 30 minutes to complete, depending on whether or not you are also applying for Social Security benefits.

The Most Important Part of Your Application

Your application will ask if you are applying for Medicare only or for both Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Be careful when making this decision.

You are eligible for Medicare at age 65 though you can start collecting Social Security benefits as early as 62 years old. The longer you wait to collect Social Security, the more money you will receive in benefits.

The official Social Security retirement age is 67 years old but you could earn even more in benefits if you delay your retirement to age 70.

Depending on the year you were born, you will earn delayed retirement credits every year between 67 and 70 years of age, as much as an extra 8 percent in benefits every year.

You need to take a hard look at your retirement plans and how long you think you can (or want) to continue working. Most people will check the Medicare only option on their application to maximize their Social Security benefits in the long run. You can apply for Social Security benefits when you are ready.

What Information You Need

If you are applying for Medicare only:

The information you need is basic.

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Gender
  • Health insurance information if you have an employer-sponsored health plan

It may seem strange that you need health insurance information to apply for a health program like Medicare. This is included as part of the application to determine if you will need to pay late penalties.

The government requires that you apply for Medicare as soon as you are eligible. You can be exempt from signing up at 65 years old if you got health insurance from a company that hires the equivalent of 20 full-time employees or more.

If you worked for a smaller company, even if you were on their health plan, you would be charged a late penalty if you did not sign up when you turned 65.  

If you are applying for both Medicare and Social Security benefits:

You will need additional information if you want to participate in both programs.

  • Bank information for purposes of direct deposit
  • Birth information including birth date, birth name, place of birth and your Permanent Resident Card number if you are a legal resident
  • Dependent information including names and birth dates of 1) unmarried children younger than 18 years old, 2) children 18 to 19 years old who are in secondary school or 3) children who were disabled before they turned 22 years old
  • Employment and self-employment history for the past three years including dates of employment and net income if you are self-employed
  • Marital status including names, birth dates and social security numbers of your current or former spouses, if any
  • U.S. military history including branch of the military and dates of service

When You Should Apply

There are different enrollment periods for Medicare. Your initial enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday and extends three months after that. For those who delay applying at age 65 because they have employer-sponsored health plans, you have eight months to apply for Medicare after either your health coverage or employment ends, whichever comes first. If you miss these enrollment periods, you could be stuck paying late penalties as long as you have Medicare.

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