When to Sign Up for Medicare

"When should I sign up for Medicare?" is a question many seniors pose as they approach their 65th birthday. The answer is more complicated that you might imagine.

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If you are already receiving social security benefits, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare and get your Medicare card three months before your 65th birthday. Your coverage will start at the beginning of the month you turn 65. If your birthday is on the first day of the month, your coverage will start on the first day of the month before your birthday.

See the 2017 "Welcome to Medicare" book from the US Department of Health and Human Services for all the details.

If you are not receiving Social Security benefits yet, you will need to enroll in Medicare. You can apply online at the Social Security Administration website. You have a seven month window to sign up up, starting three months before the month you turn 65 and ending three months after your birthday. This is the "initial enrollment period."

If you don't sign up within three months after your birthday month, you will generally need to wait to the first quarter of the following year (January 1 - March 31) to sign up, with coverage starting on July 1 of that year. You may have to pay a late enrollment penalty. You can learn more about when your coverage will start at the Medicare.gov website.

If you're still working and have coverage from your employer, or you are covered by your working spouse's employer, you may not need to sign up for Medicare at age 65. You will not have to pay a penalty as long as you enroll within 8 months of leaving your job and losing your employer-sponsored insurance. If you work for an employer with fewer than 20 employees, however, you may have to sign ups for Medicare at age 65 (even though you're still working) because Medicare usually becomes your primary coverage.

For more information on Medicare, see Medicare FAQs. For details about sign-up rules and your choices, see When to Sign Up for Medicare and When You Might Want to Delay.