When you first get Medicare
When you're first eligible for Medicare, you have a 7-month Initial Enrollment Period to sign up for Part A and/or Part B.
If you're eligible for Medicare when you turn 65, you can sign up during the 7-month period that:
- Begins 3 months before the month you turn 65
- Includes the month you turn 65
- Ends 3 months after the month you turn 65
If you didn’t get automatically enrolled in premium-free Part A (for example, because you’re still working and not yet getting Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits), you can sign up for premium-free Part A (if you’re eligible) any time during or after your Initial Enrollment Period begins. If you’re eligible for premium-free Part A, you can enroll in Part A anytime after you’re first eligible for Medicare. Your Part A coverage will go back (retroactively) 6 months from when you sign up, but no earlier than the first month you’re eligible for Medicare. You can only sign up for Part B during the periods listed below. Your coverage start date will depend on when you sign up. If you have to buy Part A and/or Part B, you can only sign up during a valid enrollment period.
If you wait until the month you turn 65 (or the 3 months after you turn 65) to enroll, your Part B coverage will be delayed. This could cause a gap in your coverage.
In most cases, if you don’t sign up for Medicare Part B when you’re first eligible, you’ll have to pay a late enrollment penalty. You'll have to pay this penalty for as long as you have Part B and could have a gap in your health coverage.
Between January 1 – March 31 each year
Once your Initial Enrollment Period ends, you can sign up for Part B and Part A (if you have to pay a premium for it) during the General Enrollment Period between January 1–March 31 each year.
You must pay premiums for Part A and/or Part B. Your coverage will start July 1. You may have to pay a higher premium for late enrollment in Part A and/or a higher premium for late enrollment in Part B.
You may be able to sign up at a different time without a late enrollment penalty if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (see below). If you're eligible, you can sign up for premium-free Part A anytime after your Initial Enrollment Period starts.
To sign up for Part B, complete an Application for Enrollment in Part B (CMS-40B). Get this form and instructions in Spanish. If you don't have Medicare or you want to sign up for Part A (some people have to pay a premium for Part A), contact Social Security.
Special circumstances (Special Enrollment Periods)
Once your Initial Enrollment Period ends, you may have the chance to sign up for Medicare during a Special Enrollment Period. If you're covered under a
based on current employment, you can sign up for Part A and/or Part B anytime as long as:
- You or your spouse (or family member if you're disabled) is working.
- You're covered by a group health plan through the employer or union based on that work.
You also have an 8-month period to sign up for Part A and/or Part B that starts at one of these times (whichever happens first):
- The month after the employment ends
- The month after group health plan insurance based on current employment ends
Usually, you don't pay a late enrollment penalty if you sign up during a Special Enrollment Period.
You may also qualify for a Special Enrollment Period for Part A and Part B if you're a volunteer, serving in a foreign country.
|Avoid gaps in coverage & the Part B late enrollment penalty|
If you’re eligible for Medicare, you don’t qualify for COBRA coverage without having to pay a premium.
COBRA and retiree health plans aren’t considered employer coverage to qualify for the Special Enrollment Period. If you miss this Special Enrollment Period, you’ll have to wait until January 1 - March 31 to sign up, and your coverage will start July 1. This may cause a gap if your other coverage ends, and you may have to pay a Part B late enrollment penalty. If you're eligible for Medicare, you don't qualify for COBRA coverage without having to pay a premium.
This Special Enrollment Period doesn’t apply to people who get Medicare based on having End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).
If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) based on your or your spouse’s current employment, you may be eligible for an SEP. To avoid a tax penalty, you should stop contributing to your HSA at least 6 months before you apply for Medicare. Remember, premium-free Part A coverage begins 6 months before the month you apply for Medicare (or Social Security/RRB benefits), but no earlier than the month you turn 65. You can withdraw money from your HSA after you enroll in Medicare to help pay for medical expenses (like deductibles, premiums, coinsurance or copayments). If you’d like to continue to get health benefits through an HSA-like benefit structure after you enroll in Medicare, a Medicare Advantage Medical Savings Account (MSA) Plan might be an option.