You typically are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B when you turn 65 years old if you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident for at least five consecutive years. You may also be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B if at any age, you qualify for disability and receive Social Security Administration (SSA) or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits.
There are some situations that mean you're not automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B. You may be eligible for coverage under Part B but you will have to enroll manually. These situations include:
- If you live in Puerto Rico, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A but not Part B if you receive SSA or RRB benefits. You will have to manually enroll in Medicare Part B.
- If you have an end-stage renal disease at any age, you will have to manually enroll in Medicare Part B.
- If you are not receiving SSA or RRB when you turn 65, you will need to manually enroll in Medicare Part.
You may also choose to delay enrollment in Medicare Part B because you or your spouse currently receive coverage from an employer or union. However, once you no longer receive employer or union coverage or you stop working, you should take action to enroll in Medicare Part B.
You can enroll in Medicare Part B during three different enrollment periods.
Initial Enrollment Period
You can first sign up for Medicare Part B during the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). This is the period in which you are first eligible for Original Medicare. The IEP lasts for a total of seven months. The first begins three months prior to your 65th birthday. Your birth month is included in the IEP and the IEP extends for three months after your birth month. For example, if you turn 65 years old in May, your IEP would begin in February (three months prior to your birthday in May) and last until September of that year.
There is also a seven-month IEP for those under 65 and disabled. After receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Benefits for 24 months for a disability, you may qualify for Medicare at the beginning of your 22nd month. This IEP will end at your 28th month of disability benefits. For example, if you qualify for disability and start receiving Social Security benefits in January 2017, you will be first eligible to enroll in Medicare in November 2019 and your IEP will end in May 2020.
It is important to note that if you enroll in Medicare Part B during your Initial Enrollment Period, you will not be penalized with a late enrollment penalty.
General Enrollment Period
You can also sign up for Medicare Part B during the General Enrollment Period (GEP). The General Enrollment Period starts on January 1st and ends March 31st of each year. Enrolling in Part B during the GEP will ensure that your Part B coverage will begin July 1st of the year in which you enrolled. However, it is possible that you may have to pay higher premiums if you delayed enrolling in Part B during your IEP and later enroll during the GEP AND you did not have coverage from an employer or union insurance. Usually, the late enrollment penalty is a 10% higher premium for each 12 full-month period you were eligible for Medicare Part B but did not enroll. You may be required to pay this higher premium for the entire time you are enrolled in Medicare.
Special Enrollment Period
If you or your spouse had coverage from an employer or union group plan and you decide to delay enrolling in Medicare Part B, you can sign up later during a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). Your SEP extends for 8 months after your employer or union health coverage ends or when you stop working, whichever occurs first. It is important to note that you can sign up for Medicare Part B even if you are still covered by your employer or union group plan.
To sign up for Medicare Part B, please contact the Social Security Administration for more information at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users 1-800-325-0778), M-F, 7AM-7PM. You can also contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY users 1-877-486-2048) at any time.