How to Enroll in Medicare if You Are Turning 65

checkmark Fact checked Reviewed by: Leron Moore, Medicare consultant - Published: Jul 19, 2021

 

Most people should make the choice to enroll in Original Medicare when they turn 65. This is called the Initial Enrollment Period. It’s not mandatory and there are some situations in which delaying Medicare enrollment makes sense. However, for some who enroll at a later date, it will mean paying a higher premium for life.

What you should know

  • 1 Original Medicare – Part A hospital insurance and Part B medical insurance – has an Initial Enrollment Period around the time you turn 65.
  • 2 You have a total of seven months to enroll – the three months prior to your 65th birthday, your birthday month, and the three months after.
  • 3 Medicare goes into effect on first day of the month you turn 65
  • 4 If you miss the window to enroll, you will have to wait until the next general enrollment period, or see if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

It’s a good idea to begin educating yourself about Medicare right after you turn 64 so you have ample time to learn the ropes and make the best decision for your needs.

How do I sign up for Medicare when I turn 65?

Signing up for Medicare when you turn 65 is fairly simple. It really can’t sneak up on you because you’ll begin receiving mailings and other information after you turn 64, says Kathe Kline, founder of MedicareQuick.com. She explains that there are three different ways to enroll with the Social Security Administration:

  • In person
  • By phone
  • Online

“You can do it in person at your local Social Security office. You can call the Social Security office. Or you can do it online.” If you’re receiving or applying for Social Security benefits, however, then you cannot use the online sign-up option.  

When signing up, Kline offers this tip: Sign up for Medicare Easy Pay, which is automated monthly payments that will be deducted directly from your checking account. Otherwise, you’re going to have to remember to pay quarterly for your Part B premium. If you’re late, it could result in having your benefits cancelled and cause a huge hassle. You also have the option to request a deduction from your Social Security benefits.

Are you required to sign up for Medicare at age 65?

“Not everybody needs to sign up for Medicare when they turn 65, but most people do,” says Kline. If you are currently working and have creditable coverage (typically, that means your employer has 20 or more employees), you don’t have to sign up for Medicare Part B. The same goes for if your spouse is working for a company that has creditable coverage and you’re on your spouse’s plan.

One thing that trips up some people is assuming that their retiree health plan will fully cover them. “If you or your spouse is on a retiree plan, normally when you turn 65, those plans become secondary. What that means is if you don’t sign up for Medicare (which becomes the primary plan), your secondary coverage won’t work,” says Kline. Employer plans that cover fewer than 20 employees will also be secondary coverage. If you’re not sure, call your plan provider and ask. 

Another error some people make is assuming that if they have COBRA coverage that they don’t need to sign up for Medicare. “Even though it’s the exact same coverage you had when you’re working, that is never creditable,” says Kline. 

If you don’t sign up during your IEP or have creditable coverage, a Late Enrollment Penalty may be assessed.

What happens if you don’t sign up for Medicare at 65?

If you don’t sign up for Medicare when you should and you don’t have creditable coverage, two things can happen. “First, you will start building up a penalty of 10% on the Part B premium every year, and that penalty will never go away,” says Kline. The second thing is that you may not be able to sign up when you want to. 

Let’s say your birthday is in February, and you don’t decide to sign up until June. “You would have missed your deadline because it goes until three months after the month you turn 65,” says Kline. Now, you’re going to have to wait until the general election period, which is from January through March of next year. And, the coverage won’t go into effect until July 1 of next year. So by missing your enrollment by one month, you have to wait almost a full year to get coverage. 

This expert was consulted for insight into the enrolling in Medicare when you turn 65:

Kathe Kline, founder of MedicareQuick.com 

Leron headshot
Contributing Expert:

Leron Moore, Medicare consultant

Leron Moore has guided Medicare beneficiaries and their families as a Medicare professional for nearly 15 years. First as a Medicare provider enrollment specialist, and now a Medicare account executive, Moore works directly with Medicare beneficiaries to ensure they understand Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans.