Medicare is our nation’s health insurance program for people aged 65 and older. Certain people under the age of 65 may also qualify for Medicare, including people with disabilities and those with permanent kidney failure.
The program helps with the cost of medical care, but it does not cover all medical expenses or the cost of most long-term care. You have choices about how to get Medicare coverage. If you choose to have Original Medicare coverage (Part A and Part B), you can buy a private insurance company’s Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy.
The parts of Medicare
Social Security enrolls you in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B).
- Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) helps pay for care in a hospital or for a limited time in a skilled nursing facility (after a hospital stay). Part A also pays for some home health and hospice care.
- Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) helps pay for doctors’ and other health care providers’ services, outpatient care, home health care, durable medical equipment, and some preventive services.
Other parts of Medicare are run by private insurance companies that follow the rules set by Medicare.
- Supplemental (Medigap) policies help pay Medicare copays, coinsurance, and deductibles.
- The Medicare Advantage plan (formerly known as Part C) includes all the benefits and services covered by Part A and Part B: prescription drugs and additional benefits such as vision, hearing, and dental care, bundled into one plan.
- Medicare Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage) helps cover the cost of prescription drugs.
Most people age 65 and older qualify for free hospital insurance (Part A) if they’ve worked and paid Medicare taxes long enough. You can sign up for Medicare health insurance (Part B) by paying a monthly premium. Some beneficiaries with higher incomes will pay a higher monthly Part B premium. Read Medicare Premiums: Rules for Beneficiaries with High Incomes to learn more.
Do I need to sign up for health insurance (Part B)?
You can enroll in Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) with our online application. You can decline it because you have to pay a premium for Part B coverage.
If you are eligible at age 65, your Initial Enrollment Period begins three months before your 65th birthday, including the month you turn 65, and ends three months after that birthday.
If you decide not to enroll in Medicare Part B and then choose to enroll later, your coverage could be delayed, and you may have to pay a higher monthly premium while you have Part B. Your monthly premium will go up 10 percent for each enrollment period. You were entitled to Part B for twelve months but didn’t sign up unless you qualified for a ” Special Enrollment Period* ” (SEP).
Suppose you don’t sign up for Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period. In that case, you have another chance each year to sign up during a “general enrollment period” from January 1 through March 31. Your coverage begins July 1 of the year you enroll. To learn more, read our Medicare publication.
Suppose you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) or health insurance based on current employment. In that case, you can ask your personnel office or insurance company how enrolling in Medicare will affect you.
Particular Enrollment Period (SEP)
If you have health insurance coverage under a group health plan based on your or your spouse’s current employment, you may not need to apply for Medicare Part B at age 65. You may qualify for a ” Special Enrollment Period* ” (SEP) that will allow you to enroll in Part B during:
- Any month you remain covered by the group health plan, and you or your spouse continue your employment.
- The eight months beginning with the month after your group health plan coverage or the work on which it is based ends, whichever comes first.
How to apply online for Medicare only
Suppose you’re within three months of turning 65 or older, and you’re not ready to start your monthly Social Security benefits yet. In that case, you can use our online retirement application to enroll in Medicare only and wait to apply for your retirement or retirement benefits. Spouse later. It takes less than 10 minutes, and there are no forms to sign and usually no documentation required.