You can file for Medicare online at www.ssa.gov when you file for Social Security retirement benefits. You can file for just Medicare if you do not wish to start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits.
If you do not wish to apply online, you can make an appointment by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. If you are already receiving Social Security benefits, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare parts A and B. However, because you must pay a premium for Part B coverage, you have the option of turning it down. You will be contacted by mail a few months before you become eligible and given all the information you need.
Note: Residents of Puerto Rico or foreign countries will not receive Part B automatically. They must elect this benefit.
When to enroll in Medicare
There are a few situations where Medicare enrollment may occur automatically:
If you are receiving retirement benefits:
If you’re already collecting Railroad Retirement Board or Social Security retirement benefits when you turn 65, you will automatically be enrolled Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance) if you sign up for Medicare Part B at the time you sign up for retirement benefits.
If you live outside of the 50 United States or D.C. (for example, if you live in Puerto Rico), you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A, but will need to manually enroll in Medicare Part B.
If you are receiving disability benefits:
If you are under 65 and receiving certain disability benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board, you will be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare, Part A and Part B, after 24 months of disability benefits. The exception to this is if you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD). If you have ESRD and had a kidney transplant or need regular kidney dialysis, you can apply for Medicare. If you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), you will automatically be enrolled in Original Medicare in the same month that your disability benefits start.
If you don’t want Medicare Part B:
If you’re automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B, but do not wish to keep it you have a few options to drop the coverage. If your Medicare coverage hasn’t started yet and you were sent a red, white, and blue Medicare card, you can follow the instructions that come with your card and send the card back. If you keep the Medicare card, you keep Part B and will need to pay Part B premiums. If you signed up for Medicare through Social Security, then you will need to contact them to drop Part B coverage. If your Medicare coverage has started and you want to drop Part B, contact Social Security for instructions on how to submit a signed request. Your coverage will end the first day of the month after Social Security gets your request.
If you have health coverage through current employment (either through your work or your spouse’s employer), you may decide to delay Medicare Part B enrollment. You should speak with your employer’s health benefits administrator so that you understand how your current coverage works with Medicare and what the consequences would be if you drop Medicare Part B.
Medicare Part B late-enrollment penalty:
If you do not sign up for Medicare Part B when you are first eligible, you may need to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Medicare. Your monthly Part B premium could be 10% higher for every full 12-month period that you were eligible for Part B, but didn’t take it. This higher premium could be in effect for as long as you are enrolled in Medicare. For those who are not automatically enrolled, there are various Medicare enrollment periods during which you can apply for Medicare. Be aware that, with certain exceptions, there are late-enrollment penalties for not signing up for Medicare when you are first eligible.
One exception is if you have health coverage through an employer health plan or through your spouse’s employer plan, you can delay Medicare Part B enrollment without paying a late-enrollment penalty. This health coverage must be based on current employment, meaning that COBRA or retiree benefits aren’t considered current employer health coverage.