How to sign up for Medicare

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The Medicare Advocacy Project at Community Legal Aid, Greater Boston Legal Services, and South Coastal Counties Legal Services
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There are different rules for signing up for the different “parts” of Medicare: Part A and B (Original Medicare), C, and D. Read more about when and how to sign up for each part.

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How do I get Original Medicare?

Some people get Original Medicare automatically. If you are not one of these people, you have to sign up for Medicare. 

Sign up for Medicare online or over the phone at 1-800-772-1213.

Who gets Original Medicare automatically?

The Social Security Administration signs you up for Parts A and B automatically:

  • As soon as you turn 65, if you already get:
    • Social Security retirement benefits, or
    • Railroad Retirement Board Benefits, or
    • Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI);
  • 24 months after you start getting disability benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board, if you are under age 65 and disabled.
  • The month you start getting disability benefits if you have ALS, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

You are eligible for Medicare after you turn 65, but most people do not get Social Security benefits at age 65. If you do not get Social Security retirement benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits at age 65, you need to sign up for Parts A and B.

When can I sign up for Original Medicare?

Initial enrollment period

You can sign up 3 months before the month of your 65th birthday until 3 months after the month of your birthday. This time is called your “initial enrollment period.”

For example:

Your birthday is November 16th.

You can sign up starting 3 months before your 65th birthday: August 1st.

You can sign up until 3 months after the month of your 65th birthday: February 28th. 

So, in this example you can sign up for Medicare anytime between August 1st - February 28th which is your “initial enrollment period.”

Contact Social Security to sign up for Medicare online or over the phone at 1-800-772-1213.
Contact your local Railroad Retirement Board office if you work for a railroad.

If you do not sign up for Parts A and B during your initial enrollment period:

  • You may only be allowed to enroll during certain times of the year;
  • Your benefits may not start right away; and
  • If you pay a premium, it may be higher. These premium penalties will last as long as you are on Medicare. If you enroll in Medicare before you turn 65 and have a late enrollment penalty, the penalty will be waived once you turn 65. If you enroll in Medicare at 65 or older and have a late enrollment penalty, it is a lifetime penalty and cannot be waived in most circumstances. If you have other insurance, you may not have to sign up for Parts A and B in your initial enrollment period. Check with your local Social Security office to make sure. 

Important:

If you decide not to get Part B and then later you change your mind, you may have to pay a penalty. Your premiums will be much higher. For every 12 months you could have been getting Part B, your monthly premium will be 10% more.

General enrollment period

There is also a “general enrollment period,” which lets you sign up for Parts A and B. The general enrollment period for Parts A and B runs each year from January 1st to March 31st. 

How do I sign up for Part C: Medicare Advantage?

Usually, you can join a Medicare Advantage Plan if you already have Part A and Part B, and you live in the service area of the plan.

There are certain times of the year when you can join, switch, or drop a Medicare Advantage Plan.

To join, you can sign up with the plan itself or with Medicare.

There is an open enrollment period to join, switch, or drop a Medicare Advantage plan. This runs from October 15th to December 7th each year. 

How do I sign up for Part D: Prescription Drug Insurance?

Sign up for a Part D plan with the plan itself or with Medicare.

Initial enrollment period

You can sign up for a Part D plan as early as 3 months before your 65th birthday until the 3 months following the month of your birthday. The time between these dates is called your “initial enrollment period.”

If you get Medicare because you have a disability, your initial enrollment period is between the 3 months before to the 3 months after your 25th month of disability.

If you do not sign up for Part D during your initial enrollment period, you can only join during certain times of the year. Also, you may have to pay a penalty — a higher premium — if you delay your enrollment and do not have other qualifying health insurance. These premium penalties will last as long as you are on Medicare.

Open enrollment period

Similar to Medicare Advantage open enrollment, the open enrollment period for Part D prescription drug coverage runs from October 15th to December 7th each year.

You can see some of the Part D options for your area using the Medicare Plan Finder.

Important

If you decide not to get Part D and then later you change your mind, you may have to pay a penalty. Your premiums will be much higher. For every month you could have been getting Part D, your monthly premium will be 1% more.

Resource Boxes
More Resources
Programs that can answer your questions
Health_Medicare_SHINE and hotlines

SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Everyone): 1-800-243-4636, press 3 
The SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Everyone) Program provides free health insurance counseling services to Massachusetts residents with Medicare or who are about to become eligible for Medicare, and their caregivers. SHINE counselors are trained to handle complex questions about Medicare.

MCPHS University Pharmacy Outreach Program: 1-866-633-1617
The MCPHS University Pharmacy Outreach Program can review your information to find help for your prescription costs. It can also help you understand your Medicare prescription drug plan benefit.

Health Care For All’s Helpline: 1-800-272-4232
Call or fill out the online form. The Helpline is a free service that helps enroll Massachusetts residents into health insurance coverage. In English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and French.

Get help from the Medicare Advocacy Project
Health_Medicare_Medicare Advocacy Project

The Medicare Advocacy Project (MAP) helps people who may have been unfairly denied Medicare. MAP can give you information, advise you, and sometimes represent you for free. Contact MAP via your local legal services office:

Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS)
Serving Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk counties: 617-371-1234; 800-323-3205

South Coastal County Legal Services (SCCLS)
Serving Bristol and Plymouth counties: 800-244-9023; 508-979-7150
Serving Fall River: 800-244-9023; 508-676-6265
Serving Barnstable, Dukes, Nantucket, and Plymouth counties: 800-244-9023; 508-775-7020

Community Legal Aid (CLA)
Serving Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and Worcester counties: 855-252-5342
 

Medicare, MassHealth, and Prescription Advantage Programs
Health_Medicare_Medicare, MassHealth, and Prescription Advantage Programs

Medicare: 1-800-MEDICARE
Medicare is a national health insurance program. It is for people who are 65 or older and adults with disabilities. 

MassHealth: 1-800-841-2900
The MassHealth program provides comprehensive health insurance — or help paying for private health insurance.

Prescription Advantage: 1-800-243-4636, press 2
Prescription Advantage is a prescription drug insurance plan for all Massachusetts residents age 65 and older, as well as younger people with disabilities who meet income and employment guidelines.

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