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Ask Ms. Medicare

How Do I Sign Up for Medicare?

Find out whether you're eligible for Medicare, and how and when to sign up for which parts.

Q. I’ll turn 65 soon and am thinking about Medicare, but I don’t know how to sign up. What should I be doing?

A.  First, make sure you’re eligible for Medicare. You qualify if the work record of you or your spouse entitles you to Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, even if you’re not yet receiving them. Normally you need at least 40 work credits (about 10 years of work) to qualify for retirement benefits. The annual statement you receive from Social Security shows whether you qualify yet or, if not, when you can expect to qualify.

If you’re eligible for Medicare, you have a seven-month period to enroll. This window of time begins three months before the month you turn 65 and ends three months after it. For example, if your birthday is April 25, you can sign up any time between January 1 and July 31. If you sign up early, your coverage will begin the month you turn 65; if you sign up after your birthday, it will start on the first day of the month after you enroll.

To enroll, call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can enroll by phone or make an appointment to go to a local Social Security office. Either way, you can use this opportunity to discuss when you want to start receiving retirement benefits and whether you want to sign up only for Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) or both Part A and Part B (insurance for doctor services and outpatient care).

Note: If you are already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B and will receive your Medicare card in the mail close to your 65th birthday. If you decide you do not want Part B, you can opt out.

Alert! If you have employer insurance in the form of a high-deductible health plan plus a Health Savings Account (HSA), be aware that you can’t use an HSA when you’re enrolled in (or have even applied for) Medicare and/or Social Security retirement or disability benefits. It is important to know your rights and options under current law.

Patricia Barry is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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