Help Enrolling in Medicare
These resources provide one-on-one counseling and information about plans near you
En español | Let’s face it: Medicare decisions can be complicated.
If you miss key deadlines or make mistakes, you could end up with gaps in coverage, lifetime penalties or extra expenses. For help enrolling in Medicare or making decisions about your coverage, several national and state resources can provide assistance.
State Health Insurance Assistance Programs
Known as SHIP, these State Health Insurance Assistance Programs are in every state and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
About 12,500 SHIP counselors throughout the country provide free one-on-one counseling, seminars and outreach programs. SHIP counselors are available in person or online to answer questions about initial Medicare enrollment or to help review your options when choosing a Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription-drug plan during Medicare’s annual open-enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
States use different names for these programs, such as the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) in California and Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE) in Florida. To find a SHIP in your area, visit SHIPhelp.org or call 877-839-2675.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Working under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services runs the Medicare program. Visit the Medicare.gov website for information about how Medicare works, what it covers, when to enroll, how to get started with Medicare and how to buy private insurance policies that can fill in coverage gaps.
Its Medicare Plan Finder is a great way to learn about Part D, Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans available in your area. It also helps you compare costs for your medications and health care needs.
If you have questions about Medicare rules, coverage and claims, call Medicare’s help line at 800-633-4227 or use the Live Chat function available by clicking Talk to Someone | Chat Now.
Information is available in dozens of languages, including English and Spanish. If you speak a language that is not available, ask for an interpreter.
Updated annually, CMS’ Medicare & You handbook explains what Medicare covers, how it works, when you need to sign up and any changes to the rules.
Social Security Administration
While CMS runs the Medicare program, the Social Security Administration handles Medicare enrollment, even if you haven’t yet claimed Social Security retirement benefits. SSA can be a helpful source of information about signing up for Medicare, applying for the Part D prescription drug Extra Help program and understanding Medicare’s higher-income premium surcharges.
Its national toll-free phone number is 800-772-1213, or look up the address and phone number of your local Social Security office.
Medicare Rights Center
This nonprofit has been helping people navigate Medicare for more than 30 years.
Counselors are on hand to answer questions about Medicare rules, deadlines, enrollment, choices and claims. You can reach them through the organization’s national helpline at 800-333-4114.
Visit its MedicareInteractive.org website for answers to Medicare questions and more information about what's new in Medicare.
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State insurance departments
Individual states’ insurance departments are also helpful in providing information about supplemental Medigap policies in your area. Most states list each company’s Medigap premiums for the year. Visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, look for your state in the Insurance Departments | Select State drop-down menu, and you’ll find a link to the state's website.
Images: State Health Insurance Assistance Program; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Social Security Administration; National Association of Insurance Commissioners
Kimberly Lankford is a contributing writer who covers personal finance and Medicare. She previously wrote for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, and her articles have also appeared in U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. She received the personal finance Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.