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How to Get Help Enrolling in Medicare

These resources provide one-on-one counseling and information about plans near you


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Kotryna Zukauskaite

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. If you need help enrolling in Medicare or making decisions about your coverage, there are several national and state resources that can provide assistance.

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State Health Insurance Assistance Programs

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, known as SHIP, are available in every state and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

About 12,500 SHIP counselors provide free one-on-one advice, 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.

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Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Working under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) runs the Medicare program. Visit medicare.gov 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 on Talk to Someone | Chat Now.

Information is available in English, Spanish and dozens of other languages. If you speak a language that is not available, ask for an interpreter.

Updated annually, the CMS Medicare & You handbook explains what Medicare covers, how it works, when you need to sign up and any changes to the rules.

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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. The 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.

Call its national toll-free phone number at 800-772-1213 or look up the address and phone number of your local Social Security office.​

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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 help line at 800-333-4114.

Visit its website, medicareinteractive.org, for answers to Medicare questions and more information about what’s new in Medicare.

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 State Department drop-down menu, and you’ll find a link to the state’s website.

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