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When will I get my Medicare card?

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You’ll receive your Medicare card in your Welcome to Medicare package, but when it arrives depends on how you enroll in Medicare:

  • Automatic. You’ll get a Medicare card without additional effort if you already receive Social Security benefits.
  • Delay. You can defer Medicare Part B coverage if you’re getting Social Security but must take steps to do so.
  • Sign-up. You haven’t started receiving Social Security but want to begin Medicare at age 65.

What if I’m already getting Social Security benefits?

If you receive Social Security benefits at least four months before your 65th birthday, your enrollment in Medicare is automatic. You’ll receive your card in the mail three months before your Medicare coverage starts.

You can start using the card at the beginning of the month you turn 65 or the first day of the previous month if your birthday falls on the first. The start date for Part A and Part B will appear on the front of the card.

You’re enrolled automatically in parts A and B, except in Puerto Rico, where you’re enrolled automatically only in Part A.

Most people don’t pay premiums for Part A because they or their spouse had Medicare taxes deducted from their paychecks for at least 40 quarters of work, the equivalent of 10 years. But you will pay premiums for Part B.

Your Medicare Part B premiums, $174.70 a month in 2024, are typically deducted automatically from your Social Security benefits. High earners pay higher premiums.

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What if I have Social Security but don’t want Medicare yet?

If you receive Social Security benefits and are enrolled in Medicare automatically, you must keep Part A coverage. You can decide whether you want to keep Part B.

If you don’t have health insurance from your own or your spouse’s current employer, you usually need to keep Part B. Otherwise, you may have coverage gaps and have to pay a late enrollment penalty if you sign up later.

If you or your spouse is still working and you have health insurance from a company with 20 or more employees, you may not need Part B or its premiums yet. If you don’t want to keep Part B, check the box on the back of the Medicare card that says, “I do NOT want Part B (Medical Insurance),” sign the back of the card and send it back to Medicare.

You’ll receive a new card in a few weeks noting that you’re enrolled in Part A only.

Jot down your Medicare number before you return the card in case you need to use your Part A benefits before the new card arrives. And don’t forget to sign up for Part B no later than eight months after losing employer coverage to avoid a late enrollment penalty.

What if I’m not receiving Social Security yet?

If you don’t receive Social Security benefits at 65, you’ll need to take steps to sign up for Medicare. When you complete the enrollment process, expect the card to arrive in the mail along with your Welcome to Medicare package about two weeks later. For people born in 1943 and later, the age to receive full Social Security benefits is 66 and older. Even though you can wait to sign up for Social Security, you should be ready to make Medicare decisions at 65.

Most people need to sign up for Medicare during their initial enrollment period, which begins three months before the month they turn 65 and continues until three months after their birthday month. You may be able to delay if you or your spouse is still working and you have coverage from that active employer, depending on the size of the company. It generally needs to be 20 employees or more.

Some people with employer coverage still sign up for premium-free Part A at 65. But if you have a high-deductible health plan and want to continue contributing to a health savings account, you should delay your Medicare sign-up.

If you enroll in Medicare:

  • Before your birthday month, your coverage takes effect the beginning of the month you turn 65.
  • During your birthday month or the last three months of your initial enrollment period, your coverage begins the first day of the following month.

If you didn’t sign up during your initial enrollment period because you had health insurance from an active employer, you can qualify for a special enrollment period that lasts for up to eight months after you or your spouse leaves the job and loses the coverage.

If you miss your initial enrollment period and don’t qualify for a special enrollment period, you’ll have to wait to sign up until the next general enrollment period, Jan. 1 to March 31 annually. Coverage will begin the month after you enroll. But be aware: Depending on your circumstances, you may face a late enrollment penalty.


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What information is on my Medicare card?

Your red, white and blue Medicare card includes the Medicare number that your doctor, hospital and other providers use to submit claims to Medicare. The sturdy paper card also shows the date when your coverage begins for Part A and Part B.

Until a few years ago, your Medicare number would have been the same as your Social Security number. But concerns about ID theft prompted Congress to require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to change everyone’s Medicare identifier from their Social Security number to an 11-character, randomly assigned combination of numbers and letters.

All Medicare beneficiaries should have received a new card between April 2018 and April 2019 with their new number. The old cards and numbers expired Jan. 1, 2020.

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Are the new Medicare cards scam-proof?

No, but nothing really is. Scammers will still come up with ways to persuade you to divulge your 11-digit Medicare number.

One common Medicare scam entails callers suggesting you replace your paper card with a plastic chip card, similar to a credit card. That’s because criminals outside of health care settings will try to persuade you to divulge your new, tougher-to-figure-out Medicare number.

Know that Medicare will never call you to ask for your Social Security number, nor will it charge a fee to issue you a new card. Medicare doesn’t offer chip cards or plastic cards. You can always print an official copy of your card or order a new one from your online Medicare account.

Keep in mind

A Medicare card isn’t the only insurance card you’ll need. If you have original Medicare, you also will likely have at least two other medical insurance policies:

  • Or other coverage to fill the gaps of Medicare, such as cards from your employer group plan or retiree health insurance.

The alternative to original Medicare, a private Medicare Advantage plan, requires you to sign up for Medicare parts A and B first. In this case, you’ll receive a Medicare card and also a separate Medicare Advantage plan card.

Take the Medicare Advantage card to your appointments but keep your Medicare card where you can find it. It will be important if you decide to switch to original Medicare later.

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Kimberly Lankford is a contributing writer who covers Medicare and personal finance. She wrote about insurance, Medicare, retirement and taxes for more than 20 years at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and has written for The Washington Post and Boston Globe. She received the personal finance Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the New York State Society of CPAs’ excellence in financial journalism award for her guide to Medicare.