If you’re nearing retirement or are already retired, you may have wondered when you’re eligible for Medicare. For those 65 and up, Medicare provides medical coverage through the federal government. Our guide explains when Medicare starts at what age, eligibility requirements, and coverage options.

Understanding Medicare

Medicare is a government health insurance program that covers those aged 65 and up, as well as those under 65 who have certain disabilities or end-stage renal illness. Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D of the program offer different levels of coverage.

Part A of Medicare is designed to cover inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and limited home health care. Part B covers doctor visits, outpatient care, and medical equipment. Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, provides an alternative to traditional Medicare and is offered by private insurance companies. Finally, Part D provides coverage for prescription drugs.

When Can You Enroll in Medicare?

After turning 65, most people are able to sign up for Medicare. The Initial Enrollment Period is the seven-month window between three months before your 65th birthday and three months following your 65th birthday, during which you can sign up for Medicare.

A person who does not sign up during the Initial Enrollment Period has to do so until the end of the General Enrollment Period on March 31. However, coverage won’t start until July 1 if you enroll during the General Enrollment Period.

Delayed Enrollment

You might be able to put off signing up for Medicare if you have employer-provided health insurance and are still actively working. Medicare enrollment after retirement, however, must be completed within eight months, or a penalty would be assessed.

If you are not covered by other health insurance and wait too long to enroll in Medicare, you will be charged a late enrollment penalty.

This penalty is a percentage of the Part B premium for each year you were eligible but didn’t enroll.

Part A vs. Part B

You’re eligible for free Part A coverage if you’ve paid into Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board for at least ten years. The monthly premium for Part B of Medicare depends on your income level. In 2021, the base monthly price for Medicare Part B is $148.50, but it may go up based on your income.

It’s important to note that you’ll need both Part A and Part B to receive the full benefits of Medicare. Part A covers hospital stays but needs Part B to cover doctor visits and other outpatient services.

Medicare Advantage and Part D

Private insurance companies offer Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Part C, and provide an alternative to traditional Medicare. These plans must cover all the services that traditional Medicare covers but may offer additional benefits such as vision, dental, and hearing coverage.

Part D covers prescription drugs and is offered by private insurance companies. Prescription drug coverage for Medicare Advantage enrollees is often obtained through the Medicare Advantage plan itself.

Variables to Consider

You might be able to put off signing up for Medicare if you have employer-provided health insurance and are still actively working. But before putting off enrollment, learning the rules and possible consequences is crucial.

Additionally, suppose you’re eligible for Medicare but are still covered under a spouse’s health insurance plan. In that case, you may still want to enroll in Medicare to avoid potential penalties and gaps in coverage.

Special Enrollment Periods:

In addition to the Initial Enrollment Period, there are other special enrollment periods that you may be eligible for. The General Enrollment Period and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period both occur annually, beginning on January 1 and ending on March 31.

Medicare enrollment is possible during both the Initial Enrollment Period and the General Enrollment Period. On the other hand, you might have to pay a late enrollment fee.

You can change Medicare Advantage plans or return to traditional Medicare during the annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.

Medicare’s Extra Help Program:

Medicare’s Extra Help program, also known as the Low-Income Subsidy, assists those who qualify with prescription drug costs. To be eligible for Extra Help, you must meet certain income and asset requirements.

If you qualify for Extra Help, you’ll receive assistance with premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance associated with your Medicare prescription drug coverage. Prescription drug coverage may also be available through a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period:

Medicare coverage can be modified between October 15 and December 7 during the Annual Enrollment Period. At that time, you can do the following:

  • Switch from basic Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or the other way around
  • Change from one Medicare Plus plan to another
  • Join, drop, or switch Medicare Part D prescription drug plans

Every year during the Annual Enrollment Period, you should check your coverage options to be sure you have the coverage you need at a cost you can afford.


Medicare is an essential program that provides healthcare coverage to millions of Americans. Understanding when you’re eligible for Medicare and what coverage options are available can help you make informed decisions about your healthcare coverage.

Medicare starts at age 65 for most people, but exceptions exist for those with certain disabilities or medical conditions. It’s crucial to sign up for Medicare during the Initial Enrollment Period to avoid late fees and ensure coverage in the future.

Medicare is divided into four different parts, with Parts A and B covering basic healthcare services and Parts C and D offering additional coverage options. Special enrollment periods and programs, such as the Extra Help program, can help you save on healthcare costs.

It’s important to review your coverage options each year during Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period to ensure that you have the coverage you need at a price you can afford. With the right coverage, you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re protected and have access to quality healthcare when needed.


What age does Medicare start?

Medicare typically starts at age 65.

Can I enroll in Medicare before age 65?

Disability or specific health issues may qualify you for Medicare eligibility prior to age 65.

Can I wait until I’m older than 65 to sign up for Medicare?

Yes, but if you don’t sign up during your initial enrollment time, you might have to pay a fee.

When can you sign up for Medicare for the first time?

Three months prior to your 65th birthday and three months afterward is the initial enrollment period for Medicare.

What happens if I miss the time when I can sign up for Medicare for the first time?

You might have to pay a fee or wait until the next open enrollment time to sign up.

Do I have to enroll in Medicare if I have other insurance?

The answer depends on what kind of insurance you have. Medicare may work with some kinds of insurance but not with others.

How much does Medicare cost?

The cost of Medicare varies depending on your income, the type of coverage you choose, and other factors.

What does Medicare cover?

Medicare covers a range of healthcare services, including hospital stays, doctor visits, preventive care, and prescription drugs.

Are there any gaps in Medicare coverage?

Yes, there are some services that Medicare does not cover, such as long-term care and dental care.

Can I change my Medicare coverage after I enroll?

Yes, you can change your coverage during certain enrollment times, like the annual open enrollment period.