You might be wondering if you need to enroll in Medicare as you near retirement age. While some people are automatically enrolled, others may need to take steps to enroll in the program. Do you have to sign up for Medicare at 65? Our guide has the answers, with a comprehensive breakdown of enrollment requirements, coverage options, and exceptions to the rule.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that provides coverage to individuals aged 65 and older and people with certain disabilities or illnesses. The program has four parts: Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D. Part A covers hospital stays, skilled nursing care, and hospice care. Part B covers doctor visits, outpatient services, and preventative care. Private insurance firms also offer a supplement to Original Medicare (Parts A and B), known as Medicare Advantage (Part C). Prescription medications are covered by Part D.

Automatic Enrollment in Medicare

If you are already collecting Social Security benefits when you reach 65, you will be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B automatically. That’s right; there’s nothing more you need to do to join the program. About three months before your 65th birthday, you’ll start receiving Medicare information in the mail.

You are responsible for signing up for Medicare on your own if you are not getting Social Security benefits. Three months prior to turning 65, you can initiate communication with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Medicare enrollment is available 24/7 at your local Social Security Administration office, online, or over the phone.

Enrolling in Medicare Late

If you do not enroll in Medicare when you are first eligible, you may be subject to a late enrollment penalty. The penalty is 10% of the Part B premium for every 12 months that you were eligible for Medicare but did not enroll. For example, if you were eligible for Medicare for two years but did not enroll, your penalty would be 20% of the Part B premium.

Your Medicare Part B premium will be increased by the penalty each year that you remain a Medicare beneficiary. This could result in higher premiums for the duration of your policy. Furthermore, you may be required to wait until the General Enrollment Period (January 1 through March 31) to enroll in Part B if you do not do so when you are first eligible. As of July 1 of that year, you will be eligible for coverage.

Enrolling in Medicare After Age 65

If you do not enroll in Medicare when you turn 65 but decide to enroll later, you may still be subject to a late enrollment penalty. However, the penalty will not apply if you delayed enrollment because you had other health insurance coverage. You may be able to put off enrolling in Medicare if you are still gainfully employed and covered by employer-provided health insurance.

If you do decide to enroll in Medicare after age 65, you can do so during the General Enrollment Period. This period runs from January 1 through March 31 each year. Your coverage will begin on July 1 of that year. Medicare enrollment outside of the General Enrollment Period is possible if you meet the requirements for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

Special Enrollment Periods

In addition to the General Enrollment Period, there are also Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) during which you can enroll in Medicare outside of the standard enrollment periods. These SEPs are available to individuals who experience certain life events, such as losing their health insurance coverage, moving to a new area, or becoming eligible for Medicaid.

If you lose your employer-based health insurance coverage, you may be eligible for a SEP to enroll in Medicare. This SEP allows you to enroll in Parts A and B and any supplemental coverage without penalty. You must enroll within eight months of losing your employer-based coverage to qualify for this SEP.

If you move to a new area and your current Medicare plan is unavailable, you may also qualify for a SEP to enroll in a new plan. This SEP is available to individuals who move outside of their plan’s service area or to a new state. You have two months before and after your move to enroll in a new plan without penalty.

You may be eligible for a SEP to enroll in Medicare if you become Medicaid-eligible. In order to participate in this SEP, an individual must be dually qualified for both Medicare and Medicaid. During this special enrollment period, you can sign up for Medicare Advantage or switch to a different plan.

Understanding Your Medicare Coverage Options

When you enroll in Medicare, you have a few different coverage options to choose from. These options include Original Medicare (Parts A and B), Medicare Advantage (Part C), and Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans.

Parts A and B of Medicare make up Original Medicare, the basic Medicare plan. Inpatient care, skilled nursing, and hospice are all covered under Part A. In contrast, Part B covers doctor visits, outpatient services, and preventative care. You can also add Part D coverage for prescription drugs.

Medicare Advantage, provided by commercial insurance firms, is an alternative to traditional Medicare. These plans include all of the benefits of Original Medicare and additional benefits like dental, vision, and hearing coverage. The out-of-pocket expenditures for Medicare Advantage plans are often cheaper than those of Original Medicare, but the network of available doctors and hospitals may be less

Medicare Supplement or Medigap plans are designed to fill the gaps in Original Medicare coverage. These plans help pay for out-of-pocket costs like deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. There are 10 standardized Medigap plans to choose from, each with different levels of coverage.

Choosing the Right Medicare Plan for You

Choosing the best Medicare plan might be challenging, but there are some key considerations to keep in mind. First, consider your healthcare needs and how often you visit the doctor. If you have a chronic condition or require frequent medical care, you may want to consider a Medicare Advantage plan that includes additional benefits.

You should also consider your budget when choosing a Medicare plan. Medicare Advantage plans often have lower monthly premiums than Original Medicare but may also have higher out-of-pocket costs. Medigap plans may have higher monthly premiums, but they can help lower your out-of-pocket costs.

Finally, consider the network of providers available with each plan. Medicare Advantage plans often have a more limited network of providers, while Original Medicare allows you to see any provider that accepts Medicare.


Turning 65 is a milestone that often comes with important decisions to make about Medicare enrollment. Understanding your options and potential penalties for failing to enroll is crucial. When choosing a plan, consider your healthcare needs and budget, and review your options annually during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period. Protect yourself from Medicare fraud by being vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity. With the right coverage and awareness, you can make the most of your Medicare benefits and enjoy a happy and healthy retirement.


Do you have to sign up for Medicare at 65?

Yes, you are generally eligible for Medicare at 65 and must enroll during the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP).

Can you delay signing up for Medicare at 65?

Yes, but there may be penalties for late enrollment unless you have other coverage, such as through an employer.

How long is the Initial Enrollment Period for Medicare?

The IEP lasts for seven months, starting three months before your 65th birthday and finishing three months after.

What happens if you don’t enroll in Medicare during the Initial Enrollment Period?

If you miss your IEP, you may have to pay higher Part B and Part D payments for the rest of your Medicare coverage.

Can you join Medicare after the Initial Enrollment Period has ended?

Yes, but you can only sign up during certain times, like the General Enrollment Period or a Special Enrollment Period.

What is the time when anyone can sign up for Medicare?

Every year, the General Enrollment Period is from January 1 to March 31. Coverage starts on July 1 of that year.

What are Special Enrollment Periods for Medicare?

Special Enrollment Periods are available if you have certain life events, such as losing employer coverage, moving to a new area, or becoming eligible for Medicaid.

Can you sign up for Medicare online?

Yes, you can enroll in Medicare through the Social Security Administration’s website or by visiting a local Social Security office.

Do you have to enroll in all parts of Medicare?

No, you can choose to enroll in only certain parts of Medicare, such as Part A or Part B.

Can you change your Medicare coverage after you enroll?

Yes, you may be able to switch plans or make changes during certain enrollment periods, such as the Annual Enrollment Period or the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.