Before you can start your Medicare application process, you need to know when or if you’re eligible.
If you’re under age 65, you are eligible if you are disabled, have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), or have Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). You must have received at least 24 months of Social Security disability payments to enroll if you’re disabled.
If you have ESRD or ALS and it is confirmed by a Medicare-approved healthcare provider, you can enroll at any time.
The most common way to be eligible and apply for Medicare is by age — during the 7 months surrounding your 65th birthday, you are in what is called your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). During this time, you can enroll in any Medicare plan of your choice.
If you turn 65 but aren’t ready to apply for Medicare, you have 3 options. You don’t have to apply at all. As long as you have some form of health insurance, you do not have to have Medicare, though it is smart and highly recommended to do so.
Second, you can wait until you are ready and enroll for the first time during the General Enrollment Period (GEP), which takes place annually from January 1st through March 31st. However, keep in mind that, the longer you wait to enroll, the more late enrollment penalties will be added to your monthly premiums when you do sign up. It is, then, best not to wait if possible.
Third and finally, there is an exception to this penalty if you are still working at age 65. If you haven’t retired, or you’re still covered by your employer’s insurance, you can wait to enroll until that coverage ends. Once it does, you will have about 6 months to enroll in Medicare called a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).
Once you have enrolled in Original Medicare, you can make changes to your coverage during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) from October 15th through December 7th.
If you just have Original Medicare, you can apply for a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan. Or, you can unenroll in either of those plans as well.