Medicare For Dummies
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon

Copyright © 2014 AARP. All rights reserved.

You have three options for enrolling in Medicare Part A and/or Part B. In most cases, you can choose any of these methods regardless of whether you’re applying during your initial enrollment period (around age 65), during a special enrollment period (because you delayed enrollment beyond 65 based on health insurance from work), or during the annual general enrollment period that runs from January 1 to March 31 each year (because you didn’t sign up when you should’ve).

  • Applying by phone: Call Social Security’s main number at 800-772-1213 (or TTY 800-325-0778) and schedule an appointment for a phone interview at a convenient time for you.

  • Applying at your local Social Security office: Call Social Security’s main number and schedule an appointment for an interview at your local Social Security office at a convenient time for you. Or call the local office directly: You can find the number in your phone book or by going to the locator on Social Security’s website. If you make an appointment in advance, you don’t have to wait in line.

  • Applying online: You can apply online on Social Security’s website — provided you’re at least 64 years and nine months old, you don’t want to apply for retirement benefits at this time, you don’t yet have any Medicare coverage, and you don’t live outside of the United States. Go to, read the instructions carefully, and follow the directions.

In each case, you must provide certain information and documents to demonstrate your eligibility for Medicare. These include

  • Your Social Security number

  • Date of birth and original birth certificate

  • Marital status and, if appropriate, original marriage certificate

  • Legal residency and immigration documents, such as a green card

  • Evidence of employer- or union-provided insurance based on your own or your spouse’s active employment since turning 65 (if you delayed Part B enrollment for this reason)

If you apply on the phone or online, you’ll be asked to send in original documents (not copies) by mail or to drop them off at a Social Security office. If you prefer not to let these items out of your sight, you may as well enroll at your local SSA office anyway, take the documents with you, and take them home afterward.

If you’re a legal permanent resident, Social Security asks you not to mail in your foreign birth certificate, proof of permanent residency (green card), or any other immigration documents because they’re all difficult to replace if lost. Because you need to submit these to a Social Security office, you may as well enroll there too.

Applying online is obviously the most convenient way of signing up. Social Security officials say it should take only about ten minutes of your time. Still, in some situations, this method may not be the wisest course of action, and the old-fashioned way — actually speaking to someone — may be better:

  • If you enrolled in Part A around the time you turned 65 but now, months or years later, you’re signing up for Part B during a special enrollment period after stopping work or losing employer-based insurance, you can’t use the online option.

  • If you live outside the United States, you can’t enroll online.

  • If your situation is complicated, the relatively simple computer online application may not be able to handle it. In that case, Social Security will invite you to call in anyway to discuss it personally.

  • If you don’t want to send valuable original documents — such as birth and marriage certificates and immigration documents — through the mail, you should take them to a Social Security office instead.

  • If you’re delaying Part B because you have employer-based insurance after age 65 but want to sign up for Part A during your initial enrollment period, having a personal chat with a Social Security official gives you the opportunity to explain why you’re not signing up for Part B at this time. You can ensure that the reason is entered into your computer record (and check that you’re doing the right thing according to the rules).

  • If you continue to work after 65 but your employer insurance includes a health savings account, you can no longer contribute to your account if you enroll in Medicare. So just hitting that “submit” button online can cause you real problems.

  • If you want to ask questions — about Medicare or when the best time for you to sign up for retirement benefits is, for example — you can do so in person but not online.

Whichever sign-up method you choose, Social Security later sends you a computer printout containing the enrollment information that’s been entered into your record. This hard copy gives you the opportunity to check that your info is correct — and, if it’s not, to get the record changed. If you enroll online and Social Security requires more information about your situation, it’ll contact you to request it.

About This Article

This article can be found in the category: