How to Sign Up

What you have to do to sign up for Medicare depends on how you qualify and whether you want Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan.

Original Medicare is automatic for some people, but not others, while anybody who wants Medicare Advantage has to sign up. And, even if you get Original Medicare automatically, you still need to sign up for a Part D plan.

You should also think about applying for a Medicare Savings Program and the Low Income Subsidy (LIS) — many people lose out on this help because they never bother to apply.

If you need help, call the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP) at 1-800-434-0222 or Medicare at 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

Signing Up for Original Medicare

Some people automatically start getting Original Medicare coverage without having to sign up. This includes anybody who:

  • Gets Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or CDB benefits for two years (24 months)
  • Turns 65 and already gets Social Security retirement benefits, or
  • Has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

If you are in one of these situations, you get a notice in the mail three to four months before your Medicare is supposed to start. The notice will tell you:

If you do not automatically start getting Medicare benefits, you can sign up for Original Medicare Parts A and B:

Learn more about signing up for Original Medicare.

Declining Part B

If you decline Part B coverage:

  • You can usually only sign up again between January 1 and March 31 of each year, which is called the General Enrollment Period, and your Medicare Part B coverage begins on July 1 of that year.
  • If you lose employer-sponsored coverage, you can sign up for Part B outside of the general enrollment period. You have eight months to sign up, starting with the month when the job ends (or when you lose your coverage). If you sign up during those eight months, you don’t have to pay monthly penalties.
    • Note: If you also decline Part D and then you lose your employer-sponsored coverage, you only have two months to sign up for Part D without paying monthly penalties.

Signing Up for Private Plans: Part D, Medigap, and Medicare Advantage

If you have government-run Original Medicare, you have the options of also getting a privately managed Part D prescription drug policy and, if you are 65 or older, a privately run Medigap policy (Medicare Supplement Insurance).

Or, you may decide that you want a privately run Medicare Advantage plan that includes all the benefits you need. Note: Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage, but some allow you to sign up for a separate Part D plan instead.

For all of these types of privately managed Medicare benefits, the signup process is basically the same:

  1. You decide which types of plans you want to sign up for.
  2. You research the private plans you are looking at:
  3. You sign up:

When to Sign Up for Part D or Medicare Advantage Plans

When you should sign up for a Part D or Medicare Advantage plan (or switch from Medicare Advantage back to Original Medicare) depends on your situation:

  1. You can sign up, switch, or drop plans at any time if you:
  2. If your Medicare coverage is just starting, you can sign up anytime during the three months before and after your Medicare coverage starts. This is called the initial enrollment period.
  3. You can add, drop, or switch plans every October 15 - December 7. This is called the annual election period. Any changes you make start on January 1 of the following year. Note: If you want to switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare with Part D, you can do so until February 14.
When to sign up for Medigap (Medicare Supplement Insurance)

Medigap enrollment works differently than other private Medicare plans. You have to be at least 65 years old and if you don’t sign up during Medigap’s six-month open enrollment period after turning 65, they are allowed to deny you coverage or charge you more based on pre-existing conditions.

Learn more about Medigap enrollment or call the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP) at 1-800-434-0222 to get live help.

Applying for Help to Pay for Medicare

Regardless of whether you have Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage, you can apply for help to pay for your Medicare coverage:

Note: If you have Medi-Cal coverage as well as Medicare, you may already be getting help from an MSP and the LIS automatically.

Learn more about MSPs and the LIS. If you want to talk with someone about them, call the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP) at 1-800-434-0222.

Learn more