For some people, Medicare enrollment occurs automatically, while others need to manually enroll. Medicare sends you a red, white, and blue card when you’re signed up.
You’re generally eligible for Medicare if you’re a United States citizen or permanent legal resident of at least five continuous years, and you generally qualify by age (65 or older). However, you may qualify for Medicare before turning 65 if you receive Social Security or certain Railroad Retirement Board disability benefits; see details below. You may also qualify for Medicare before age 65 if you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Read on for more information.
Medicare enrollment may happen automatically if the following situations apply.
If you turn 65 years old
If you’re already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare, Part A and Part B, when you reach age 65. Your Medicare card should arrive about three months before your 65th birthday, and your Medicare coverage starts the first day of the month you turn 65.
If you retire before 65
You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits when you’re 61 years and 9 months old or older; see the agency’s contact information below. However, in most cases, you don’t qualify for Medicare until the age of 65 (see exceptions below).,
If you’re eligible for Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits, see the agency’s for information about retiring before age 65, or call them at the number listed below.
If you qualify for Medicare because of disability
If you get Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board disability benefits, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare after 24 months of collecting disability. Your Medicare card should arrive in the 25th month.
If you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
People with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B the same month their disability benefits start.
Unless the situations above apply to you, you’ll need to manually enroll in Medicare. If that’s you, here’s how to get your Medicare card.
You’ll have to manually apply for Medicare if:
If you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD), you can apply for Medicare at any time. Otherwise, you’re first eligible to enroll during your seven-month Initial Enrollment Period, which typically starts three months before you turn 65, includes the month of your 65th birthday, and ends three months later. When your Medicare coverage begins and when you get your Medicare card depends on the month you sign up during this period.
If you don’t enroll in Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period, in most cases you’ll have to wait until the General Enrollment Period, which takes place from January to March 31 every year. You may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty for Medicare Part B (and for Medicare Part A, if you don’t qualify for premium-free Part A).
Some people decide to delay Medicare Part B enrollment if they have other coverage, since Part B comes with a premium. If you’re working and have health coverage through an employer, you can sign up for Part B with a Special Enrollment Period when you stop working or that coverage ends. You won’t have to pay a late enrollment penalty if you sign up during a Special Enrollment Period.
If you worked for a railroad, you’d apply for Medicare through the Railroad Retirement Board. Otherwise, you’d sign up through Social Security.
Getting a Medicare card starts with a phone call:
You can also sign up online at in person.
If you’re married, you and your spouse should each have your own separate Medicare cards with separate Medicare claim numbers. Don’t mix them up, and never use each other’s cards.
Have a doctor’s appointment? If you can’t wait 30 days for your new card to arrive, you can visit your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users 1-800-325-0778) Monday through Friday, from 7AM to 7PM.
The agency will mail you a letter that you can use as proof of Medicare eligibility until you receive your new Medicare card. You should receive this letter within 10 days of submitting the request.
If you receive Railroad Retirement Board benefits, you should call your local RRB office or 1-877-772-5772. TTY users can dial 1-312-751-4701. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 9AM to 3:30PM.
Keep your Medicare card in a safe place, and don’t let anyone else use it. Always have your card handy when you call Medicare with questions.
You should take your Medicare card with you when you receive any health care services or supplies. Even if you haven’t reached your deductible, your doctor will need your card information to submit a claim. That claim will be applied to your deductible so you can use your benefits sooner. If you receive a new Medicare card, show it to your doctor’s office staff so they can make a copy of the updated information.
If you misplaced or lost your card, you can get a replacement Medicare card.
To learn about Medicare plans you may be eligible for, you can: