Medicare enrollment checklist: How to sign up for benefits
Your 65th birthday is on the horizon, and you know what that means: It’s time to start thinking about Medicare. Signing up for Medicare can seem like a daunting task, but it’s a lot more manageable — simple, even — once you get organized. And don’t worry, you’ll have a plan together in no time.
Here’s a checklist you can follow that will help you sign up for your Medicare benefits.
Need some help navigating Medicare? Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990, or compare plans online today.
Step 1: Review your Medicare options early
There’s no denying it: Medicare is complicated. The program has enough different parts and acronyms to make annual enrollment confusing for just about anybody. Learning about Medicare and figuring out which option is best for you can be the most challenging part of the process. So take some time now — even 6 months or more before your birthday — to learn about Medicare.
“All that information just gets cluttered and confused in your head, so that’s why you need to start early,” says Shelley Miller, a Medicare in Moscow Mills, Missouri. Although details like the amount of money you’ll have to pay for your monthly plan (premiums) change from year to year, the basics of Medicare stay mostly the same. You can also call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990, or start comparing plans online today.
How you could receive Medicare benefits
At a minimum, be sure you understand 2 of the most basic ways you can receive Medicare:
- Original Medicare: This includes Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance).
- Medicare Advantage: Also known as Medicare Part C, this is a private alternative to Original Medicare that bundles Parts A and B. It also often includes Part D (prescription drug coverage) as well.
Under Original Medicare, you’ll have to add Part D separately and pay extra for it. There are also supplemental plans (sometimes called Medigap) that can help you pay for out-of-pocket costs associated with Medicare. And if you have Original Medicare, it likely won’t cover things like dental or vision care, so you might want to add supplemental plans for those as well.
As noted above, Medicare Advantage can include Part D, as well as dental, vision, hearing, and other benefits. (That hearing benefit could come in handy, for example, if you need hearing aids.) But there are pros and cons to each type of plan, so you’ll want to weigh your options carefully.
Check your coverage options for providers and medications
Miller also recommends taking stock of the different health providers you’re seeing. Find out if they accept Medicare and/or Medicare Advantage. If they take Medicare Advantage, for example, which plans do they accept?
You’ll also want to make note of the medications you’re taking. As you’re shopping for a prescription drug plan, whether that be Original Medicare and Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan, check the list of approved drugs (known as a formulary) to make sure your medications are covered.
Step 2: Mark your calendar
You’ll want to note when your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is. That’s the time around your 65th birthday when you can enroll in Medicare. Your IEP lasts for 7 months. It begins 3 months before the month of your 65th birthday and lasts for 3 months after that month.
Mark the beginning and end dates of your IEP on your calendar. If you don’t sign up during that time, you’ll have to wait until the General Enrollment Period, which is usually January 1 to March 31 of each year. You may face late-enrollment penalties and a gap in coverage if you don’t sign up on time.
In 2023, here’s how things will work:
- If you enroll during the first 3 months of your IEP, your coverage will start on the first day of the month that you turn 65 (though, if your birthday is on the first of the month, it will start the first day of the month before your birthday).
- If you enroll during or after your birth month, it will start on the first of the month after you enroll. That’s a change from previous years, when there could be a delay of up to 3 months.
Note: If you’re already receiving Social Security benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare the month you turn 65. Your Medicare card and other materials will arrive in the mail 3 months before your birthday or during your 25th month of disability benefits.
Step 3: Create a “My Social Security” account
The Social Security Administration handles Medicare enrollment. If you want to enroll online, you’ll need to create a My Social Security account with the Social Security Administration, even if you’re not ready to start drawing a Social Security check. “Enrolling online with Social Security is probably the best way to enroll into Medicare,” says Miller. But she notes that this step isn’t required if you plan to enroll in person or over the phone.
To create an account, you must have a Social Security number, a U.S. mailing address, and a valid email address. You’ll also need to verify your identity along the way, although Miller says that the process has gotten easier over the years. “You don’t have to remember your phone number from 1970 anymore — silly things like that,” she says.
If you already have login.gov or ID.me credentials, you can sign in with those instead of creating a new account. Just follow the prompts after you sign in.
Step 4: Sign up for Medicare!
Once you’re done with all the legwork, signing up for Medicare itself may feel like the easy part. There are several ways you can do it:
- By using your My Social Security credentials on the official Social Security Administration website
- By calling Social Security at +1-800-772-1213 (TTY +1-800-325-0778)
- By visiting your local Social Security office, which can be located on the website
- By calling the Railroad Retirement Board at +1-877-772-5772, if you or your spouse worked for a railroad
- By calling a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 or comparing plans online
“It’s a very quick online application,” Miller says. “It should take no longer than 10 or 15 minutes, even if you’re not computer savvy.”
If you want to apply in person at a local Social Security office, it’s a good idea to set up an appointment. You may face long wait times if you drop in without an appointment. The offices tend to be busiest on Mondays, the first day of the month and the day after a federal holiday.
“Call as soon as possible to get that appointment,” Miller says.
One way to skip the Social Security office lines? Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 or compare plans online
Step 5: Check your mail
About 2 weeks after you sign up, you’ll receive a welcome package that includes your Medicare card and a “Welcome to Medicare” booklet. Be sure to read the materials carefully and put your Medicare card in a safe place. The number on it is your key to the Medicare program.
Step 6: Make 2 key decisions
Once you are enrolled in Medicare, you’ll still have some important decisions to make:
- Should you sign up for Part B or keep it if you were automatically enrolled? Part B covers things like doctor visits and preventive care. You’ll have to pay a monthly premium for Part B, which is set by the government each year (in 2023, it will be $164.90 or more, depending on your income).You might want to delay enrollment if you have health benefits through a large employer or your spouse’s health plan. In that case, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period when that coverage ends.
- How do you want to get your Medicare coverage? Now is the time to decide which option — Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage — you prefer.
Now is also the time to decide whether you want to buy a Part D plan (if you don’t choose a Medicare Advantage plan that covers prescription drugs).
Step 7: Schedule your “Welcome to Medicare” visit
Now that you’re all set up with Medicare, you’ll want to stay on top of your health care with regular wellness visits. If you have Part B, contact your doctor to schedule a “Welcome to Medicare” visit. During this visit, which comes at no cost to you, your doctor will:
- Check your blood pressure and vision
- Give you important screenings and vaccinations
- Review your health history
- Work to help you get set up for success as a new Medicare member
Consider doing something nice for yourself when you leave the doctor’s office. After all your hard work, you deserve a reward!
Need more help with Medicare? Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990, or compare plans online today.