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How to Apply for Medicare Part B

Medicare Part B and Part A make up what is called Original Medicare. Medicare Part B provides medical insurance and covers services such as outpatient care, visits to the doctor’s office, preventive care and more. Medicare Part A provides hospital insurance.

Medicare Part B is optional, and there are certain Medicare enrollment periods during which you can sign up for Part B coverage.

Use this guide to learn more about how to apply for Medicare Part B based on your unique situation.

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How to sign up for Medicare Part B

Your Medicare qualification status will affect how you enroll in Part B. Each beneficiary should typically fall into one of the following five categories.

1. You will receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits beginning at least four months before turning 65 years old

If this describes your situation, you will not have to do anything to apply for Medicare Part B. You will be automatically enrolled in both Part A and Part B, and you will receive your Medicare card in the mail approximately three months before your 65th birthday.   

If you do not want Part B, you will have to opt out manually. The instructions for opting out of Part B will be included in a letter that comes with your Medicare card.

2. You will NOT receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits beginning at least four months before turning 65

In this situation, you will not be automatically enrolled, and you will have to manually sign up for Part A and Part B (if you so choose).

To sign up for Medicare Part B, you may either:

Initial Enrollment Period

You can use one of the above methods to enroll in Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period. This is a 7-month period that begins three months before you turn 65, includes the month of your 65th birthday and continues for three months thereafter.

3. You are under 65 years old and have a qualifying disability

Some beneficiaries may qualify for Medicare under age 65 because of a disability.

You must first collect disability benefits from either Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board for at least 24 months before you may be eligible for Medicare.

After your 24th month of collecting disability benefits, you will be automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B if you qualify, and you should receive your Medicare card in the mail prior to your 25th month of collecting disability benefits.

If you do not want Part B, you will need to opt out of coverage using the instructions that will come with your Medicare card.

4. You have ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)

If you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B when your disability benefits begin, and you should receive your Medicare card in the mail at that time.

If you do not want Part B coverage, you must opt out using the instructions that accompany your Medicare card.

5. You have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)

If you have ESRD, you are eligible for Medicare and are given the option of enrolling. If you choose to enroll, you will need to enroll in Part B as well as Part A in order to receive the full benefits that cover dialysis and kidney transplant services.

To sign up for Medicare, you will need to contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778) or your local Social Security office.

Part B late enrollment penalties

If you don’t apply for Medicare Part B when you first become eligible, you may be subject to late enrollment penalties when you finally do sign up.

The Part B late enrollment penalty can be as high as 10 percent of the Part B premium for each 12-month period in which you were eligible for Part B but did not sign up. You will be required to pay the late enrollment fee for as long as you remain enrolled in Part B.

When to sign up for Part B

The best time to enroll in Part B is during your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period, which (as mentioned above) is the 7-month period that begins three months before you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65 and continues for three months thereafter.

If you do not sign up during this time, you may enroll during the Medicare General Enrollment Period, which takes place from January 1 to March 31 each year.

You may also qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to sign up for Part B if you are still receiving employer-sponsored coverage at the time of your Medicare eligibility. There are a number of situations that could potentially qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period.

Apply for Medicare Advantage: an alternative to Part B

You can apply for a Medicare Advantage plan as an alternative option to Original Medicare.

Medicare Advantage plans (also called Medicare Part C) provide the same basic coverage as Part A and Part B, combined into one plan sold by a private insurance company.

Some Medicare Advantage plans may also offer additional benefits not covered by Medicare Part B, such as dental, vision, hearing, prescription drug coverage and more.

Call 1-800-557-6059 TTY 711 to learn more and to speak with a licensed insurance agent who can help you compare the Medicare Advantage plans that may be available in your area.

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*$0 premium plans may not be available in all areas.

MedicareAdvantage.com is a website owned and operated by TZ Insurance Solutions LLC. TZ Insurance Solutions LLC and TruBridge, Inc. represent Medicare Advantage Organizations and Prescription Drug Plans having Medicare contracts; enrollment in any plan depends upon contract renewal.

Plan availability varies by region and state. For a complete list of available plans, please contact 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048), 24 hours a day/7 days a week or consult www.medicare.gov.

Medicare has neither reviewed nor endorsed this information.