If you’re approaching retirement, you might be thinking about how you’re going to get affordable medical care when you no longer have a job that offers health insurance. Fortunately, most people are eligible for Medicare once they turn 65. But how can you enroll, and when will your benefits start? Here’s what you should know about the process of enrolling in Medicare.

Determine If You Need to Enroll in Medicare

In certain situations, you’re automatically enrolled in Medicare, so you won’t have to do anything unless you plan on adding a Medicare supplement to your coverage. For example, if you are getting either Social Security retirement benefits or Railroad Retirement benefits, you’ll be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B. If you get disability benefits, you’ll be enrolled after 24 months.

This is automatic, so you won’t need to do anything. But if you’re not receiving any of those benefits, you will have to enroll in Medicare yourself. Luckily, the process is simple.

Sign Up During Your Initial Enrollment Period

It’s easiest to get Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period, which lasts for 7 months. This period starts 3 months before you turn 65. It continues throughout the month of your birthday, and then it ends 3 months after that.

So if you’re about to turn 65 or just recently did, you can easily sign up for Medicare by visiting the Social Security Administration website and filling out the form there. You can also visit your local Social Security office, or call (800) 772-1213 to enroll. The application will simply ask for your birthdate, Social Security number, birthplace, and any employment and insurance coverage you might have now. It will only take a few minutes to complete.

Sign Up During the General Enrollment Period

If you’ve been 65 for several months and didn’t enroll in Medicare, your next step is to wait for the General Enrollment Period. This is from January 1 to March 31 each year. You may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for not signing up during your initial enrollment period. The exception is if you didn’t enroll in Medicare Part B because you already had insurance through your employer or a union.

If this is the case, you can apply for Medicare Part B once you know you’re about to lose your insurance. You will qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. This should last eight months, and it begins the month your job or group health insurance ends. If you apply within this eight-month period, you won’t have a late enrollment penalty for Medicare.

If you need help during the Medicare enrollment process, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE. Questions about applying for health insurance? You can contact us for help!