Once you're eligible, you can sign up for Medicare online. Here's how to get started with Original Medicare, or another Medicare coverage choice.

By Valencia Higuera
Updated June 29, 2020

Key Takeaways:

  • You can only sign up for Medicare during specific enrollment periods.

  • Since Original Medicare doesn't cover all health care costs, you may need a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare Part D, or Medicare Supplement insurance to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.

  • You can sign up for Original Medicare online through the Social Security Administration's website.

  • You can purchase a Medicare Advantage plan, a Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan, and Medicare Supplement insurance online from private health insurance providers.

Medicare is a health program for people age 65 and older. Coverage choices include Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), Medicare Advantage (Part C), Medicare prescription drug (Part D), and Medicare Supplement insurance.

If you receive Social Security benefits, you're automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B at age 65. If you don't receive benefits, you can sign up for Medicare online once you are eligible — either Original Medicare or another Medicare health plan.

How to Sign Up for Original Medicare?

Original Medicare includes Medicare Part A (inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, in-home health care), and Medicare Part B (doctor services, outpatient hospital care, preventative care, labs, testing). With Original Medicare, you can visit any doctor who accepts Medicare patients.

If you're not automatically enrolled in Original Medicare, you can sign up online during your Initial Enrollment Period. This starts three months before the month you turn 65, and ends three months after the month you turn 65.

If you don't enroll at this time, you can also sign up online during Medicare's General Enrollment Period from January 1 through March 31 of each year, with coverage starting on July 1.

Most people don't pay a premium for Medicare Part A, but they do pay a deductible, coinsurance, and copays. The Medicare Part B premium for 2020 is $144.60 a month.

Click here to enroll in Original Medicare through the Social Security Administration's website.

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How to Sign Up for a Medicare Advantage Plan?

Original Medicare doesn't cover all medical expenses. For more comprehensive coverage, you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan.

This is an alternative to Original Medicare. Medicare Part C includes Part A and Part B benefits, plus additional healthcare services. Medicare Advantage covered services include:

Many Medicare Advantage plans have in-network providers, and coverage is specific to a service area.

You must first enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B before enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan. The Initial Enrollment Period for Part C is also the three months before and after the month you turn 65.

If you don't enroll when you're first eligible, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan during Medicare Open Enrollment from October 15 to December 7 of each year.

If you're already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can make changes to your plan or return to Original Medicare during Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment from January 1 to March 31 of each year.

There are also Special Enrollment Periods for Medicare Advantage. You can make changes to your plan outside the above enrollment periods under certain circumstances, such as if you lose your coverage, or move outside of your plan's service plan.

Advantage plans are sold by private health insurance companies, with monthly premiums ranging from $0 to $200 a month, depending on benefits. Most Medicare Advantage plans sold today also include Part D prescription drug coverage. When signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan, you can choose a plan with or without prescription drug coverage

Premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance for Part C vary by insurer, so it's important to compare costs before enrolling in a plan. Click here to sign up online for a Medicare Advantage plan.

How to Sign Up for Medicare (Part D) Prescription Drug?

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program can reduce your out-of-pocket expenses for brand and generic medications. These prescription drug plans are sold by Medicare-approved health insurance providers, too.

Since Original Medicare doesn't include prescription drug coverage, you can also buy Part D as a standalone policy to accompany this health plan.

You can enroll in a Medicare Part D plan when you're first eligible for Medicare. This is also the seven-month period three months before and after the month you turn 65.

If you don't enroll when you're first eligible, you can enroll during Medicare Open Enrollment from October 15 to December 7 of each year.

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you can change your existing Part D prescription drug coverage during Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment from January 1 to March 31 of each year. You can also make changes during Special Enrollment Periods.

Click here to sign up online for a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

How to Sign Up for Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap)?

Medicare supplement insurance, or Medigap, covers gaps in Original Medicare. It pays some of the costs that Original Medicare doesn't like copays and coinsurance. Some older Medigap plans will even cover the cost of an enrollee's deductible.

These supplement insurance plans are also sold by private health insurance providers. Plans vary by state, with most states offering up to eight standardized plans 2020, identified by letters.

Medigap plans don't cover routine dental, routine vision, routine hearing, prescription drugs, or long-term care. They do, however, provide health coverage if you travel outside of the U.S.

The Initial Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Supplement insurance is the six-month period beginning the month you turn 65. If you enroll when you're first eligible, insurers can't deny your application due to pre-existing health conditions.

If you sign up at a later time, enrollment is subject to medical underwriting. Click here to sign up online for Medicare Supplement insurance.

Final Word On How to Sign Up for Medicare Online

Medicare coverage involves more than Part A and Part B benefits. If you need additional coverage, there's also Medicare Advantage (Part C), Medicare (Part D) prescription drug coverage, or Medicare Supplement insurance.

You can only enroll in Medicare during specific periods throughout the year. Depending on the chosen coverage, you can sign up online through the Social Security Administration, or apply through a private health insurance company. To learn more about coverage options, contact a licensed Medicare insurance agent.

Valencia Higuera is a personal finance writer with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. She resides in Chesapeake, Virginia.