Key Takeaways

  •  If you’re 65 or about to turn 65, the idea of enrolling in Medicare can feel overwhelming.

  • Taking the time to learn about your coverage options, estimate your costs, and talk to a Medicare expert can help you make an informed choice.

  • Use these five steps for yourself—and share it with others who are getting ready to enroll in Medicare.

If you're turning 65, you're eligible to apply for Medicare. What is Medicare? It’s a federal health insurance program that covers a wide range of services to keep you healthy as you age. The minimum age for Medicare is 65, but some younger people with disabilities, end-stage renal disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) may also qualify.

Trying to understand the Medicare process can feel overwhelming. That's why we've created this simple checklist to help get you started.

5 steps to help you get started with Medicare

  1. Determine when you can enroll. Your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is when you can first sign up for Medicare. It's based on your 65th birthday and includes the three months before your 65th birthday month, the month you turn 65, and the three months after.
  2. Learn about the different parts of Medicare. Medicare has four parts, each offering different types of health coverage. Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) are known as Original Medicare. You can also get your Original Medicare coverage through Part C (a Medicare Advantage plan). Medicare Part D offers Prescription Drug Coverage. Some people also choose to purchase Medicare supplement insurance, known as Medigap, to help fill the gaps in Original Medicare coverage. Take the time to explore your options and find out what’s covered under each part. Think about the kinds of services you’ll likely need in the coming year based on your health and any medications you currently take.
  3. Estimate your out-of-pocket costs. Medicare does not pay for everything. Use NCOA’s guide to Medicare out-of-pocket costs to learn more about the costs you’ll be responsible for, including premiums, copayments, and deductibles. Consider how those fit into your budget and what you can comfortably afford. The Medicare plan(s) you choose should offer the right balance of coverage and cost.
  4. See what additional benefits you qualify for. There are many public and private benefits programs that, in addition to Medicare, could help you pay for health care and medications. These include the Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs), Medicaid, and Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS) - Extra Help, among others. Visit NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp to find programs you’re eligible for and even get help enrolling.
  5. Talk to a Medicare expert for free. Looking for straightforward, unbiased guidance on choosing a Medicare plan? Talk directly to a licensed Medicare broker from an organization that meets NCOA's Medicare Standards of Excellence. They will help you explore all your coverage options to find the solution that fits you best. You can also contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). SHIPs help people with Medicare and their families understand their coverage choices.