For people who are unfamiliar with navigating websites, signing up for Medicare online can seem challenging at first. At first glance, there’s a lot of information displayed all at once. This keeps some people from using this helpful website to manage their Medicare benefits. The Medicare website was created to help people check the status of claims, learn more about eligibility requirements and streamline the process of getting coverage.
You do still need to sign up for Medicare through the Social Security Administration (SSA), if you want Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and B) or sign up with a private insurance carrier if you’re interested in Medicare Advantage, but you can use the Medicare website as a jumping off point for getting the information you need to make more informed decisions about your coverage. In the following article, we’ll help you navigate the Medicare website, Medicare.gov, so that you can take advantage of all its helpful features.
Creating an account with Medicare.gov
For starters, you should go ahead and create an account on the Medicare website. Most people are eligible to enroll in Medicare beginning three months before the month of their 65th birthday. For example, if your birthday is April 11, then you can sign up for Medicare beginning on January 1. Go ahead and create an account on the website when you’re first eligible.
- When you visit www.Medicare.gov, you’ll see a link in the top right corner labeled “MyMedicare.gov Login.”
- Click on this link, and you’ll be taken to a page where you can sign up for an account on the website.
- On the first screen, you’ll see a link in blue that says “Create an account.” Follow this link to set up your account.
You don’t have to create an account on the website to enroll in Medicare, but it could be helpful if you have a lot of questions about the process. Plus, creating an account allows you to monitor your coverage more conveniently. You can use this section of the website to review your Medicare benefits and look over any claims that are available.
The site now offers the ability to download your information to your computer, as well. Once you register and log in, you can fill out an Initial Enrollment Questionnaire (IEQ). This document will verify any other insurance you may have in order to determine which insurer pays first when you file a claim.
Helpful tabs and links
After you register for an account through the MyMedicare.gov portal, you can return to the home page of the Medicare site. Simply click on the link in the top left corner. Here, you’ll see eight tabs outlining the different sections of the website. From left to right, they are:
- Sign Up / Change Plans
- Your Medicare Costs
- What Medicare Covers
- Drug Coverage (Part D)
- Supplements & Other Insurance
- Claims & Appeals
- Manage Your Health
- Forms, Help & Resources
Each of these tabs takes you to a section containing useful information for: enrolling in Medicare, learning about eligibility guidelines, finding out about supplemental insurance options and keeping track of updates to the Medicare system.
The purpose of this article is to help you sign up for Medicare, so we’ll start with the first tab on the list. To begin the process, click on the link labeled “Sign up / Change plans.” You’ll notice that when you place your cursor over the link, a list of options appears. You can click on the option you need right away. Or, you can simply click on the link header to get to the main page regarding the sign-up process. For this example, we’ll go to the main page by clicking on the header link, instead of any of the sub links.
- Once you come to the main page, you’ll see several paragraphs outlining the kind of information you’ll find in this section. You can read each description to find out which link you need.
- For instance, if you wanted to learn more about the differences between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage, then you would click on the first link labeled “Your Medicare coverage choices.”
- Scroll down until you see the link labeled “Apply for Medicare online.” This link actually takes you outside of the Medicare website and redirects you to the Social Security Administration’s website. From there, follow the prompts to enroll in Medicare.
Why can’t you sign up for Medicare using Medicare’s own website?
In reality, the law that brought Medicare into being was actually a 1965 amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935. Medicare falls under the jurisdiction of the Social Security Administration for purposes of enrollment. You can use the Medicare website to manage your coverage. But you must sign up initially through the SSA.
If you’re not quite ready to sign up for Medicare, then you can explore the other links on the website. Let’s say that you need more information about the difference in coverage between Medicare Parts A and B. Scroll back up to the link labeled, “When & how to sign up for Part A & Part B.” On this page, you’ll see a number of links and paragraphs regarding the sign-up process for Medicare Parts A and B. You’ll also be able to narrow down your situation by clicking on any of the blue links. This way, you can find the information that’s most applicable to your situation.
On the left side of this page, you’ll see a menu of options. Right now, you’re looking at the page labeled, “When & how to sign up for Part A & Part B.” This tab is highlighted in a bold blue. Underneath, you can see several sub links to additional pages. For instance, you could click on “Special conditions,” to learn more about exceptions to the rules that may apply in your case. You might also want to click on “When will my coverage start?,” to find out when your benefits will start.
Throughout the Medicare website, each article contains a set of sub links designed to lead you in the right direction. At first, these sub links and sidebars can seem overwhelming. There’s a lot to take in when you first begin using the Medicare website. Take your time by reading each link carefully. Many of the links on each page contain lead-in sentences to help you determine if you need to click on them.
The links might say something like, “Learn how to sign up for Medicare if you have coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.” This lead-in indicates what you will find if you click on the link. You should also note that all of the links on the Medicare website are highlighted in blue for your convenience; links that you’ve already visited will be highlighted in purple.
Finally, let’s take a look at the bottom of the page. The Medicare website offers the same information on the bottom of each page. You may be browsing through the home page or engrossed in an article on Medicare Part D coverage. Regardless, you can always scroll to the very bottom of the page to find a series of useful links. Here are some of the things you can do from the bottom of the site:
- You can access any of the links from the eight tabs listed on the home page, including the link to sign up for Medicare or change your coverage.
- You can search for information on doctors, providers, Medicare forms and other information that you need to take action regarding your existing coverage.
- You can sign up to receive email updates.
- You can visit other websites and read additional publications related to Medicare.
- You can visit related government program websites, such as HealthCare.gov.
- You can sign up to follow Medicare.gov on Twitter, YouTube or through an RSS feed.
The Medicare website is designed to give people relevant information in a compartmentalized way that encourages easy skimming. It might not seem like that to you at first, but over time, you’ll get used to the layout. Taking a methodical approach to navigation will help you narrow down your options, so that you can find the information you need. Now that you understand the basics of the website, we’ll discuss some specifics about enrollment.
Initial enrollment steps
Once you’re eligible to enroll in Medicare, you should take advantage of the social insurance program. You’ve most likely already paid into the system by working at a job that deducts Medicare payroll taxes from your paychecks. Even if you haven’t paid into the system, Medicare can still be a more affordable health insurance option than private or work-based insurance. Plus, you’ll have to pay a late enrollment penalty if you decide to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B after your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP).
When can you sign up for Medicare? You have an initial period of seven months to sign up for Medicare without facing a penalty: three months before the month you turn 65, the month you turn 65 and the three months following the month you turn 65.
For example, if your birthday is October 5, then you can sign up for Medicare from July 1 to January 31. But you will have to pay a penalty fee for signing up outside of this seven-month initial enrollment period. The exception would be if you qualify for an extension or Special Enrollment Period (SEP) because you receive health benefits from work.
If you want to enroll in original Medicare, then you need a few pieces of information to get started. First, go to the Medicare or Social Security website and follow the instructions for applying online. You can also make an appointment with someone at your local Social Security office or call the local SSA office to sign up. However, applying online is more convenient. Here’s what you’ll need to sign up for original Medicare:
- Documentation related to your place of birth
- A Permanent Resident Card if you’re not a natural-born U.S. citizen
- Medicaid information, if applicable
- Documents related to any group health plans that you have through work or your spouse’s employer
These are all the documents you’ll need to sign up for Medicare. If you’re also applying for Social Security, then you’ll need additional information that can be found by visiting the Social Security website. The SSA offers a convenient checklist on their website that can be downloaded and printed to help you keep track of the documentation you need. Once you fill out the required information on the application form, you can submit it for review. The SSA will contact you if they need more information to complete your request.
Are you interested in joining a Medicare Advantage Plan in lieu of original Medicare? Medicare Advantage Plans offer a variety of benefits. Some seniors find it helpful to enroll in a plan that covers more services than original Medicare typically covers. If you want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan, then you’ll need to go to the Medicare website first. Here are some tips for joining a Medicare Advantage Plan:
- Visit the Medicare website. Click on the “Sign up / Change plans” link on the top of the page. You should see the option to view a page called “About Medicare health plans.” Click on this link.
- Within the Medicare health plans page, there’s a link labeled “Medicare Advantage Plans.” Click on this link; you’ll be taken to a page outlining your options for joining an Advantage plan.
- Medicare offers a plan finder tool designed to help Medicare beneficiaries find a plan that works for their needs. Plus, the plan reduces the chance of fraudulent offers made by illegitimate companies. Only insurers that have been authorized to sell Medicare Advantage Plans can sell such a plan to you.
The Web page outlining your Advantage options also lets you know that you will need to complete the application process through the private insurer that offers the plan you want. Each insurer may require different documentation, but all insurers will want to know the start and end dates of your Medicare coverage. You can only enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan if you first enroll in both Parts A and B. Once you enroll in original Medicare, you have the option to switch to an Advantage plan that better suits your needs.
Where can you find additional resources and information about Medicare? Aside from the bounty of information offered by Medicare’s own website, you can find a lot of helpful articles on various websites designed specifically for Medicare beneficiaries and senior citizens. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) oversees the administration of Medicare. Their website is full of helpful articles that address fraud, accountability, eligibility requirements and other information relevant to Medicare and other social programs.
You might also consider visiting the Social Security website or arranging an in-person appointment with your local Social Security office. Because the SSA actually handles enrollment, you’re likely to find more detailed instructions on the enrollment process from Social Security administrators. You may have a situation or concern that prevents you from enrolling using the normal methods. If so, you can get your questions answered in real time by visiting your local office. The Social Security website also offers step-by-step guides for enrolling and managing your Medicare benefits.
Additionally, you can visit the website of AARP for articles and blog posts on a wide range of relevant topics. While some of the articles featured on AARP.org are opinion-based, many center on issues facing senior citizens in the United States. For example, you can check for helpful advice on how to choose between the portions of Medicare, written by people who understand the system. The AARP organization is a nongovernmental organization that seeks to help senior citizens find answers. But you should note that AARP also sells memberships. However, you don’t have to join AARP to read their online articles or reap the benefit of their research.
Conducting your own research
You can get lost easily while exploring the Medicare website. But keep in mind that you can always return to the home page and start again by clicking on the large link in the top left corner of each page. In fact, getting lost may not be such a bad thing.
Each article on the Medicare website leads to additional subarticles that can help you understand your coverage options, as well as your rights and responsibilities under the law. Spend some time getting to know the website when you first sign up for Medicare. You may discover that you need a Medicare Advantage Plan. Or, you might realize that you can hold off on enrolling in Medicare Part B until you retire. If you need additional assistance, you can always call a customer service representative at (800) MEDICARE (633-4227) for detailed instructions and guidelines.