When You Are Eligible for Social Security and Medicare

When You Are Eligible to Enroll and When You Should Enroll May Be Different

Blank Social Security checks.
Blank Social Security checks. William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Medicare and Social Security are two of the most important United States government programs for our seniors. Both programs are intended to aid American seniors and their spouses in retirement who paid into the programs through the FICA tax during their working years. Medicare provides both free and cost-effective health insurance coverage for eligible senior citizens who are 65 years of age or older.

Social Security retirement benefits, on the other hand, act like a small pension, providing monthly income to eligible seniors as early as age 62.

Despite constant murmurs of federal budget issues particularly as they apply to the sustainable funding of these programs, most financial experts hold that the popularity of the programs and our retiree's dependence upon them will ensure their longevity.

When Seniors Are Eligible for Medicare and Social Security

Both programs actually serve more than just America's retired senior citizens (in the case of Social Security, you also find programs that are intended to aid the disables and the spouses and minor children of workers who have died). But here we are going to focus solely on the program's basic retirement benefits. Senior citizens can qualify for traditional Medicare coverage as early as age 65 as long as they are a U.S. citizen or a permanent legal resident and they or their spouse have met the work credit requirement (which is essentially an algorithm used to determine how long a worker paid into the system).

In fact, those who qualify for Medicare through these criteria are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A (but they must enroll in the other parts of the program should they choose).

On the other hand, today seniors become eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits at age 66 or 67 depending on their birth year, which is also known as their full retirement age (FRA), and whether they or their spouse have met the work credit requirement.

Unlike Medicare, however, seniors can actually opt to start taking their benefit before their FRA as early as age 62, at which time they would receive a reduced monthly benefit for the remainder of their lives. Conversely, seniors can delay their Social Security benefit past their FRA to age 70 to increase their monthly benefit for the remainder of their life. Deciding when and how to file for Social Security benefits (whether they are your own or your spousal benefit) has become a strategic piece of prepared senior's retirement plans.

Taking Medicare But Not Social Security

Given the changes to both programs and the various strategic decisions a worker and his or her spouse might make about when to start taking their benefits, many wonder if they can enroll in Medicare coverage but not Social Security. The simple answer is yes. In fact, under most circumstances that strategy is the most advantageous for the retiree.

Financial planning experts agree that it is in seniors' best interests to enroll in all parts of Medicare coverage they plan to have as soon as they are eligible at age 65 as Parts B and D may become more expensive if they wait. That said, most seniors can, and generally should, delay their Social Security benefits until at least their FRA, meaning that there may be several years during which they are enrolled and covered by Medicare, but not yet receiving their monthly Social Security benefit.