Can I Get Medicare If Ive Never Worked?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Can I get Medicare coverage if I’ve never worked?

Medicare is health insurance that’s provided through the U.S. government. It’s available once you turn 65 years old or if you:

  • receive Social Security disability benefits for at least 2 years
  • receive disability pension benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board
  • have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • have end stage renal disease (ESRD), or kidney failure

Most people don’t have to pay monthly premiums for Medicare Part A (hospital coverage) because they’ve paid a portion of their earnings into the system for at least 40 quarters throughout their working years.

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You can also qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A through your spouse or parent. You may also enroll in and pay for Part A coverage yourself.

How do I qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A?

If you haven’t worked for the required length of time, there are two main ways you can still qualify for Medicare Part A without a monthly premium.

Through your spouse

When you turn 65 years old, you may be eligible for Medicare Part A if your spouse has worked for at least 40 quarters.

If you’re currently married:

  • your spouse must be eligible for Social Security disability or retirement benefits
  • you must have been married for at least 1 year
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If you’re divorced:

  • your former spouse must be eligible for Social Security disability or retirement benefits
  • you must have been married at least 10 years

If you’re a widow or widower:

  • your spouse must have been eligible for Social Security disability or retirement benefits
  • you must have been married for at least 9 months before your spouse passed away
  • you must be currently single

Medical conditions and disabilities

If you have certain disabilities, you may be eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A benefits even if you’re under 65 years old.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients

If you have a disability and have been receiving SSDI benefits for at least 24 months (2 years), you will automatically be enrolled in premium-free Medicare at the beginning of the 25th month.

ESRD

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If your doctor has diagnosed you with ESRD (kidney failure) and you’ve received a kidney transplant or you’re on dialysis, you qualify for Medicare benefits if one of the following criteria applies:

  • you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits
  • you qualify for Railroad Retirement Board benefits
  • your spouse or parent (living or deceased) worked long enough to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits

When you become eligible for Medicare benefits depends on whether you receive dialysis at home or in a treatment facility:

  • If you’re receiving dialysis in your home, you can apply for Medicare the first day you begin your dialysis program. You need to be sure to apply before the third month of treatment.
  • If you receive dialysis in a treatment facility, you can apply for Medicare on the first day of the fourth month of your treatment.

If you’re scheduled to receive a kidney transplant, you can apply for Medicare on the first day of the month you’re admitted to the hospital to start preparing for the transplant. But if your transplant is delayed, your Medicare benefits won’t start until 2 months before the month your transplant takes place.

ALS

If you have ALS, you’re automatically eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A, which will begin as soon as your SSDI benefits begin.

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When you sign up for SSDI, you’ll have a 5-month waiting period before your benefits start. After your waiting period is up, your Medicare and SSDI benefits begin the same month.

Paid-premium Medicare Part A

If you don’t have enough work history or meet the criteria discussed above to get premium-free Medicare Part A, you can still get coverage by paying the monthly premiums on your own.

To apply, you must be 65 years old and a U.S. citizen or a lawfully admitted noncitizen who has lived in the United States for 5 years or more.

If you buy Medicare Part A coverage, you must also enroll in Medicare Part B and pay those monthly premiums.

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The 2022 monthly premium for Part A coverage can be up to $499 per month. The monthly premium for Medicare Part B coverage is typically $170.10, but you may have to pay a higher Part B premium if you have a higher income level.

What about the other parts of Medicare?

Part A is the only part of Medicare that requires a specific amount of work history. You can enroll in Medicare parts B, C, and D without a work history.

Medicare Part B

Medicare Part B covers outpatient medical services, such as doctors’ visits. There’s no work history requirement to enroll in Medicare Part B. You can enroll as long as you’re at least 65 years old.

Once you enroll in Medicare Part B, you will pay a monthly premium of $170.10 in 2022. Your premium may be more if your income is higher.

Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage)

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Medicare Advantage is a private insurance option that offers the same basic benefits as original Medicare (Part A and Part B), plus additional benefits like vision and dental care. You must be eligible for original Medicare to qualify for a Medicare Advantage plan.

Although all Medicare Advantage plans must provide the same basic coverage as original Medicare, their costs and added benefits vary based on the insurance provider and the state regulations where you live.

Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D offers prescription drug benefits. While this plan is optional, Medicare requires you to have sufficient prescription drug coverage within 63 days of the date you become eligible for Medicare. This applies whether you get that coverage through Medicare, your employer, or another source.

If you don’t enroll in a Part D plan when you’re first eligible and you later decide to enroll, you could face a permanent late enrollment fee. The national base beneficiary premium for Part D plans is $33.37 per month in 2022.

Medigap

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Medigap policies are optional supplemental policies offered by private insurance companies. They help you pay your Medicare copays, coinsurance, and deductibles. To enroll in one of the 12 available Medigap plans, you must already be enrolled in original Medicare.

The costs of Medigap policies vary because each plan covers different medical fees. Some Medigap policies cap the amount of out-of-pocket expenses you will have to spend each year, while others have no cap.

Insurance companies don’t have to sell you a Medigap policy, so your best bet is to enroll in a Medigap plan during your initial enrollment period if you think you may need this type of extra coverage.

What if I still need more help?

If you need help paying your Medicare costs, there are federal and state programs that can assist you, including:

  • Medicaid
  • Medicare savings programs
  • PACE (Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly)
  • Extra Help, for help paying Part D costs

Medicare eligibility can be complicated, so if you still have questions, you can contact Medicare directly by calling 800-MEDICARE. You can also get impartial guidance through your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

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