For most people, Medicare eligibility starts at age 65. However, you can get Medicare before you reach 65 in certain situations, such as if you receive Social Security disability or RRB disability insurance

The eligibility age for Medicare is currently 65 years old. This applies whether or not you’re still working at the time of your 65th birthday.

You’re first eligible to apply for Medicare:

  • 3 months before the month you turn 65
  • during the month you turn 65
  • up to 3 months after your 65th birthday

This gives you 7 months to enroll.

The age when you retire does not factor into Medicare eligibility. If you have health insurance through your employer when you apply for Medicare, it will remain your primary insurance and Medicare will be considered secondary insurance.

It’s possible to qualify for Medicare before the age of 65 if you meet certain criteria. This article reviews those criteria and other Medicare eligibility requirements.

You may apply for Medicare at any age if you meet one of the following criteria:

Family members (such as a spouse) must be 65 years of age to sign up for Medicare unless they are disabled or meet specific medical conditions. There are no other exemptions for joining Medicare before the age of 65.

Social Security disability

If you’re under age 65 and have been receiving Social Security disability benefits for 24 months, you qualify for Medicare.

You can enroll in your 22nd month of receiving these benefits, and your coverage will begin in your 25th month of receiving them.

If you’re entitled to monthly benefits based on an occupational disability and have been granted a disability freeze, you become eligible for Medicare on the 30th month after the date of the freeze.

RRB disability

If you receive a disability pension from the RRB and meet certain criteria, you may be eligible for Medicare before age 65.

Specific health conditions

You may be eligible for Medicare if you have either:

  • ALS. If you’ve been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, you become immediately eligible for Medicare upon collecting Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits.
  • ESRD. If you have ESRD, also known as end stage kidney disease, and need regular dialysis or a kidney transplant, you’re eligible for Medicare and your coverage can begin shortly after your first dialysis treatment.

Family relationship

Under certain circumstances, and typically following a 24-month waiting period, you may be eligible for Medicare under age 65 based on your relationship with a Medicare recipient, including:

  • disabled widow(er) under age 65
  • disabled surviving divorced spouses under age 65
  • disabled children

To qualify for Medicare under any circumstances, including reaching age 65 and those outlined above, you’ll need to meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • U.S. citizenship. You must be a citizen of the United States, or you must have been a legal resident for a minimum of 5 years.
  • Address. You must have a stable U.S. address.
  • HSA. You can’t contribute to a health savings account (HSA); however, you can still use existing funds in your HSA.

In most cases, you’ll need to receive care within the United States.

If you’re imprisoned, generally the correctional facility you have been assigned to will provide and pay for your care, not Medicare.

Medicare is the U.S. government’s health insurance program for people aged 65 or older. You could be eligible for Medicare before you reach age 65 if you have:

  • Social Security disability
  • RRB disability pension
  • specific health conditions
  • family relationship

For questions about Medicare, visit the Medicare.gov website or call 1-800-633-4227.