Millions of Americans patiently count the days until they become eligible for Medicare, the federal health insurance program that primarily serves seniors.
Most people gain access to Medicare when they turn 65. Qualifying for Medicare is such a key milestone that some people delay retirement until the day they finally get this coverage.
However, those with certain health conditions may be candidates for Medicare long before celebrating their 65th birthday. If you belong to one of the following groups, you may be eligible for Medicare regardless of age.
Some disability beneficiaries
Those who are younger than 65 are automatically eligible for Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance) if they have been receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits from the Social Security Administration or certain disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board for at least 24 months.
You do not need to sign up for Medicare in this situation. Instead, you will get your Medicare card in the mail three months before your 25th month of disability.
You are eligible for disability benefits if you have worked long enough, are younger than your full retirement age and have a medical condition that either:
- Prevents you from working for at least 12 months
- Is expected to prove fatal
To find out if you qualify for federal disability aid, check out the federal agency’s Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.
People with permanent kidney failure
Those who have end-stage renal disease (ESRD) are eligible for Medicare at any age if they meet certain conditions.
Those conditions include that your kidneys no longer work and that you need kidney dialysis regularly or have had a kidney transplant.
Additionally, one of the following circumstances, as listed at the Medicare.gov website, must apply to you:
- “You’ve worked the required amount of time under Social Security, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), or as a government employee
- You’re already getting or are eligible for Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits
- You’re the spouse or dependent child of a person who meets either of the requirements listed above”
Those diagnosed with ESRD can enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B by visiting their local Social Security office or by contacting the Social Security Administration.
People with ALS
Those who are younger than age 65 and have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are also eligible for Medicare. Part A and Part B benefits automatically kick in during the same month a patient’s disability benefits begin.
There is no cure for ALS, which is often called “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” and the average life expectancy of someone with the condition is two to five years.
How to get help with Medicare
If you need help applying for Medicare or in understanding eligibility and benefits, many free resources are available. These include State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (or SHIPs), which are staffed by expert volunteers familiar with the rules and options particular to your area. Shiphelp.org can help you find the one nearest you.