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Social Security and Medicare together provide a huge portion of the financial support that people need during retirement. Yet the rules for claiming benefits from the two programs are different, and so one natural question to ask is whether you can claim Social Security and Medicare at the same time. When the timing works out correctly, the answer is yes, but the two programs also try to integrate their processes to handle situations in which you need to claim your benefits at different times.

The timing of Social Security and Medicare
The first hurdle to claiming Social Security and Medicare simultaneously is whether you're eligible for both programs. For most people, Medicare coverage kicks in at age 65, and applications for the program are accepted up to three months before your 65th birthday.

By contrast, the age of Social Security eligibility differs depending on your circumstances. Workers claiming benefits on their own work record can claim as early as age 62. You can claim spousal benefits at age 62 as well, but only if your spouse has applied for retirement benefits by that time. Otherwise, you have to wait for your spouse to claim Social Security before your spousal benefits can kick in.

Automatic enrollment in Medicare
In most cases, if you start receiving Social Security benefits before reaching 65, then you'll be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B as of when you turn 65. You should expect to get your Medicare card three months before your 65th birthday. As a result, even though you technically didn't apply for the programs at the same time, your Social Security application started the process for automatic Medicare benefits to begin at the appropriate time.

If you start taking Social Security at 65, the Social Security Administration's process allows you to apply for Social Security and Medicare benefits on the same application. The SSA gathers necessary information for both programs and works with Medicare's agency to coordinate benefits.

Getting Medicare before you claim Social Security
The most common situation in which you have to apply for Medicare benefits separately is if you choose not to receive Social Security until after age 65. If you're still working and are covered by health insurance at work, you might be able to put off claiming Medicare until after age 65 without paying a penalty, and that could allow you to coordinate your Social Security and Medicare benefits when you retire at a later age.

Claiming Medicare by itself is an option for those who want their Medicare benefits while deferring their Social Security benefits until a later date. The SSA provides a method for applying for Medicare only, gathering the necessary information on behalf of Medicare. Later on, when you decide to begin your Social Security benefits, you can take advantage of coordination to have Medicare premium payments deducted from your monthly Social Security check.

Special situations
Finally, although the discussion above focuses on common retirement scenarios, there are other situations in which Medicare and Social Security eligibility follows different rules. For instance, those who become disabled will automatically get Medicare coverage under Parts A and B after they've received Social Security disability benefits for 24 months. Those with special conditions such as ALS automatically get Medicare coverage immediately upon receiving disability benefits from Social Security.

Because Social Security and Medicare are so closely linked to financial security in retirement, the SSA and Medicare's agency work together to make the process of applying for benefits as streamlined as possible. Many people are able to file once and get both benefits lined up either for current or future use.