You become eligible when you turn 65, if you qualify for Social Security. To qualify, you must be a citizen or permanent legal resident, and you or a spouse must have worked and paid payroll taxes for at least 10 years.
You also qualify if you are a younger person who is declared disabled, or who has end-stage kidney disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).
If you don't have enough work history to qualify, you can pay a premium to join part A, which makes you eligible for Medicare coverage. In 2012, you pay $248 per month if you have 30 or more quarters (7.5 years) of work history or $451 a month if you have fewer than 30 quarters.
Those eligible for part A and B can also choose to enroll in a part D drug plan, or can instead enroll to get all coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan.
Once you qualify, the government will send you a valuable tool: a 150-page guidebook called "Medicare & You 2012" that walks you through the whole Medicare system. You can read it online at www.medicare.gov and click on "Resource Locator."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun