ESRD Medicare


​End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is permanent kidney failure, Stage V chronic kidney disease, requiring a regular course of dialysis or kidney transplant. 

ESRD Medicare Eligibility
An individual of any age is entitled to premium-free Medicare Part A if they have ESRD and they either worked the required amount of time under Social Security, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) or as a government employee, are already receiving or are eligible for Social Security or RRB benefits, or are the spouse or dependent child of a person who meets either of those requirements.

If a person qualifies for Medicare Part A, they can also get Medicare Part B. A person will need both Part A and Part B to get the full benefits available under Medicare to cover certain dialysis and kidney transplant services.

When a person’s Medicare coverage begins depends on their treatment plan. See the chart below:


If a person has Medicare only because of permanent kidney failure, Medicare coverage will end:

  • 12 months after the month they stop dialysis treatments.

  • 36 months after the month they have a kidney transplant.

Their Medicare coverage will resume if:

  • They start dialysis again, or get a kidney transplant within 12 months after the month they stopped getting dialysis.

  • They start dialysis or get another kidney transplant within 36 months after the month they get a kidney transplant.

ESRD Medicare Enrollment
If a person has End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), enrolling in Medicare is an option. If entitled to Medicare because of ESRD, a person can enroll in Part A and Part B.

If a person enrolls in Medicare Part A and waits to enroll in Part B, they may have a gap in coverage. If a person does not enroll in Part B at the time enrolls in Part A, they must wait until a Medicare General Enrollment Period (GEP) (January 1-March 31 each year) to apply. Coverage would begin July 1 and a Late Enrollment Penalty may apply.

There is no Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for Part B if a person has ESRD. This includes individuals who are dually entitled to Medicare based on ESRD and age or disability.

If a person is already enrolled in Medicare based on ESRD and turns 65, their Medicare coverage will not be interrupted, as long as meets the eligibility requirements for Medicare based on age. If they did not have Part B before turning age 65, they will automatically be enrolled in Part B when they turn 65.

If a person is already enrolled in Medicare A&B based on disability or age and paying a higher Part B premium because they did not enroll in Part B when first eligible, they will no longer have to pay the late enrollment penalty when becomes entitled to and enrolls in Medicare based on ESRD.

A person can enroll in ESRD Medicare by contacting their local Social Security Office. If help is needed to decide when to enroll, call the Medigap Helpline (1-800-242-1060) for assistance.

ESRD Medicare Enrollment Considerations​

Medicare and Group Health Plan (GHP) Coverage
If a person is entitled to Medicare based solely on ESRD, Medicare is the secondary payer to Group Health Plans (such as an employer or union) during a coordination of benefits period of up to 30 months. The GHP will pay first on hospital and medical bills during this period regardless of how many employees the employer has or whether a person is currently employed or retired. This is also true in dual entitlement situations wherein a person, already entitled to Medicare on the basis of age or disability and Medicare was the secondary payer, has now become entitled to Medicare based on ESRD.

The 30-month coordination period begins when a person becomes entitled to ESRD Medicare (even if not yet enrolled). When a person is within this coordination period the GHP must pay primary benefits during this period even if their GHP says its policy is to pay second to Medicare. If the GHP does not pay for covered services in full, Medicare may pay secondary benefits for all Medicare covered items and services, not just those for the treatment of ESRD. At the end of the 30-month coordination period, Medicare then becomes the primary payer even if the person remains covered under the GHP based on current employment status.

If a person has GHP coverage that will pay for most or all of their health care costs (for example, if there is no annual deductible) they may want to delay enrolling in Medicare Part A and Part B until they get near the end of the 30-month coordination period. If enrollment is delayed, they won’t have to pay the Part B premium for coverage not yet needed. After the 30-month coordination period, they should enroll in Part A and Part B. 

ESRD Medicare and the Health Insurance Marketplace
If a person is currently enrolled in a Health Insurance Marketplace plan and becomes entitled to ESRD Medicare, they have the choice to enroll in ESRD Medicare or stay enrolled in their Marketplace plan. Consider all consequences carefully before deciding to keep a Marketplace plan and delay enrolling in ESRD Medicare.

A person may be eligible for premium-free Part A, but not required to sign up for Medicare. If they choose to enroll in premium-free Part A, the beneficiary should enroll in Medicare Part B at the same time to ensure they are getting full coverage for dialysis and kidney transplant services (and to avoid a potential gap in coverage and/or a Part B late enrollment penalty).

When Medicare P​art A coverage starts, any premium tax credits and/or other cost-sharing savings received through the Marketplace will end and they will have to pay the full Marketplace premium. A person can cancel the Marketplace plan once their Medicare coverage starts.

ESRD Medicare and Medicaid
If a person is currently enrolled in a Medicaid program, careful consideration should be given as to when to enroll in ESRD Medicare. For example, if a person is enrolled in Badgercare Plus, this coverage usually ends when Medicare begins. Badgercare Plus does not consider assets for eligibility so a person may be eligible for this program but not other programs that do consider income and assets to determine eligibility.

If a person enrolls in ESRD Medicare and is eligible for a Medicaid program, Medicare will pay primary (first) and Medicaid second.

Special Notes
Before deciding to delay enrollment, a person should get all the facts about ESRD Medicare eligibility and enrollment for their situation, especially if a transplant is planned as there are shortened time periods for eligibility and enrollment for transplant recipients.

If a person is entitled to Medicare Part A at the time of transplant and Medicare paid for their transplant (or was the secondary payer but made no payment) and the transplant took place in a Medicare-certified facility, then Medicare Part B will cover their immunosuppressive drugs (after enrolled in Medicare Part B). If these transplant conditions are not met, the immunosuppressive drugs may be covered by a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan (costs vary by plan; Part D may help cover drugs needed for other conditions).

If a person enrolls in Medicare Part A, but delays Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage), they may have to wait until the next Annual Election Period (AEP) to enroll in Part D (from October 15–December 7, with coverage effective January 1) and may have to pay a lifetime monthly late enrollment penalty if they don’t have other creditable drug coverage (drug coverage, such as coverage from an employer or union, Tricare, VA, or Indian Health Service, that is expected to pay at least as much as Medicare’s standard prescription drug coverage).

Helpful Links​ websites and publications​ for ESRD related information: