Patty Duke is back -- and this time she's brought the entire family. The cast of "The Patty Duke Show" reunited for dinner and to create a series of public service announcements to promote Social Security's new online Medicare application.

Duke, William Schallert (Martin Lane), Paul O'Keefe (Ross Lane), and Eddie Applegate (Richard Harrison) have combined for some entertaining television spots that you can see at the Social Security website.

Duke and her television family entertained American households on "The Patty Duke Show" in the 1960s. Now, they want to serve families again -- by telling them just how fast and easy it is to apply online for Medicare, even if you're not ready to retire. The application takes less than 10 minutes to complete.

Who should use the online Medicare application? You should, if you:

* Are at least 64 years, 8 months old.

* Want to sign up for Medicare but do not currently have any Medicare coverage.

* Live in the United States or one of its commonwealths or territories.

* Do not want to start receiving Social Security benefits at this time. (If you aren't sure, you can apply for Medicare now and apply online for benefits later.)

In most cases, once you submit your application electronically, you're done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if we need more information. Otherwise, you'll receive your Medicare card in the mail.

Why apply online? Because it's fast, easy and convenient. You don't need an appointment and you can avoid waiting in traffic or in line. Our secure technology ensures your information is kept private.

It's important to note that people who already receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits do not need to apply; they will be automatically enrolled.

If you're within four months of turning age 65 or older, what are you waiting for? As Patty Duke and her television family will tell you, it takes less than 10 minutes. Just visit the Retire Online: It's So Easy! Web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/about.htm and get started.

And be sure to catch TV's most famous identical cousins and the whole family for dinner at the Apply Online for Medicare Web page, /www.socialsecurity.gov/medicareonly.

Questions for this column should be mailed to "Social Security Matters" Attn: James Feyerherm, 1212 E 27 St, Hays KS 67601. All names will be held confidential. Other questions should be directed to 1-800-772-1213 or call or visit your local Social Security office. You can also access SSA online at www.socialsecurity.gov.

James Feyerherm is district manager of the Hays Social Security Office.