Although there are several health-minded actions seniors can take to maintain their health, sometimes illness and injury are unavoidable. Medicare can be a blessing to many seniors, but it can get a little complicated when it comes time to enroll. You’ll have to navigate specific sign-up times, complicated forms, legal jargon, and seemingly infinite supplementary plans to choose from. Hopefully, these tips can put you on the right track.

Learn About the Types of Medicare Plans

Medicare is federal health insurance available to people ages 65 and older. Original Medicare, known as Medicare Part A and Part B, covers many essential medical services:

  • Inpatient hospital care
  • Some home health care services
  • Blood tests, X-rays, and disease screening
  • Doctor’s office visits (ask about chiropractic care and acupuncture visits)
  • Mental health care

The federal government also offers prescription drug coverage with Medicare Part D. Part A is free for anyone with 10 years of work history in the US, whereas Part B and D require you to pay monthly premiums.

Around one in three people with Medicare are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, also known as Medicare Part C. These plans help protect against costly medical expenses for services that are not covered by Medicare, such as vision, dental, and prescription drugs. Medicare Advantage plans are provided by private companies, so their availability varies — check out MedicareAdvantage.com to find available plans in your state.

Medigap, or Medicare Supplement Insurance, is also offered by private insurance companies and covers most leftover expenses that Medicare does not. Check out this article by Investopedia to learn about the differences between Medicare Advantage and Medigap. Generally, Medigap has higher monthly premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs.

Make a List of Your Criteria

Before you decide on a Medicare Advantage plan, consider what kind of coverage you need — both right now and in the future. Do you need vision care? Is dental important to you? Do you have any conditions that require costly prescriptions? Collect your family medical history to get an idea of the kinds of services you may need later down the line. It’s also important to talk to your current health care providers and preferred hospitals to ensure they participate in the Medicare plan that you choose.

Finally, consider cost. How do you feel about paying high premiums now to avoid unexpected expenses when an emergency occurs? Or, would you rather have low premiums and pay for services as you need them? Taking a good look at your financial health can help you come up with answers to these tricky questions.

Know How and When to Enroll

It’s important to sign up for Medicare within three months of turning 65. To be safe, take advantage of an early sign-up and enroll three months before your birthday. Scheduling an appointment at a Social Security office is the best way to ensure you’re signing up correctly, but you can also enroll by mail or online. Just remember that you may face penalties or delayed coverage if you wait too long to sign up. You can sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan during this same time period. If you don’t, you have a chance to enroll or change your coverage during the Annual Election Period. Even if your health hasn’t changed, it’s a good idea to review your plan each year and note any updates that may affect you.

Avoid Misleading Information

As if signing up for Medicare wasn’t complicated enough, there is plenty of misleading information to watch out for. For example, it’s common for scammers to call and tell people that they must sign up for Medicare Part D or they will lose Medicare coverage. This is not true. Be aware of other common scams described by AARP as you shop around for Medicare plans. If you’re worried about signing up for Medicare Advantage or Medigap from a private company, call your state’s insurance department and ask them if the company is legitimate.

By signing up for Medicare, you’ll be joining over 58 million people enrolled in the program. Don’t put it off because you’re worried or confused. If you need help, you can always call Social Security or talk to a licensed insurance agent to get a better understanding of your options.

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