Don't jeopardize your financial or physical health

How to Avoid Medicare Mistakes

by Carol Marak


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Since 10,000 boomers join Medicare each day, it's time to learn the facts about the health insurance program to avoid the pitfalls and traps that are costly.

In an AARP article, Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, states, "Avoiding the most common mistakes in Medicare is the difference between having good financial and health security or not." He warns older Americans to learn the rules to avoid higher premiums and snags.

  • Never assume you don't qualify or haven't earned the 40 credits, which certify full benefits for Part A services (hospital insurance). Enrollees do not need the credits to qualify for Part B (doctors' services, outpatient care, medical equipment) and Part D (prescription drugs), as long as you've reached 65 or older and are a U.S. citizen or a legal resident.
  • You must sign up for Part B. Not doing so opens you up to penalties and surcharges. However, if you are beyond 65 and have health coverage at your job (or spouse's job) and the employer has 20 or more workers, Part B enrollment may be delayed without penalty.
  • Never think that Medicare Part B is an option even if you have COBRA or a retiree health insurance plan. It is optional but check with your plan to learn how it fits with Medicare, which may be the primary coverage.
  • Never believe you must reach full retirement age (66 or 67 for those born after 1959) to become Medicare eligible. Sign up for Medicare at age 65 to avoid penalties, unless you have health coverage at work.
  • You must enroll in Part D even if you don't take prescription drugs. Even if you don't take any medications now, that can change in the future. You cannot wait to enroll in Part D. By doing so, you put yourself at risk for late penalties.
  • How to Avoid Medicare Mistakes

  • You can enroll when you turn 65, or during the time you have health coverage at work (or spouse's), you can enroll for up to eight months after it ends. Open enrollment (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) is for the people currently enrolled that want to change their coverage for next year.
  • Have you started preparing for retirement?
    Our pre-retirement checklist will walk you through the steps you need to take.

  • Select a Part D plan according to the drugs you take. Compare coverage and costs among different plans by using the plan finder program on Medicare.gov or by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227.
  • Don't wait to buy Medigap. The supplement covers some or most of the out-of-pocket expenses in traditional Medicare like deductibles and co-pays. However, to get full protection, you need to buy it at the right time.
  • Read the Annual Notice of Change that comes in the mail each September if enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan (HMO or PPO) or a Part D drug plan. It states the changes and cost increases. This is your chance to compare it.
  • Help to pay for Medicare is available. Check out the Medicare Savings Program and the Extra Help Program to see if you qualify. Learn more AARP.org.

Carol Marak, aging advocate, columnist, speaker and editor at Seniorcare.com. She earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from USC Davis School of Gerontology and writes about concerns while growing older.

Take the Next Step:

  • Use this tool to maximize your retirement by determining the best age to take your Social Security benefits. Don't leave thousands on the table by taking Social Security at the wrong time.
  • Determine if debt could derail your retirement and what you can do about it now. Our checklist can help you. Afterall, one of the most important ingredients for a comfortable retirement is to be debt free when you retire.
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