As you move through life, it's smart to figure out what your best moves are in order to improve your condition financially and in other ways. It's also valuable to avoid making boneheaded moves, as they can really set you back. Here are three stupid Medicare moves that many people regret having made.
This is an error simply made and simply avoided: enrolling late. You're eligible for Medicare at age 65, but don't assume you can sign up for it at any time after that. If you're late, your Part B premiums, which cover medical services, but not hospital services, can rise by 10% for each year that you were eligible for Medicare but didn't enroll.
So when should you enroll? You can sign up anytime within the three months leading up to your 65th birthday, during the month of your birthday, or within the three months that follow. If you fail to enroll during these seven months, you can enroll during the "general enrollment period," which is from January 1 through March 31 of each year. (If you're still working and have employer-provided healthcare coverage at age 65, or are serving as a volunteer abroad, you can delay enrolling in Medicare without penalty.)
Fortunately, many people avoid this penalty because if they're already receiving Social Security benefits during their enrollment period, they will likely be automatically be enrolled. That's a good safety net, but don't assume that you're taken care of without checking.
Picking coverage that doesn't suit you best
Another mistake is just signing up for Part A and Part B without giving your decision much thought. After all, there is another option: a Medicare Advantage plan.
"Original" Medicare, the form of the coverage familiar to most people, consists of Part A, Part B, and very often Part D. Part A covers inpatient hospital care (such as surgery), as well as care provided by skilled nursing facilities, hospice, and some home health-care providers. It also covers some lab test and doctor visits. Part B covers certain doctors' services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services. More specifically, it covers "medically necessary" services needed to diagnose or treat you, as well as preventive and early detection services such as certain vaccines and screenings. It also covers durable medical equipment (such as blood sugar monitors and home oxygen equipment), mental-healthcare, and limited prescription drugs. Part D offers broader prescription-drug coverage. There are also "Medigap" plans available, to supplement coverage.
Medicare Advantage plans, sometimes referred to as Part C, are offered by private organizations (such as health insurance companies) and are regulated by the federal government. A Medicare Advantage plan must offer at least as much coverage as original Medicare (i.e., Part A and Part B), but it will often provide more than that, such as vision care, dental care, and/or prescription drug coverage, in order to attract customers. Some such plans also charge lower copayments for services and unlike original Medicare, they cap your out-of-pocket costs. Medicare Advantage plans are sometimes great choices, as they may cost less and provide more coverage.
When it's time to choose, read up on all these options available to you where you live. Don't just compare premiums, either, because Medicare Advantage plans may offer different co-payments, deductibles, and so on. Compare total expected out-of-pocket costs. Another key consideration is travel, because Medicare Advantage plans are typically rooted in your local area. If you plan to travel a lot, original Medicare plans may be preferable as they're honored by providers nationwide.
Once you decide, know that you can change your mind and choose a different plan next year. In fact, it's smart to review all your options and their costs each year.
Not being proactive about your health
Finally, another error many people make is only seeking medical attention when they're feeling quite sick. Once you have Medicare coverage, you might as well make the most of it -- in the process possibly saving money while also improving your health. Thus, learn just what it offers. For example, it entitles you to a free wellness visit with your doctor once a year, so be sure to schedule that. It's where your doctor will review your overall health and discuss how it can be improved. Many important screenings are also free for enrollees. These include mammograms and Pap tests, along with screenings for heart disease, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, depression, glaucoma, hepatitis C, alcohol misuse, HIV, STDs, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Many other Medicare benefits are provided free of charge or have the patient paying 20% of the Medicare-approved cost (with a deductible applying). These include ambulance services, artificial limbs and eyes, chiropractic services, CPAP machines, durable medical equipment, home health services, hospice care, laboratory tests, mental healthcare, physical therapy, smoking cessation counseling, transplants, and more. You may also be able to take advantage of telehealth services, where patients consult and interact with healthcare providers remotely and electronically.
So don't make the costly errors above. Sign up for Medicare on time, choose the plan that suits you best, and make the most of the coverage you have. You can improve both your physical and fiscal condition.
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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