Millions of seniors get health coverage through Medicare, and whether you're relatively new to the program or have been on it for years, it pays to get as much out of it as possible. Here are a few smart moves you can make in the coming year that will help you do just that.
1. Sign up on time
Your initial Medicare enrollment window spans seven months, beginning three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ending three months after it. If you don't enroll in Medicare on time, you'll face a 10% surcharge on your Part B premiums for each 12-month period you're eligible for coverage but don't enroll. There are also penalties for going too long without a Part D drug plan, so don't wait to secure coverage. Not only will you risk paying more for Medicare, but you'll also risk a scenario where you get hurt or fall ill while uninsured.
2. Choose your plan wisely
It's easy to think of Medicare as a single healthcare solution, but actually, you get to choose what coverage you get. If you sign up for original Medicare, you'll need to select a Part D drug plan, and to that end, it pays to assess two key factors: premiums and drug classification. The premium you pay for Part D will dictate how much your plan costs you before taking your specific medication needs into account. The way the medications you take are classified, meanwhile, will determine your out-of-pocket costs for them.
All Part D plans come with a formulary that groups drugs into different tiers. The higher the tier, the higher your cost, so as you look for the right plan, figure out how each one treats the medications you're on.
Another option under Medicare is Part C, or Medicare Advantage. Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies but must, by law, offer at least the same level of coverage as original Medicare. But many Advantage plans offer much more, encompassing services like dental, hearing, and vision care, which original Medicare won't pay for. On the flipside, Advantage plans can be more restrictive than original Medicare with regard to the providers you can see and the pharmacies you can use, so you'll need to weigh the pros and cons to see which choice is best for you.
The good news, of course, is that you're not stuck with the same plan for life. You can switch plans every year during Medicare's fall open enrollment, and if you're currently enrolled in an Advantage plan, you can swap it for another or revert back to original Medicare between January 1 and the end of March.
3. Take advantage of the free care you're entitled to
Though your coverage under Medicare isn't free, as an enrollee, you're eligible for certain services that won't cost you a dime. These include yearly well checkups, depression screenings, alcohol counseling, programs to help you quit smoking, annual mammograms, and diabetes testing. It pays to take advantage of these free services, because they could not only help you improve your health, but also, save you money by catching brewing problems before they escalate.
4. Get medical advice without leaving your house
Mobility is a challenge for many seniors, so if it's hard for you to get from your home to a doctor's office, you can rest assured that there's still access to healthcare professionals under Medicare. Thanks to the program's telehealth services, you can connect with a doctor online and get medical advice that often costs less than a visit to an actual office or facility. Telehealth can eliminate the stress and aggravation of being holed up in waiting rooms, dragging yourself out when you're sick, or worrying about finding a doctor when you're traveling.
Though Medicare may not be a perfect program, the savvier you are when choosing your coverage and maximizing your benefits, the better it will serve you. Keep these tips in mind throughout the year as you navigate Medicare, because for what you pay, you deserve to make the most of it.