At a time when there's a pandemic raging, it's more important than ever to stay on top of your health. That includes managing your Medicare benefits appropriately. Here are a few important things you can do to maximize your Medicare this year.

1. Sign up on time

Though Medicare eligibility doesn't begin until you turn 65, you're allowed to enroll up to three months before the month of your 65th birthday. In fact, your initial enrollment window spans seven months total, wrapping up on the third month after the month of your 65th birthday.

Enrolling on time is important because if you miss your window this year, you won't be allowed to sign up until Medicare's general enrollment period, which begins in January of 2022. At that point, your coverage won't kick in until July of next year.

Medicare enrollment form with stethoscope resting on it

Image source: Getty Images.

Just as significantly, if you go too long without Medicare upon being eligible, you'll risk lifelong penalties. Specifically, your Part B premiums will rise 10% for each 12-month period you were entitled to coverage but failed to sign up. Keep in mind that Medicare eligibility begins before you reach full retirement age for Social Security purposes.

2. Get all of the free care you're entitled to

Medicare offers a host of preventive-care services you can access at no cost to you. These include programs to quit smoking, depression screenings, alcohol counseling, and mammograms. Be sure to take advantage of these services because they could help your health improve. And given that we're in the midst of a pandemic, they could also help you address certain conditions that could put you at risk of more severe illness from COVID-19.

3. Take advantage of telehealth services

There are some medical issues you can't address over the phone or a computer screen. But if you're dealing with a non-emergency that has the potential to be addressed remotely, you'd be wise to book a telehealth appointment to avoid the exposure that comes with visiting a doctor.

Thankfully, Medicare has been covering telehealth appointments even before the pandemic, so if you're not sure whether an in-person visit is warranted, a remote medical consultation is a good start.

4. Get your free coronavirus vaccine

The coronavirus vaccine is available to the public at no cost, so if you're on Medicare, you can rest assured that you'll be entitled to a free vaccine, as well. Initially, there was a question as to whether Medicare would cover vaccines since they're currently approved under an emergency use authorization, but now, it's clear that if you're on Medicare, you can get a vaccine without having to pay for it. Of course, a short supply of vaccines has left many Medicare enrollees scrambling to get an appointment, but keep trying -- with any luck, things will open up soon as more doses become available.

Whether you're new to Medicare or have been enrolled for years, it's now more important than ever to be vigilant about your health. Follow these tips to make the most of your Medicare coverage and to ensure that you sign up for it when you're supposed to.