Enrolling for Medicare for the first time is a milestone in your life, and most retirees come to rely on the healthcare coverage that Medicare provides. Before your 65th birthday approaches, however, it makes sense to do some planning to make sure that you'll be ready for Medicare when the time comes. Below, we'll look at some of the things you ought to know before you enroll in Medicare.
What types of Medicare coverage are available?
When you become eligible, you'll have several different types of enrollment options you can choose from. The Traditional Medicare program involves signing up for a combination of three different types of programs. Medicare Part A covers hospital and other inpatient charges, and it's generally provided free of monthly premiums to those who worked long enough in jobs in which they paid taxes into the Medicare system. Part B coverage includes doctor visits and other outpatient services, and you'll need to pay a monthly premium for coverage there. Finally, Part D prescription drug plans are available separately, with many choices to let you pick and choose the types of covered medications that match up best to your health needs.
Alternatively, you can sign up for Medicare Advantage, also known as Part C. These plans are offered by private insurers, and they integrate the coverage that traditional Medicare offers into a single package. You can get Medicare Advantage plans that also include prescription drug coverage, or you can use a separate Part D prescription drug plan to supplement your Medicare Advantage plan.
How do I sign up?
The Social Security Administration handles applications for Medicare, in large part because many people end up enrolling for both at the same time. If you've started getting Social Security benefits before you become eligible for Medicare, you'll often be automatically enrolled in Medicare effective on your 65th birthday.
If you don't want to claim Social Security when you get Medicare, you can choose the Medicare Only option on the Social Security Administration's online application website. The site will also give you the information you'll need in order to complete the application and get your Medicare benefits started at the time you want them.
Can I change my mind about Medicare coverage?
Many retirees get very nervous about making choices about Medicare because they mistakenly believe that they'll never be able to change their minds. Indeed, the majority of Medicare participants don't make changes to their coverage over the years, even though they have the right to do so every year.
Medicare offers an open enrollment period that lets you make changes to your coverage. In particular, you can switch from traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa, or you can switch between one Medicare Advantage plan and another. Open enrollment also lets you switch between prescription drug plans, picking a plan or provider that's more in line with your needs.
With that in mind, it makes sense to do an annual assessment even once you've been on Medicare for years. As your medical needs change, it can make better financial sense to make changes to your Medicare coverage. Otherwise, you're leaving money on the table.
Will I get special services when I first join Medicare?
Everyone who joins Medicare is eligible for a free physical as a form of preventative care. The visit includes a review of your medical history, along with education and counseling about preventive services, including screenings, shots, and referrals for other healthcare services if needed. A vision test, calculation of your body mass index, and review of safety and potential risks for depression are also included. Thereafter, annual wellness visits are included in your coverage. By offering these services, Medicare tries to encourage retirees to take care of themselves and to try to catch potential health problems before they reach an advanced stage.
Medicare is important as part of your support mechanism in retirement. By being ready in advance, you'll be prepared to take full advantage of your coverage when it starts.