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More than 10,000 new people enter the Medicare program every day according to the AARP—and many of them either are misinformed or haven’t had the time to learn what to expect. Errors are common and can carry significant costs. Whether you’re a senior who is new to Medicare or you have been on the program for a while, you and make Medicare work for you by considering these costly mistakes to avoid.

1. Don’t assume you don’t qualify for coverage.

You automatically qualify for Part B coverage (for doctors’ services, outpatient care and medical equipment) and Part D (for prescription drugs) if you’re 65 or older, a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and have lived in the states for at least five years.

Qualifying for Part A (hospital insurance) is a little more complicated. You must have earned at least 40 credits by paying payroll taxes over the course of your career, qualify under your spouse’s work record, or pay Part A premiums. Delaying Medicare sign-up until you’ve earned 40 credits on your own could result in permanent late charges.

2. Don’t assume you must be full retirement age before you sign up.

While full retirement age is now 66 for most people, you must sign up for Medicare when you turn 65 unless you have health insurance coverage through your employer or your spouse’s employer. If you don’t have that type of coverage and you delay your Medicare application, you’ll pay costly permanent late charges.

3. Don’t assume good health means you can skip Part D.

If you’re not currently taking any prescription drugs, you may be tempted to skip Medicare Part D. However, no one knows what the future holds, and you shouldn’t wait to buy prescription coverage until you actually need it. Go without and suffer an unforeseen illness or injury and you could pay thousands out of pocket.

4. Don’t assume you can only sign up for Medicare during “open enrollment.”

Open enrollment (from October 15 to December 7 each year) is only for current Medicare consumers who want to make changes to their coverage. If you’re turning 65, you will have your own enrollment period. If you have employer health coverage, you can delay signing up for Medicare. If you do not, you’ll need to enroll around your birthday. Miss that deadline and you’ll pay permanent late charges.

5. Don’t miss out on Medigap full protections.

Medigap is supplemental insurance you can purchase to cover a portion of traditional Medicare out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles and copays. In order to benefit from full federal protection, you need to buy Medigap coverage within six months of enrolling in Part B. Do so and Medigap insurers won’t be able to deny coverage or charge a higher premium based on your current health or preexisting conditions.

6. Don’t neglect to check into programs that may lower your Medicare costs.

Premiums, deductibles and copays can all eat into your savings. If you retirement income is limited, you may qualify for a program that can reduce your costs. If you qualify for a Medicare Savings Program, your state will pay your Part B premiums. If you qualify for the federal Extra Help Program, you’ll get low-cost Part D prescription drug coverage.

Medicare insurance is complicated. If you need assistance understanding the requirements and potential costs of Medicare coverage, contact your insurance provider.


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