Healthcare has become one of the hottest topics around, yet many average Americans still know very little about our nation’s healthcare system. Those over the age of 65 can benefit significantly from Medicare but fail to take full advantage of the program because of a lack of knowledge. Here are some tips for making the most of your Medicare benefit.
Time it right
With Medicare, timing is everything. Most people sign up for Medicare as soon as they turn 65 and become eligible, thus avoiding any late penalties. If you are already receiving Social Security benefits, then you are automatically enrolled, but otherwise must sign up for the program. However, as AARP.com notes, if you or your spouse still works for an employer that provides you with health insurance, then you can delay Medicare enrollment until that employment ends without risk of late penalties.
Know your parts
Medicare is divided into four distinct parts. Part A helps pay the cost of hospital services, Part B helps pay for doctor visits and outpatient services and Part D covers the cost of prescription drugs. Part C, meanwhile, is different, offering private insurance options, such as Medicare HMOs and PPOs, which provide all Part A, B and D services in a single benefit package.
It’s not all free
Though it is an entitlement, Medicare does come with a cost. While Part A is free if either you or your spouse paid Medicare payroll taxes for at least ten years, Part B does have a monthly cost. According to Kiplinger.com, the average cost for Medicare users was $109 in the first half of 2017. New enrollees, meanwhile, are paying $134 per month. Meanwhile, the average Part D premium is $34 a month, and in addition to premiums, Medicare users also often have to pay co-payments, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Some of it is free
Although there are monthly premiums and out-of-pocket expenses to pay, Medicare does provide many preventative care services without any cost-sharing requirements. Such services include things like flu shots and mammograms, and beneficiaries are also eligible for one free annual wellness doctor’s visit (though tests performed during said visit could result in additional charges).
There’s a time for changes
The open enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7, during which time Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. This fall to winter period is a good time for beneficiaries to confirm that the medications they’re on will continue to be covered at an affordable price, so that they can switch to a different plan if needed.
Mind the gap
As U.S. News & World Report notes, there is a way to pay for some of the traditional Medicare out-of-pocket costs, which is known as medigap. This supplemental insurance plan assists Medicare users with co-payments and deductibles that can sometimes prevent people from visiting the doctor in the first place. It is wise to purchase a medigap policy during the six-month period when you are 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B, otherwise you could wind up paying much higher premiums or find yourself being denied coverage.
Knowing some of these key details regarding Medicare should help you make the most out of this government program while simultaneously paying the least.