Like the rest of the needlessly complex U.S. healthcare system, Medicare is a maze with more twists and turns than a Stephen King movie.
If your 65th birthday is on the horizon, the thought of trying to secure the right Medicare coverage may have you breaking out in a cold sweat. But fear not— with a deliberate, careful approach you can master the program’s terminology and the rules and get all the Medicare benefits to which you’re entitled.
First point to remember: everyone signs up for Medicare through Social Security, and they will be your contact point for questions as well as your actual registration.
Second point to know: if you are already receiving retirement benefits from Social Security before you turn 65 you won’t have to do anything: you’ll be automatically registered for Medicare Part A (covering clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities) and Part B (covering physicians and other service providers), starting on the first day of the month of your 65th birthday.
Third crucial point: If you aren’t an early retiree, you’ll have to take the initiative yourself and sign up on your own, through Social Security.
Now that we’re clear on the preliminaries, what follows are some tips that will help you get all the vital information you need in a timely manner, allowing you to sign up for Medicare without hitch or glitch and will all your healthcare needs fully covered …
Start early and don’t procrastinate.
You can begin the process of applying for Medicare up to three months before you turn 65. At that point, you can contact Social Security by phone, visit your local Social Security office or sign up for benefits online, depending on your preference.
But you should begin educating yourself about Medicare at least three or four months before you apply, so when the time comes there will be no confusion and you’ll be ready to select the plan or set of plans you really want.
Study each type of plan individually, and try to gain a clear understanding of all of them.
The letter plans you’ll need to research include:
- Plans A (covering facilities).
- Plan B (covering medical providers).
- Plan C (Medicare Advantage plans, which mimic private insurance plans are function as an alternative a Plan A/Plan B package).
- Plan D (prescription drug plans, used to supplement coverage gaps in other plans).
Study the specifics of these plans and familiarize yourself with all the terminology they use, so you’ll have clear ideas about what you’re signing up for and why those choices are better than others.
The government’s Medicare site is naturally a good place to start looking for information, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to just once source. Seek out a user-friendly website that takes an ‘everything you’ve always wanted to know about Medicare’ approach to the subject.
Find someone to assist you with your research (if you think it would help).
This may or may not be necessary, depending on how comfortable you feel handling your own research.
But a trusted family member or friend might be a valuable research assistant, especially if its someone who’s already had some dealings with Medicare and health insurance issues in general. A person like this could be a valuable resource if you feel at all confused or intimidated by Medicare’s labyrinth of coded lingo and convoluted regulations.
Call Social Security with specific questions before you call to sign up for Medicare.
If there is something, in particular, you don’t understand, or if your situation is somehow unique and you are unsure of how the rules will affect you, don’t delay: call Social Security and ask them about it immediately, and stay on the line until all your questions have been answered and all your doubts erased.
Pick the right time to call to avoid long delays.
The busiest times for Social Security (and the hardest times to get through to them on the phone) are on Mondays, Fridays, early in the morning and on or near the first of the month.
The best time to call for information, or to let them know about your Medicare plans, is from Tuesday through Thursday, preferably between 10 AM and 3 PM. If you do get put on hold, it shouldn’t be for long.
Above all, don’t get stressed.
Applying for Medicare coverage and benefits is not as scary or difficult as you think. There is unnecessary complexity in U.S. healthcare and health insurance, that is undeniable. But beneath all the bureaucracy and confusing terminology there is a logical, rational system that can be understood once you break through the initial walls of obfuscation.
And when you do get lost or bogged down help is always available, if you know where to look.
Keith Armbrecht is licensed with more than 20 years of experience handling insurance cases, building relationships with seniors and bringing clarity to confused clientele. Keith created Medicare On Video, to help seniors receive direct, clear assistance made simple to understand.