Part 4: Enrolling in Medicare: Common Enrollment Errors
Our next topic presents some tips to help you avoid common mistakes and errors that can occur when enrolling in Medicare. We introduced one error in Part 3 of this series, and that involves the timing of Medicare enrollment.
1. Timing. As we’ve already discussed, timing is very important. Because Medicare might not notify you that you’re eligible to enroll, you should take the initiative before your 65th birthday to do your research and identify the plans and benefits you want. You have a six-month window for enrolling in Medicare – three months before and three months after your 65th birthday. If you miss this window, you will not be allowed to enroll until the next late-enrollment period. This could result in a delay in health coverage if you’re no longer covered by another plan. Late enrollment also could bring permanent monthly penalties on your Part B and Part D premiums, which will increase your out-of-pocket costs.
2. Be informed. Make sure you have done the research on your options. Between Original Medicare (Parts A and B), Medigap plans, Part D Prescription Drug Plans and Medicare Advantage, you’ll have a lot to consider. You’ll want to be sure that the choices you make are both affordable and will meet your health-care needs. Your family and friends may have suggestions and advice, but their needs and coverage may be different from yours. Get help from a reliable and objective source if you have questions about coverage options. Look online for plan ratings, and research complaint records.
3. Don’t assume your employer’s retiree coverage will continue after you are 65. Your employer may opt to discontinue coverage, or the plan may end once you’re 65. COBRA plans, which extend your employer-sponsored coverage after you leave your job, also may end. The same applies to TRICARE through the military. If you have TRICARE, you have to enroll in Medicare. In addition, if you have other health coverage, Medicare will become your primary health coverage, while your existing coverage will become secondary.
4. Plan for the long term. When you’re considering Medigap plans, think beyond your current needs to what might be necessary in the long run. Because it’s difficult to switch between Medigap plans, experts recommend choosing the most comprehensive coverage you can afford at the time you sign up.
5. Think about the premium costs, but don’t base all your decisions on them. It’s important to weigh not only the costs of premiums but also any out-of-pocket expenses you might incur. Though you might save some money on a lower monthly premium, the costs of copayments and deductibles might cancel that out.
6. Get help if you’re struggling with the decisions. Many resources are available to help with information about all the plans and coverage options. Some will even talk through these options with you so you can feel more confident in your decision.
Our last entry in the series will provide you with a list and description of resources that can help you make decisions about enrolling in Medicare.