Healthcare is one of the biggest expenses a person faces in retirement. Medicare is a government sponsored health plan for people ages 65 and older which helps meet these ever-growing costs.
The ABCs of Medicare
- Part A is hospital insurance and helps cover inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities as well as hospice and home health care.
- Part B is medical insurance and helps cover doctor visits, services from other health care providers, outpatient care, home health care, medical equipment, and some preventive services.
- Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, is an alternative to Original Medicare in which Part A and Part B coverage is obtained through a Medicare-approved private insurance company. These plans usually include Medicare prescription drug coverage as well.
- Part D is prescription drug insurance run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies.
Getting the most from this important benefit requires familiarizing yourself with the program and keeping up with the inevitable changes that will occur. Medicare’s website, www.medicare.gov is an excellent resource for managing all the details. The following checklist addresses some key points:
- Are you automatically signed up or do you need to apply? Those already receiving Social Security benefits will receive a Medicare card in the mail at age 65. Others should contact Social Security three months before their birthday. Missing this initial enrollment period could permanently increase your cost of coverage.
- Do you want Original Medicare or an Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO)? Comparing both options on the website will ensure choosing the one best suited to your needs.
- If you chose Original Medicare, do you want a Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy to help with costs not covered by Part A and Part B? The best time to buy a policy is during initial enrollment. Waiting until later could affect availability and cost.
- If you chose Original Medicare, do you want a Prescription Drug (Part D) policy? The best time to buy a policy is during initial enrollment. Waiting could affect availability and cost.
- Do you have health coverage through an employer or union? If so, contact your plan administrator to see how your coverage works with Medicare.
- Are you reading materials provided annually by your Medigap and Prescription Drug Plan providers? Plan coverage changes announced in these materials may lead you to explore alternative plans. You may be able to switch plans during the annual Open Enrollment Period from October 15th through December 7th.