| Mon, Nov 05, 2012 @ 09:00 AM

5 Tips to Help Make Medicare Work for You

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

medicare tips Many people have never faced the kinds of decisions they need to make when they join Medicare. Coverage choices are wide-ranging and can be hard to understand or compare. There is a lot of information available, but that can sometimes be more overwhelming than helpful.

These 5 basic tips can help you lay a solid foundation for making informed decisions.

#1: Know when you can first enroll in Medicare and when you can change your coverage.

Medicare has specific enrollment periods for different situations. The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) and the Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP) are the two most important ones for most people.

  • Your IEP is when you first can join Medicare. It begins three months before the month you turn 65. If you qualify for Medicare due to disability, your IEP begins 25 months after the month you receive your first disability check. Your IEP lasts for a full seven months.
  • The OEP is when you can change you coverage choices. It happens every year from October 15 through December 7.

#2: Understand your current health coverage and your health care needs.

You need to choose Medicare coverage that helps meet your health care needs. That may sound obvious, but it can take some attention to make the best choice for you.

You can learn a lot by looking at your health care use and costs over the past year. For example:

  • How often did you go to the doctor?
  • How many prescription medications did you take?
  • How much did you pay out-of-pocket for different health care services?
  • What did you pay in premiums and deductibles, if anything?
  • Did you have to pay for anything that you expected your plan to cover?

Gathering this kind of information will give you a starting point for comparing what you already have to other coverage choices.

#3: Shop around and compare your coverage choices.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” Medicare plan. In fact, Medicare has made sure that you have many choices.

One choice is between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage. The federal government offers traditional Medicare. It includes Original Medicare Parts A and B. Private companies approved by Medicare offer Medicare Advantage plans (Part C).

Medicare Advantage plans must provide the same coverage as Original Medicare Parts A and B. Most include drug coverage and other extras as well, often with no additional premium. You can buy drug coverage separately when you have Original Medicare. Many people who have Original Medicare also buy Medicare supplement insurance to help with other uncovered costs. You don’t need and can’t be sold Medicare supplement insurance if you have a Medicare Advantage plan.

You may have several Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare prescription drug plans and Medicare supplement insurance plans from which to choose. (Medicare.gov is a good place to see what’s available in your area.) It’s important to compare the plans you’re interested in to find the best fit for you.

#4: Find out if you can get help paying your Medicare costs.

People with limited income and assets may be able to get help with their Medicare costs. Many people who qualify don’t take advantage of the federal and state programs set up to help them. These include:

  • Medicaid
  • Medicare Savings Program
  • Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
  • And more

You can get more information about financial help with Medicare by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213, TTY 1-800-325-0778, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time, Monday through Friday.

#5: Ask for help if you need it.

Medicare can be confusing for beneficiaries, their families and caregivers. It’s important to get the information you need and answers to your questions. Medicare, Social Security and your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) are resources you can count on. You can also talk with a local insurance agent.

 For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.

Resources:

Understand Your Enrollment Periods: Get your personal enrollment dates using Medicare Made Clear’s online tool.

Review Your Health and Budget Needs: Learn what questions to ask yourself, so you can understand your needs.

Medicare.gov: Visit the official U.S. government site for Medicare to get information about plans in your area and more.

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