Medicare Tips and Tricks

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  • Introduction There are resources aplenty for figuring out just how to navigate Medicare, not the least of which are the government's own sites, www.medicare.gov and its sister destination, www.ssa.gov, the official internet presence of the Social Security Administration. Yet all you're going to find when you start your research are facts and figures. We at ThirdAge know that you also need a little psychological cheerleading and some very practical strategies as you attempt to start – let alone finish – the task of enrolling. Here, to help you make the journey, is our Medicare GPS:
  • Get Past Boomer Denial We're the generation that once didn't trust anybody over 30. How did we suddenly become candidates for the government's geezer health insurance?! If that's how you feel, you're not alone. The decades have slipped by but most of us are in full-on anti-aging mode. We're doing everything from exercising religiously to reaching for age-defying skincare products to insisting that the grandchildren call us creative, hip-sounding nicknames á la Goldie Hawn's "Glam-Ma" title instead of (yikes!) Granny and Gramps. Fine, but Medicare is a really, really good deal. Putting off thinking about it isn't going to turn back the clock and if you miss your original enrollment period you'll have to wait a whole year and cough up a fairly hefty penalty. So pull up your socks and get smart about Medicare before it's too late. There's no reason you can't keep on refusing to be a blue-haired denizen of the rocking chair set and yet still reap the benefits of a program you've paid into your entire working life. Convinced? We hope so!
  • When You Hit the Big 60, Start Thinking About Social Security Options Why are we digressing from the topic of Medicare to the topic of Social Security? Because the age you choose to "go out" of Social Security affects your Medicare enrollment. Here's the drill:
  • When You Hit the Big 60, Start Thinking About Social Security Options (Part 2) If you take early retirement at 62, you can't enroll in Medicare at the same time. (You're also choosing to lose a lot of money over the rest of your lifetime, but that's another story.) Medicare is not available until you turn 65. If you do retire at 62, you'll automatically get your Medicare card in the mail on your 65th birthday but we hope you find private insurance for the intervening years or still have insurance from an employer.
  • When You Hit the Big 60, Start Thinking About Social Security Options (Part 3) If your full retirement age is older than 65 – for example, 66 if you were born in 1943 or 67 if you were born in 1960 or later – you must still enroll in Medicare at 65. Don't make the mistake of conflating the two deadlines!
  • When You Hit the Big 60, Start Thinking About Social Security Options (Part 4) If you wait until you're 70 to go out of Social Security, you'll get some pretty hefty "delayed retirement" credits, but once again you must enroll in Medicare at age 65. The exception is if you're covered by your employer's or your spouse's/ex-spouse's employer's insurance and you want to delay taking Medicare Part B. In that case, you'll get a Special Enrollment Period and no penalty.
  • When You Turn 64, Mark Your Calendar With Your Medicare Enrollment Period This may seem obvious, but we know folks who have missed the enrollment period because they thought the government would kindly tap them on the shoulder when the time came to sign up for Medicare. Not going to happen. You're on your own here, so make a red-letter day note on your calendar three months before your 65th birthday. That's the start of your original enrollment period and you only have until three months after your birthday to finish the process.
  • Consider Going to Medicare Information Meetings Held By Approved Medicare Advantage Providers Even thought the government won't remind you of your upcoming enrollment period, the Medicare Advantage Plan providers that are approved by the government will let you know about neighborhood meetings. Representatives can't ask for your personal information but you can go to your local coffee shop or Y or community center along with fellow Boomers and learn about the details and costs of the plans. Do it. You'll get a wealth of information and you'll benefit from hearing other people ask questions that might not have occurred to you.
  • Remember That Medicare Is Not Going to Cover Your Spouse or Your Children or Other Dependents A lot of people fail to realize that Medicare is not a family plan. Long before you reach 65, get your ducks in a row regarding how you're going to cover your dependents down the road.
  • Find Out Whether Your Doctor, Dentist, Optometrist, and Medical Specialists Accept Medicare Most Medicare Advantage plans require that you use the services of the physicians and other healthcare providers on their lists. Don't wait until after you've selected and enrolled in a plan to find out that the people who have been taking care of you for years are no longer available to you.
  • Talk to Your Friends Who Have Already Been Through the Medicare Maze Just about every article you'll read regarding Medicare will tell you to be wary of taking the advice of friends and family who have already navigated Medicare. We agree, but only to a point. True, Medicare is not one-size-fits-all so you definitely want to do your own thorough research and make an informed decision that's best for your personal needs. Even so, there's something comforting about hearing how people you know and love have solved the Medicare riddle. If nothing else, you won't feel so alone. Just take their advice with the proverbial grain of salt and you'll do fine.

    And while we're discussing advice, we hope the advice we've just given you will inspire you to tackle the Medicare process in a timely and diligent fashion. You put your hard-earned dollars into the system for years and years. Now step up to the plate and claim your reward!

    Medicare Guide