Common Medicare mistakes to avoid

a prescription bottle opened on table with pills pilling out.

Once your parent turns 65, having quality health insurance and treatment is a must for their well-being, and Medicare more than likely going to be part of their health plan. Medicare is a very popular government program among seniors, and has been one of the biggest success stories for baby boomers as they reach retirement age. That being said, there are several hiccups that families and caregivers can encounter along the way in terms of enrollment and Medicare Advantage plans.

A slip-up in enrolling in Medicare can force your loved one to pay higher premiums or experience pitfalls. To help your parent sign up and receive Medicare in a manner that is best for their health and well-being as well as economically feasible, keep these common Medicare mistakes in mind so that you make the right decision.

Social Security and Medicare are not intertwined

Since 65 is considered retirement age, a lot of people believe that Medicare and Social Security kick in at that time. Because a growing number of individuals are working past age 65, they are not collecting Social Security checks, so they often fail to sign up for Medicare, which they do qualify for, regardless of whether they are still employed full time or not.

Not thinking she has worked long enough to qualify

According to AARP, it only takes 40 payroll tax credits – about 10 years’ worth of work – to ensure that your loved one won’t have to pay Part A premiums (hospital care). For example, for Medicare Part B (which entails doctor’s visits, outpatient services and medical equipment) and Part D (prescription drug coverage), as long as your loved one is U.S. citizen who has lived in the country for at least five years, they qualifies for coverage.

Not signing up because they’re still employed

That being said, if your parent is still working, that doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy Medicare benefits. For instance, if your mother is currently employed and enjoys her health care coverage at work, she is under no pressure to sign up for Medicare. However, there are several benefits for signing up at age 65, according to CNN. For instance, your mother can receive Medicare Parts A and B at different times.

Let’s say your mother gets in an accident and winds up in the hospital with a few injuries. Her private insurance from work will likely pick up the bulk of her insurance costs, but usually won’t cover all of her expenses. Medicare Part A, which specifically covers hospital costs, can pick up those added expenditures that your mother’s private insurance plan doesn’t cover.

With Medicare Part B, it’s a bit different. For instance, if your mother works for a small business, the company may require her to join in Medicare Part B to cover things like doctor’s visits so that she isn’t stuck with any extraneous fees. In fact, most seniors with high deductibles can benefit from this plan. However, your mom may want to decline if she works for a large company, as bigger plans typically cover these costs and she wouldn’t benefit from the investment.

Missing the original enrollment period

As a rule, your mother has three months before her 65th birthday to enroll for Medicare and has up to three months after her birthday to complete the process, if need be. Every year after that, the same enrollment process is true for these dates – even several years down the road once she reaches full retirement. If that six-month window goes by, your mom will miss the chance to sign up completely, and will most likely encounter penalties for signing up late. Procrastination is not on your side in this situation, so it’s important to be proactive during this six-month period. Your mother’s health needs might change from year to year as well, so re-evaluate what your mom requires and which Medicare parts might be beneficial.

Not signing up for Part D

As AARP notes, there is no “crystal ball” when it comes to your mother’s health. Unforeseen injuries or illnesses happen, and prescription drugs can be expensive, especially for serious conditions such as cancer. Just like other parts of Medicare, the program will provide coverage when your mother needs care or treatment, but you must sign up for it first. If you are concerned about upfront costs, opt for a plan with the lowest premium in the beginning – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Picking parts of Medicare based on a friend’s advice

Everyone’s medical history, pharmaceutical needs and work situations are different. While listening to a friend’s advice may help if they lead a similar lifestyle to your mother’s, it is probably best to consult her physician about choosing the right Medicare package if you run into roadblocks. A professional will likely be well-versed in these matters and know which aspects of Medicare work best for your mom in the long run.

Medicare may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be for you and your mom. By avoiding these common mistakes, your mother can receive the proper health insurance coverage she needs and you can rest assured that as a caregiver you made the right decisions together for her future.

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