A Beginner’s Guide to Enrolling in Medicare

Trying to learn more about Medicare can be tricky. There’s so much information to sort through, and it’s easy to get lost in the terminology alone. Moreover, it can be pretty difficult to tell what applies to you and what doesn’t. This can make the process of signing up daunting, especially when you’re just getting started. Courtesy of BirdDog Pharma, here are a few guidelines for familiarizing yourself with Medicare and how to make the most of the benefits available to you:

What Is Medicare?

Medicare is a government-managed form of healthcare designed to help older people afford medical costs. It’s available to most people over the age of 65, as well as some younger people with certain disabilities or end-stage renal disease. It’s different from Medicaid because of the age limit and its lack of income requirements. This means it’s available to you regardless of how much money you make or have.

An Overview of Medicare ‘Parts’

Medicare offers different levels of coverage and costs through different programs, or “Parts.” Original Medicare includes Part A and Part B. Part A covers inpatient hospitalizations, some home health care, care in a nursing facility, and hospice care. For most people, Part A is free. Medicare Part B, meanwhile, covers outpatient medical care like doctor’s services, wellness visits, medical supplies, and preventative care. Part B usually has a monthly premium.

In Original Medicare, you can only use providers that accept Medicare. You can expand potential providers with Medicare Advantage Plans (sometimes called Part C), which is run by private health insurance companies. These allow you to use any in-network provider, but they usually require copayments and can include premiums in addition to the Part B premium.

Finally, Part D refers to Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. This is prescription coverage run by private health insurance and comes with additional premiums. If you have Part C, you may need to use the same provider for Part D.

SEPs, DMEs, HMOs – Deciphering the Medicare Alphabet Soup

Take some time to familiarize yourself with some of the common Medicare terms and acronyms. As you learn more about the program, you’re sure to come across jargon-y terms with counterintuitive meanings. Take a look through an online glossary, and consider saving it to check back in as you learn more. A basic familiarity with Medicare vocabulary will substantially reduce the stress of navigating the enrollment process.

How to Enroll

Once you’ve got some Medicare knowledge under your belt, you can get started on signing up with confidence. A quick fact you may not realize: It’s possible you won’t need to sign up for Medicare at all. If you have received Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits for at least 4 months before you turn 65, you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare.

If you’re not set up to enroll automatically, you’ll need to sign up once you’re eligible. Though Medicare isn’t available for most people until the age of 65, you’re able to sign up three months before your 65th birthday. Your coverage kicks in on the first day of the month you turn 65. You can enroll for Medicare online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security Office.

As part of your enrollment process, you’ll need to decide if you want to start off with or without Part B. If you are already receiving medical coverage through an employer or a spouse, it may make sense to delay Part B so you aren’t paying two monthly premiums. However, if you add Part B later on, you may have higher monthly costs than if you’d taken it to begin with. Compare your current costs against the cost of Part B to see what makes the most sense for you.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the information you’ll go through while getting started with Medicare, but remember that the more you know, the more confident you’ll be. If you start to get flustered, write down the questions you have, then take a moment to clear your head. When you come back to research further, you’ll be refreshed and ready to take on the Medicare process!