Medicare is invaluable to seniors because it provides essential healthcare coverage at a much more affordable rate than commercial health insurance. However, a study found that many Americans are confused about their Medicare options both before and after enrollment. With the variety of plans to look into and personal health criteria to consider, this confusion is definitely justified. Deciding what’s best for you will take some time, but these tips and resources can help point you in the right direction.

Brush Up on the Basics of Medicare

The first step in understanding Medicare is learning about all the options that are available to you. As you navigate your choices, keep a Medicare term guide open so you can quickly read up on the definitions and explanations of common terms you will run into as you research.

Seniors who are eligible for Medicare have a few basic options: Original Medicare alone, Original Medicare with Medigap, and Medicare Advantage. These options come with different pros and cons, one of which is that you cannot have a Medigap and Medicare Advantage plan at the same time. It is important that you understand your options and put careful consideration into your decision.

Original Medicare is made up of two parts: Part A and Part B. These parts cover things like hospital services and doctor visits. Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage, refers to your private insurance option. Part D is prescription drug coverage, which can be added onto Original Medicare. Drug coverage is included in most Medicare Advantage plans. Finally, Medigap is yet another private insurance option which covers the copayments, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs that come with Original Medicare. Plan F is a popular option because it takes care of the deductibles for both parts of Original Medicare, whereas Plan G only covers the Part A deductible. However, it’s still worth looking into Plan G, since this can cost less than Plan F depending on your location.

Review Common Medicare Misconceptions

According to Think Advisor, people tend to have a lot of misconceptions about Medicare. For example, many people think that Medicare will cover all of their healthcare expenses, but this is far from true. Original Medicare only covers about 80 percent of your healthcare costs and doesn’t cover things like vision, dental, or hearing. Medicare also does not cover long-term care in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Since Medicare alone won’t protect you from high medical bills in the event of a serious illness or injury, consider supplementing with a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan.

Learn About Enrollment Periods

Another common myth about Medicare is that you can enroll or switch your plan whenever you want. Be aware of enrollment periods so you can avoid scrambling to choose a plan at the last second or getting hit with late-enrollment penalties. Since your healthcare needs may change over time, review your plan every year before the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). It is only during this time that you can change your Original Medicare, Medicare Part D, or Medicare Advantage plan. Even if your healthcare needs are the same, it’s important to review your plan every year, since your coverage under it may have changed.

Paying for Nursing Home Care

Medicare is complex, which can lead to confusion. One of the big questions that concerns seniors is whether their long-term care is covered. Luckily there are some ways you can still pay for nursing facilities that are not specifically covered by Medicare, including private insurance and government benefits. 

Talk to Your Doctor and Pharmacist

While you’re deciding on a Medicare plan, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Make sure they’re covered by the plan you choose. USAA even recommends double checking that your doctor is in your plan network before you re-enroll in your current plan each year. Ask your doctor about the prescription drugs you’re taking and if they’ll be covered by the plans you’re considering. It’s also a good idea to get a professional opinion about any medications or treatments that you may need in the future. Additionally, your doctor can let you know what kind of preventive steps you can take to support your health in the long term. Some Medicare Advantage plans cover preventive services and wellness programs that may be helpful.

Signing up for Medicare can be extremely overwhelming, but don’t let this keep you from doing your research. Getting the most out of your coverage will help you stay on top of your health during your senior years. In the end, your individual healthcare needs, personal preferences, and financial situation will determine which plan is best for you.

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