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Turning 65? What You Need to Know about Signing up for Medicare

335437f123.jpgThe first of the 78 million baby boomers turned 65 on January 1, 2011, and some 10,000 boomers a day will reportedly be turning 65 between now and 2030. If you are about to turn 65, then it is time to think about Medicare. You become eligible for Medicare as soon as you turn 65, and delaying your enrollment can result in penalties, so it is important to act right away.

There are a number of different options to consider when signing up for Medicare. Medicare consists of four major programs: Part A covers hospital stays, Part B covers physician fees, Part C permits Medicare beneficiaries to receive their medical care from private companies, and Part D covers prescription medications. In addition, Medigap policies offer additional coverage to individuals enrolled in Parts A and B.

Medicare enrollment begins three months before your 65th birthday and continues for 7 months. If you are currently receiving Social Security benefits, you don't need to do anything. You will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B effective the month you turn 65. If you do not receive Social Security benefits, then you will need to sign up for Medicare by calling the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/medicareonly/. It is best to do it as early as possible so your coverage begins as soon as you turn 65.

If you are still working and have an employer or union group health insurance plan, it is possible you do not need to sign up for Medicare Part B right away, however, if Medicare, rather than the employer's plan, is the primary insurer, then you will still need to go ahead and sign up for Part B. Even if you aren't going to sign up for Part B, you should still enroll in Medicare Part A, which may help pay some of the costs not covered by your group health plan.

If you don't have an employer or union group health insurance plan, or that plan is secondary to Medicare, it is extremely important to sign up for Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period. If you do not sign up for Part B right away, then you will be subject to a penalty. In addition, you will have to wait for the general enrollment period to enroll. The general enrollment period usually runs between January 1 and March 31 of each year.

With all the deductibles, copayments and coverage exclusions, Medicare pays for only about half of your medical costs. Much of the balance not covered by Medicare can be covered by purchasing a so-called "Medigap" insurance policy from a private insurer. You can search online for a Medigap policy in your area at http://www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan/questions/medigap-home.aspx.

Medicare also offers Medicare Part C (also called Medicare Advantage). You must be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B to join a Medicare Advantage plan, the name for private health plans that operate under the Medicare program. If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan, the plan will provide all of your Part A and Part B coverage, and it may offer extra coverage, such as vision, hearing, dental, and/or health and wellness programs. Most such plans also include Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Finally, Medicare offers prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D. If you are not going to sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage, then you will want to enroll in a prescription drug plan at the same time you sign up for Parts A and B. Visit the Medicare Web site at https://www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan/questions/home.aspx to find a drug plan in your area.

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