(BPT) - Baby boomers facing the big decision of when to take Social Security retirement shouldn’t overlook the importance of signing up for Medicare at age 65.
Although Social Security offers an age range, generally 62 to 70, for starting retirement benefits - you don’t have this type of flexibility with Medicare health insurance.
“Turning 65 is the trigger for your Medicare enrollment, so it’s important to study this decision as your birthday approaches,” says Paula Muschler, operations manager of the Allsup Medicare Advisor. This is a Medicare plan selection service offering personalized help that includes customized research, a tailor-made report and enrollment assistance. “You have three months before, the month of and three months after your birthday to enroll properly in Medicare when you turn 65.”
One important caution: You may decide to delay Medicare enrollment. “But if you make a mistake with this decision, you could end up with lifetime penalties that add to your Medicare costs,” Muschler says.
Anyone turning 65 should examine their Medicare choices carefully. Muschler outlines three situations that require close study.
1. You are reaching age 65, but you plan to continue working a few more years.
“You need to examine your Medicare enrollment because it interacts with your employer’s group health plan,” Muschler says. “Depending on your employer benefits and the size of your employer, you may need to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B.” Original Medicare is made up of Part A, which is hospital insurance, and Part B, which is medical insurance.
2. You are reaching age 65 and retiring from work at the same time.
If you combine retirement with turning 65, it’s important to coordinate the dates of actual retirement and your 65th birthday, Muschler says. “You should take steps to ensure that you don’t have a gap in health care coverage, and you’ll need to choose Medicare plans. This is especially true if you leave work a few months before you turn 65.”
3. You retired from work before age 65 and have used other health insurance.
“You need to closely examine your health care options as you get ready to turn 65 and move into Medicare,” Muschler says. “There may be special considerations with ending COBRA, health insurance exchange or retiree coverage, depending on your situation. Once you determine that, yes, you do need to get ready for Medicare - carefully review all available Medicare plans.”
Generally, people enrolling in Medicare choose from two paths. One option is to choose Original Medicare and a prescription drug plan, known as Medicare Part D. Many people also buy supplemental coverage, called Medigap, for added benefits.
A second option is to shop among the Medicare Advantage plans available in your area. Depending on where you live, there is an average of 20 Medicare Advantage plans available. In addition, there may be 35 available Part D prescription drug plans from which to choose.
Other factors to consider:
* Relocation. Are you planning to move after retiring?
* Frequent travel. Do you plan to split your year between two states or travel the country?
* Health. What needs do you have? Do you have any chronic health issues?
* Cost. What’s your retirement income? Have you considered saving money with your Medicare plan?
* Medication. It’s critical to examine how your Part D plan covers the drugs you take when you first enroll and during each annual enrollment period.
“We frequently get calls from Medicare beneficiaries who didn’t realize they could save so much money with their choices,” Muschler says. “Sometimes they choose a plan because a friend recommended it, but they end up paying much more than they need to.”
After first-time enrollment, participants can use Medicare annual open enrollment from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year to make changes.
“Your Medicare plan can be one of the best things about your retirement if you find the plan that truly matches your needs, lifestyle and budget,” Muschler says.
Experienced Allsup Medicare specialists can help you and your family members review Medicare plans and decisions. For a Medicare evaluation, call an Allsup Medicare Advisor specialist at (866) 521-7655 or go to Medicare.Allsup.com.