There’s no question that Medicare can seem complicated. This part covers this, that part covers that, Medigap, Medicare Advantage, drug plans – it can leave you feeling like you need Medicare for Dummies! The good news is that Medicare really isn’t all that complex once you understand the basics. While there are some complex rules that apply to special circumstances, for the most part, Medicare is fairly straightforward.

In fact, one of the easiest ways to understand Medicare is to prepare before enrolling. By taking a little time now to prepare for Medicare, you won’t feel overwhelmed and lost when you reach age 65 and finally qualify for benefits. To help you get ready, below are five simple ways to prepare for Medicare:

1. Work With Your Doctor

Before you can choose the right Medicare plan, you need to think about your current healthcare needs as well as anticipated healthcare costs. If you’re in relatively good health, you may not need a huge range of coverage options, but if you are concerned about a genetic predisposition to the development of specific healthcare concerns, you can factor these concerns into your healthcare planning.

Work with your doctor to discuss your concerns and learn what you may need in the future to address these concerns. Your doctor is a fantastic resource as you can learn a lot about your healthcare options and plan accordingly through a quick and simple visit.

2. Speak With an Independent Medicare Insurance Broker

While you can purchase Medicare coverage directly from licensed insurance agents who work for providers, you may only receive a limited amount of options by taking this route. Insurance agents who represent Medicare plan providers are usually only able to sell the plans they represent, so your options may be limited to what the provider offers.

Instead, consider partnering with a licensed, independent Medicare insurance broker. These are insurance professionals who are not tied to any one insurance company. Because they are independent and can represent a range of insurers, you may be able to gain access to more options.  

3. Understand Your Enrollment Periods

You can enroll in Medicare when you turn 65, but you may not realize that you can actually enroll during a seven-month Initial Enrollment Period surrounding your 65th birthday. The three months before your birthday month, your actual birthday month and the three months following your birthday month all count as your Initial Enrollment Period.

You can also make changes to your plan during the Open Enrollment Period that occurs each year, between October 15th and December 7th. During this time, you can change plans, switch to a Medicare Advantage plan and more. All of this can be done without penalty, so it’s good to know these enrollment periods to plan ahead if your needs change.

4. Learn the Parts of Medicare

The parts of Medicare are often what confuses seniors the most when first considering Medicare options. The basic breakdown is that there are four main parts to Original Medicare: Medicare Part A, Medicare Part B, Medicare Part C and Medicare Part D.

Medicare Part A is inpatient coverage and covers care while admitted to a hospital or skilled nursing facility. Medicare Part B is outpatient coverage and supplies benefits for doctor’s office visits, surgery, lab work, testing and surgery. Medicare Part D is prescription drug coverage and provides benefits for prescription medications that are on your plan’s list, also known as a formulary. Part C is Medicare Advantage, an alternative to Original Medicare.

5. Learn About Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage plans offer the same benefits as Original Medicare. The difference is that you may get additional benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan that are not available through Original Medicare.

This is another situation where it pays to consult with a licensed independent Medicare insurance broker to discuss your needs and your options. For many people, Original Medicare works just fine, but for others, the additional benefits and yearly out-of-pocket maximum limits provided by Medicare Advantage are the way to go.