Health insurance is one of the most important things you can have to protect not only your health but also the well-being of your loved ones. After all, taking care of yourself factors largely into your ability to take care of others, and health insurance can provide protection against large financial obligations that often come along with major healthcare concerns.

As a senior, you probably already know about Medicare, but you may not be familiar with how to find the right plan or even how to sign up for Medicare. If this is you, below is some information to help:

Qualifying for Medicare

Before you can sign up for Medicare, you need to make sure that you qualify. In most cases, Medicare benefits are available once you’ve reached age 65. You can, however, sign up for Medicare during a seven-month Initial Enrollment Period during the year you turn 65. This period encompasses the three months prior to your birthday month, your actual birthday month and then the three months following your birthday month on the year you turn 65.

Enrolling in Medicare

For many seniors, enrollment in Medicare Part A, the inpatient benefit, is automatic and premium-free. This is because Medicare Part A is paid for through paycheck deductions during your working years. Whether you receive premium-free Medicare Part A or not, you can enroll in Medicare or check whether you qualify by contacting Medicare directly or by contacting the Social Security Administration. This can be done online by visiting the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website or the Social Security Administration (SSA) website.

What are my choices when I’m eligible for health insurance for seniors?

You can also sign up for Medicare Advantage plans offered by private insurance plan providers. These are companies that have been approved by Medicare to offer plans that meet Medicare requirements. Keep in mind that you will need to work with a provider that is licensed in your state to issue coverage.

Additionally, you can work with a Medicare benefits insurance broker or advisor to look for plans. This option may be more beneficial in that it allows you to receive independent guidance from an insurance professional who is not tied to one specific provider or type of plan. A licensed insurance broker can shop Medicare plans for you based on your needs and preferences.

What Parts of Medicare Do I Need?

It’s also worth considering what parts of Medicare you’ll need or want. As stated above, Medicare Part A, the inpatient benefit, is often provided with no premium. You will still need to meet the annual deductible before benefits begin to apply toward inpatient care. With Medicare Part A in place, you are covered for inpatient care up to 60 days at no cost in a Medicare-participating hospital or skilled nursing facility. After 60 days, a discounted rate is applied toward your coverage up to day 90. From there, you can use lifetime reserve days if any are available.

Medicare Part B, the outpatient benefit, is optional coverage. While Medicare Part B may also be automatically available upon reaching age 65, not everyone will want this coverage. Medicare Part B requires a monthly premium and also has a deductible, so it may not be something that you want to pay for each month. You will need to think about your healthcare needs, both now and in the future. If you don’t enroll in Part B when you’re first eligible, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty if you sign up later on. Medicare Part B covers things like doctor visits and durable medical equipment.

Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, is also optional coverage. It helps to pay for prescription medications that are available from retail pharmacies for home use. It does not apply to medications administered while admitted to a hospital or skilled nursing facility. It also does not apply to injections and infusions of medications administered in clinical settings. Medicare Part D coverage may require a premium each month and copays when purchasing prescriptions.

If you’re not sure which coverage types are best for you, you’re encouraged to work with your doctor to discuss your needs. This is also where working with an independent Medicare broker or advisor can be beneficial.

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