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How to Prepare to Enroll in Medicare

Follow these guidelines to avoid unpleasant health care surprises when you turn 65

By Judith Graham

Every day for the next two decades, an average of 10,000 Americans will become eligible for Medicare as they turn 65 — and face a complex new set of health care decisions. If you're one of them, you might be more than a little perplexed about what you need to do about Medicare and when. Of people age 47 to 64, 56 percent say they know little or almost nothing about Medicare, according to a recent Bankers Life and Casualty survey.

Don’t count on receiving a notice from the government reminding you to sign up. Only people who already receive Social Security benefits get a Medicare reminder and become enrolled automatically. Everyone else must initiate the process with the Social Security Administration (the parent agency of Medicare) by making a phone call (800-772-1213), visiting a local Social Security office or applying online on Social Security’s website.


Part C is an alternative to traditional Medicare known as Medicare Advantage. Sold by private companies, Part C Medicare Advantage plans typically operate like managed care plans, with comprehensive health coverage from limited networks of medical providers, and these networks are generally more restricted than those of Medigap plans. If you join a Medicare Advantage plan, it will provide all of your Medicare Part A and Part B coverage and you won't need a Medigap policy. Medicare Advantage plans, which are usually less expensive than Medigap plans, cost on average about $32 a month. Next Avenue has a guide to Medicare Advantage plans that provides additional details.


Part D is Medicare’s drug benefit, also offered by private companies. Premiums for Part D plans vary, but the national average is about $31 a month.


Judith Graham is a contributing writer for Next Avenue.

Judith Graham is the Navigating Aging columnist for Kaiser Health News. Read More
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