I just turned 65.
No, I am not retiring. Yes, I have now signed up for Medicare. It was quite the education, and I am happy to share what I learned.
You have a 6-month window to sign up. It begins 3 months before your 65th birthday and ends 3 months after. You do not want to miss this window.
Medicare Coverage Options
Before the window opened, I researched the two main options for Medicare-related coverage. The first, a Medicare Advantage plan, is comprehensive health insurance that is provided by a Medicare-approved private company such as Cigna or Aetna. You still have Medicare, but most of your coverage is from the private company and not original Medicare.
The second option is original Medicare with a Medicare Supplement plan. There are several different kinds of plans, with the most comprehensive being Plan G. Your primary coverage is through Part A and Part B of original Medicare, and a private company provides the supplemental health insurance to cover medical expenses that exceed your primary coverage.
Under either arrangement, you want to address prescription drug coverage. If you go with a Supplement, then you should consider adding Part D, Medicare prescription drug coverage. If you choose an Advantage plan, then it may already cover drugs.
But before you sign up for additional insurance, you must first sign up for Medicare.
How to Sign Up for Medicare
The simplest way to sign up is through your “My Social Security” online account. Don’t have one? Go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount.
I already had an account, so three months before my birthday I logged in and clicked on the box for benefit applications. I followed the steps to complete and submit the application. Forty-eight hours later, my application was approved, and I received my Medicare number.
I had already decided to go the Medicare Supplement route and get a Part D prescription plan, but the pricing between insurance providers varied widely. Rather than spending my time insurance shopping, I contacted a Medicare insurance agent. Using my brand-new Medicare number, he obtained the quotes, gave me his recommendation, and helped prepare and submit the applications. It was seamless.
I chose to have everything go into effect on the first day of the month in which I turned 65. I had my Medicare card and, thanks to my broker, my insurance cards in hand 30 days before that effective date. I gave a 30-day notice of termination to my existing health care insurance company.
Then this happened. The day after my Medicare coverage went into effect, we were packing for a long-anticipated vacation when I suddenly had a sharp abdominal pain. My husband took me to the ER, where I was promptly admitted to the hospital and had emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder.
I am fine now, thanks for asking.
How did Medicare perform? Pretty darn well.
The claim process barely involved me. The claims are first submitted to Medicare, then to my Plan G insurance company. I can track them through my Medicare.gov account.
Medicare pays for the bulk of my hospital and doctor charges. My Plan G pays full coverage for any gaps, except for a small deductible.
Every doctor and healthcare provider who accepts Medicare must also accept my Plan G supplement. There are no network limitations.
I now have first-hand experience with Medicare. My recommendation is to sign up on day one for Parts A and B, use a Medicare broker to sign up for Plan G supplement and Part D prescription insurance, and don’t look back.
Hammerle Finley Can Help You Understand Your Options
Virginia Hammerle graduated from SMU law school 4 decades ago. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and an accredited estate planner. For more columns, see her blog at hammerle.com, or sign up for her newsletter at email@example.com.