Medicare is the nation’s health insurance program for seniors 65 and older. It also provides coverage for younger people who meet specific eligibility criteria. Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D cover a large variety of your major medical expenses. It’s a great program but it can be difficult to read through all of the plans, options, and rules. This can make it difficult to choose the right plan on time. Below we’ve outlined some of the most common Medicare mistakes so you know what to avoid and not wind up with penalties, coverage delays or gaps.
Signing Up Late
Medicare has specific deadlines to enroll. Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) happens when you first become eligible for Medicare. It starts 3 months before your 65th birthday, including your birth month, and then ends 3 months after you turn 65. This gives you 7 months to enroll. If you’re receiving Social Security benefits then you will be automatically enrolled and you don’t have to do anything or worry about the deadlines, Social Security handles enrollment for you. However, if you are not automatically enrolled you have to apply yourself during your IEP. If you miss the IEP you do have another opportunity between January 1st and March 31st called the General Enrollment Period (GEP).
Missing these enrollment periods is one of the most common and costly mistakes people make. If you miss both enrollment periods you can face late enrollment penalties for Medicare Parts A, B, and D. It’s important to note that there is a way to avoid these penalties. If you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) then you will be able to enroll in Medicare penalty free with all the same benefits as when others enroll during the IEP.
- Qualifying life event – If you have a qualifying life event then you qualify for a 2-month SEP where you have 2 months to enroll in Medicare. The most common qualifying events are:
- You moved out of your current plan’s service area
- Your plan no longer serves the area you are in
- If you decide to switch from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare within 12 months of enrolling in the Medicare Advantage plan.
- You move into or out of a facility such as a nursing home
- If you’ve lost Medicaid eligibility
- Working past 65 – If you decide to continue working past 65 and have creditable coverage through your or your spouse’s employer’s health plan then once you leave your job you will open an 8-month SEP. This SEP does have a stipulation, if you want Part D you have to enroll in it within the first 2 months of your 8 month SEP, otherwise you still face penalties. Your 8 months begin the day you no longer have credible health coverage.
Medicare Part A Penalty
Some people qualify for Part A premium-free. If you’ve worked and paid into Social Security and Medicare taxes for at least 40 calendar quarters, then you are eligible for Railroad Retirement benefits (RRB), or have a spouse that qualifies for premium-free Part A then you will get Part A for free. However, if you don’t and have to pay for Part A, then you can face a 10% increase on your premium for missing the IEP. This penalty stays with you for twice the number of years that you were eligible and didn’t sign up. For instance, if you were eligible for Part A for 3 years and did not enroll, you’ll have the penalty for 6 years.
Medicare Part B Penalty
If you miss your enrollment period and don’t qualify for an SEP, you will face a Part B penalty. This penalty is a 10% increase for every year you did not sign up. For example, say you waited 2 years to enroll. You’re looking at a 20% increase in your premium, 10% for each of the 2 years you delayed. The standard Part B premium for 2023 is $164.90, plus adding the 20% will bring your premium up to $197.88 which will be rounded up to the nearest $.10, making it $197.90 for part B. That’s $32.98 extra every month that you could have saved by enrolling on time. Now that might not seem like a lot, but if you look at it on a yearly basis that is $395.76 a year!
Medicare Part D Penalty
The amount of the penalty depends on the length of time that you did not have Part D or a creditable prescription drug plan. Medicare determines the penalty amount by multiplying 1% of the national base beneficiary premium ($32.74 in 2023) by the number of full months you went without drug coverage. The penalty amount is then rounded to the nearest $.10 and added to your monthly premium. The national base beneficiary premium can vary from year to year, so your penalty will change with it.
For example, say you waited 14 months to enroll in Part D and didn’t have creditable drug coverage for any of that time. You’ll have to pay a 14% penalty. For 2023 that would be $4.58 rounded up is $4.60 extra on your premium.
Assuming Spouse Coverage
Assuming your spouse is covered by Medicare because you have it or vice versa is a big mistake. It could leave you or your spouse without insurance. Medicare doesn’t work the same as an employer group plan. Meaning it won’t cover your family, it only applies to the individual who enrolls. If you worked and paid your Medicare taxes for the last ten years then at most your spouse who is 65 will be eligible for premium-free Part A. If your spouse is under 65, they need to find their own coverage elsewhere, such as a plan from the Health Insurance Marketplace, their own group plan, or COBRA. Additionally, if your spouse is under 65 they still may be eligible under certain conditions. Medicare is available to anyone who receives Social Security Benefits for at least 24 months, has End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
Not Weighing Your Options
There are many options to choose from with Medicare. There’s Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Supplement Plans. It’s important that you know the differences and their benefits. If you make the mistake of not weighing your options you can leave yourself with large gaps in your coverage or end up paying far more than you need. Below we’ve outlined these plans to give you a starting point.
Original Medicare, also known as traditional Medicare, consists of only Parts A and B. Medicare Part A is hospital insurance, and it covers hospital inpatient care and skilled nursing facility care. Part A coverage typically includes the following:
- Semi-private hospital rooms
- Hospital meals
- Inpatient lab tests and X-rays
- Operating room and recovery room services
- Drugs and medical equipment used while in the hospital or skilled nursing facility
- ICU care
- Skilled nursing services
- Hospice care
Part B of Medicare covers your general medical expenses. Such as doctor’s visits, urgent care, and specialists. Typically Part B covers:
- Doctor visits and services
- Some preventative screenings and services
- Ambulance services
- Outpatient surgery services
- Mental health care
- Some durable medical equipment
- Some medically necessary tests such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and EKGs
Medicare Advantage, commonly known as Part C, is a type of Medicare plan that is offered by private insurance companies. These companies have a contract with the Medicare program that ensures the plans they offer comply with Medicare’s regulations. Medicare pays a set amount to the insurers for each participant enrolled in the plan. Additionally, you will pay your medical bills directly to your insurance company while your insurance provider must follow Medicare’s regulations. They are allowed to set their own rules for out-of-pocket expenses as well as decide if you need a referral to see specialists.
Medicare Supplement Plans
Medicare Supplement Plans are plans that you can buy to supplement your Original Medicare. These plans fill in any gaps in coverage, ensuring you get the most coverage for all the medical needs you specifically have. You do have to pay a monthly premium for these plans, and you must enroll in both Part A and Part B to be eligible for a Medicare Supplement Plan. However you may end up paying less than you would overall with your Original Medicare because Medicare Supplement Plans all have benefits that cover a lot of the out-of-pocket costs for Part A and B. One of the biggest advantages with Medicare Supplement is the variety. There are 10 plans to choose from and all of them cover different benefits at different amounts. It’s important you look through these plans and compare to tailor your coverage specifically to what you need.
Working With EZ
In order to save as much as possible during your Medicare journey, it’s important to keep all of these mistakes in mind. You can rely on EZ if you have any questions or need help choosing your plans. Whether you’re looking for help enrolling, or just need some information. Give us a call today at 877-670-3608 to speak to your own Medicare Agent or you can get free instant quotes by entering your zip code in the box below.