Your 65th birthday is coming up. Soon, you think, the government will send you a packet explaining how to enroll in
Don't hold your breath.
Astonishingly, no coordinated effort to reach out to soon-to-be-65-year-olds exists. You have to figure out what to do - and when to do it - on your own, along with 10,000 Americans reaching the age of
Give yourself plenty of time.
"When you turn 64, start doing research and preparing to make decisions," said
"The process is mind-boggling - incredibly frustrating," said 68-year-old
Making a mistake can be costly. If you miss enrollment deadlines or make incorrect assumptions about coverage, you may find yourself without insurance protection for several months or incur substantial penalties.
Here are some basics about enrolling in
Becoming eligible. You'll become eligible for
Enrollment is handled by
Two paths. The first big decision you need to make is which type of
If going to doctors you've seen for years is a priority, check whether they take original
If paying for prescription drugs is a pressing concern, compare coverage available under original
Signing up. People newly eligible for
If you want comprehensive coverage under original
Those who can afford it will also want to get a
There's a separate six-month initial sign-up period for Medigap. No one can be denied a policy during this period, but once it expires, insurers are allowed to exclude you based on underwriting criteria.
People who opt for
Consider costs. Part A
Part D premiums average around
Assistance with these costs is available to people with low incomes. Check with a senior health insurance counselor or advocate if you think you qualify.
For latecomers. Every year, seniors who missed initial enrollment can sign up for
There's no need to sign up for
The Medicare Rights Center runs a hotline (800-333-4114) and manages a helpful website, www.medicarerights.org.