There are a few mistakes you can make with your Medicare benefits that seem small, but actually carry some big, nasty consequences.
I’m talking about the kind of consequences that can cost you thousands of dollars. That’s a lot of money that you could have on the line — and the confusing Medicare system doesn’t make it any easier to avoid big mistakes.
Medicare is full of confusing language, plans that seem awfully similar, a lot of different deadlines, and more than a few hidden costs that can take you (and your budget) by surprise.
I’ve seen more than a few people make these specific Medicare mistakes, and I want to help you avoid becoming just another one of many. Here’s what I see most often — and how you can avoid making these same errors.
Be sure to check out the FREE Medicare Basics mini-course at the bottom of the page (or HERE)!
Medicare Mistake #1: Misunderstanding Medicare Enrollment Periods
Medicare would be much easier to understand — and Medicare mistakes easier to avoid! — if there was one enrollment period. Unfortunately, there are several and they all have different purposes.
There’s the initial enrollment period, which is a seven-month window that starts 3 months prior to when you turn 65 and goes through the month you turn 65 and three months after. This is when you first sign up for Medicare.
Then there is the general enrollment period. This period is for someone who missed their initial enrollment period, and it typically runs from January 1 – March 31.
The Medicare enrollment period you probably hear about most is the open enrollment period which happens each year from October 15 through December 7. This is when you can make changes to a Medicare Advantage plan or when you can switch to a new Part C or Part D plan.
As if all these weren’t enough, there are also a few other enrollment periods that apply only in certain circumstances. It’s no wonder that people get confused and mistake one for another!
The point here is not to fully explain the enrollment windows for the various parts of Medicare, but to drive in the fact that the mistake most people make is missing the right enrollment period.
In many cases, missing a Medicare enrollment period will result in a penalty. In turn, those penalties will result in higher premiums for the rest of your life. That’s why a seemingly small oversight like missing the right enrollment window is actually a massive Medicare mistake!
You’ve got to take the time to figure out these enrollment periods, or at the very least, get someone to help you so you don’t miss yours.
Medicare Mistake #2: Choosing the Wrong Medicare Path
One of the big Medicare decisions everyone needs to make is choosing whether to stick with Medicare Parts A&B and add a supplement, or switch to a Medicare Advantage plan (which will combine all of the former).
We don’t have time to go into all the details of each plan in this particular article — but know that there are differences to consider!
If you switch to a Medicare Advantage plan but later decide you don’t like that coverage and want to switch back to the traditional Medicare, you’ll be subject to health underwriting (except in certain circumstances).
This means if you’ve been sick or ill, you may not have the option of switching back to the plan you like better.
Around a third of all Medicare recipients choose the Medicare Advantage plan, and I’m not saying that’s a bad option — but do your research and fully understand what each option will cover and how that relates to you.
It may be harder than you think to make the switch in the future if you don’t get it right the first time.
Medicare Mistake #3: Skipping Over Your Annual Notice of Change
If you have Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan, you will receive an annual notice of change in September. This notice tells you how your plan is changing in the year ahead.
And yes — there’s always something that changes! It may be as simple as the premium increasing slightly. Or, it could be something big, like your family doctor no longer being in the network or discontinuing coverage for an expensive medication you need.
This notice is important to read and understand so you can plan appropriately. But it’s really easy to miss the annual notice of change for Medicare because they come in the fall when your mailbox is already blowing up with all of the other Medicare solicitations.
It’s a mistake to fail to read this notice, but it’s incredibly easy to have it get mixed up with all the other junk mail. Know that you need to watch for it each September, read it thoroughly, and make changes if necessary.
Medicare Mistake #4: Not Using The Right Resources
There are an abundance of free resources on Medicare that you can quickly and easily find online. I’ve linked to some of my favorites at the end of this article.
These are all helpful tools — but what’s even more powerful is finding an awesome insurance agent who really knows their stuff.
That being said, you have to be so incredibly careful when determining who truly is an excellent agent… and who only seems like it but won’t provide you with the best results.
I’ll be honest with you: technically, I have the right licenses to sell you a Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage policy right now. And I will also tell you that would be a horrible idea because selling these products is not my realm of deep expertise.
No offense to the person who handles your auto or home insurance, but that’s not who you need to use, either! So who should you work with in this capacity?
You need to find someone who specializes in Medicare policies and keeps up with all the changes from year to year (this is why I would not be that person; I’m not keeping that up to date on this specific subject). The Medicare landscape is constantly changing, and you should work with a pro whose job it is to keep up with every last detail.
But even then, once you’ve found that agent who only does Medicare policies… you still have to be really careful! I’ve known of more than one of these agents who just pushed the latest garbage product with the highest commission rates.
You need an agent who is going to get to know your situation and fit you with a plan that meets your individual needs. If you find the right fit, it’ll make all these Medicare decisions much easier.
Bonus: One of the Biggest Medicare Mistakes I See Almost Everyone Make
Even if you have the right agent on your side, you might still fall into making one of the biggest Medicare mistakes of all: not doing any of your own research.
You should know the basics of Medicare. Yes, this will take some reading and searching, but having a baseline level of knowledge is incredibly valuable when it comes to dealing with such a complex topic with major implications for your retirement income and your budget.
You may want to start with this Medicare & You Brochure. It’s an official publication of Medicare. (I still find it fascinating that they have a brochure like this and I wish the Social Security Administration could publish something this clearly written.)
On the Medicare.gov website there are numerous calculators that’ll take you down a progression of figuring out which plan is best for you.
You may also want to do some basic internet searches. YouTube has some fantastic videos that cover Medicare (and some that aren’t so great). But if you just want to use one resource…this next one will be it.
The Best Medicare Resource to Use to Get Started
A few weeks ago I got my hands on a medicare basics course that was made by my friend Danielle over at Boomer Benefits. You may have already heard of Boomer Benefits, as they are one of the highest-rated Medicare agencies out there.
This course is something that they typically use as part of their client education process, but right away I knew this was a resource that I wanted to share with my audience if Danielle would let me.
Thankfully, she agreed to let a few readers have this for no charge. If you take advantage, you’ll receive a daily email that covers one core area of Medicare for the next 6 days. This focused approach makes the information easy to digest and retain.
The emails come with both written and video explanations of the day’s topic so you can make sure you fully comprehend the subject. I’m convinced that getting this course will be one of the best moves you can make to help you avoid the big Medicare mistakes that could devastate your retirement.
You can find the Free Medicare Mini-Course here. I hope you enjoy it, and you use it to make great decisions about Medicare — while avoiding some of these big Medicare mistakes you now know to watch out for.
If you want to just skip the course, get connected with one of Boomer Benefit’s Medicare experts here.