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Answers for thousands of baby boomers joining Medicare

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Thousands of baby boomers are turning 65 and entering the Medicare program each month and, like most Medicare newcomers, they have a lot of questions.

“It’s risky not to pay close attention to the choices available to you now that you are eligible for Medicare, but people often aren’t sure what to expect or where to begin,” said Adrienne Muralidharan, senior Medicare specialist for the Allsup Medicare Advisor, an impartial plan-selection service that helps people choose the right Medicare coverage for their needs.

People new to Medicare have questions including:

When can I enroll?
If you’re collecting Social Security retirement benefits, you should be enrolled in Medicare automatically. If you’re not, you need to sign up to get Medicare. You have seven months to enroll: three months before, the month of and three months after your 65th birthday.

What are my options?
Traditional Medicare typically includes Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (doctor and outpatient services). Part C (also known as Medicare Advantage) combines Parts A and B and may include Part D (prescription drug) coverage. Supplemental plans are also available to cover gaps in traditional Medicare.

Do I have to enroll in medicare if I have private coverage?
If you are working and have health insurance through your employer or your spouse is working and has employer-provided health insurance under which you are also covered, you should still sign up for Medicare Part A, which is free for most people. However, you may be able to defer Medicare Part B. To do so, you must notify the Social Security Administration that you are seeking a deferral to avoid penalties.

What are the penalties?
If you don’t have an approved deferral, you may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty of 10 percent for each full 12-month period that you could have been enrolled in Part B. Likewise, Part D imposes a penalty if you go for more than 63 days without coverage after enrolling in Part B. These penalties stay with you for as long as you have Medicare.

Can I change my mind?
People can change plans once a year during annual enrollment (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, 2011). Other specific circumstances, such as moving outside your plan’s coverage area, may allow you to make a change at other times of the year.

“Health care costs can be a significant part of a senior’s fixed income,” Muralidharan said. “Choosing carefully and re-evaluating coverage regularly could save you thousands of dollars throughout your lifetime.”

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