Know Medicare deadline, do’s and don’ts

Medicare’s annual open enrollment recently began and will end on Dec. 7. An estimated 56 million Americans receive Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older and those with certain disabilities.

During open enrollment, beneficiaries can change their health plans and prescription drug coverage for the following year to better meet their needs. Beneficiaries who are satisfied with their current coverage do not need to do anything because reenrollment will occur automatically.

Here are do’s and don’ts about Medicare from AARP.

Do give yourself time to learn about Medicare. It’s a system with many choices and deadlines. Being informed is the best way to avoid mistakes that cost money.

Do enroll when you’re supposed to. To avoid permanent late penalties, enroll at age 65 if you don’t have insurance from an employer for whom you or your spouse is still working or if you live abroad without working. Beyond 65, enroll within eight months of stopping work even if you continue to receive COBRA or retiree health benefits from an employer.

Do remember that Medicare is not free. You pay premiums for coverage and copayments for most services, unless you qualify for a low-income program or have other, extra insurance.

Don’t expect to be notified when it’s time to sign up. Unless you’re already receiving Social Security benefits, you must apply for Medicare. But you won’t get any official notice on when or how to enroll.

Don’t despair if you haven’t worked long enough to qualify. You may qualify for Medicare on your current or former spouse’s work record. Or you may be able to buy into the program.

Don’t worry that poor health will affect your coverage. If you qualify for Medicare, you receive full benefits. You can’t be denied coverage or charged higher premiums because of current or past health problems.

Don’t assume that Medicare covers everything. It covers a wide range of health services (including expensive ones like organ transplants), prescription drugs and medical equipment. But there are gaps.

Don’t expect Medicare to cover your dependents. Nobody can get Medicare under age 65, except those who qualify through disability. Medicare has no family coverage.