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Before you turn 65, it’s important to familiarize yourself with Medicare. Many people dread this because of the reputation that Medicare has gained over the years. While you might eventually experience some of the frustration for yourself, a bit of understanding of the system goes a long way.

Medicare is underfunded and there is no one-fits-all solution for everyone. Learning as much as you can and knowing your options will greatly improve your experience. Here are six important facts that you should about Medicare before you turn 65.

1. Apply for Medicare early. You do not need to wait until you are 65 years old to apply. You can start the process when you turn 64, giving yourself enough time to complete it.

2. Send in your application before your birthday. Another reason why you shouldn’t wait to apply is because enrollment ends three months after you turn 65. So, you are eligible for the insurance three months before you turn 65 and it ends three months after you turn 65.

3. If you miss enrollment, you will have to pay penalties. The enrollment period runs from January 1-March 31. If you miss this, you can still sign up for Medicare, but you will be charged late enrollment penalties.

4. Medicare is your primary insurance once you turn 65. Once you hit the 65-year mark, Medicare is your primary insurer, even if you don’t apply. If you have other insurance, it automatically becomes your secondary insurer.

5. Medicare is comprised of four parts. When talking about Medicare, you will hear Part A, B, C and D.

  • Part A refers to hospital insurance and covers skilled nursing, home health and hospice.
  • Part B refers to medical insurance and covers things like doctors services, preventive care, medical equipment, lab tests, x-rays, hospital outpatient services and more.
  • Part C refers to Medicare Advantage Plans. These plans represent private insurance companies and their contracts with the government.
  • Part D refers to prescription drug insurance.

6. Be mindful of the plan that you choose. As with all insurance plans, you should choose your Medicare plan carefully. You can select either the original Medicare (Part A) or a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C). You can also add coverage, such as with Part D.

If you or a loved one will be turning 65 soon, start doing your homework when it comes to Medicare. There is a lot of information, but it’s beneficial to understand your options now rather than when you’re trying to get a prescription filled or a test scheduled. For more information about Medicare, call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit their website.