4 Ways to Maximize Your Medicare

By Markets Fool.com

Healthcare is one of the greatest costs faced by seniors in retirement. But if you play your cards right, a few smart Medicare moves could ease the burden of receiving and paying for medical services. Here are four things all enrollees should make sure to do.

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1. Sign up on time

One of the easiest ways to make the most of your Medicare benefits is to sign up for them on time. Not only will this ensure that you get the coverage you need as soon as you're eligible, but it will also help keep the premiums you pay to a minimum.

When you first become eligible for Medicare, you have a seven-month initial enrollment period to sign up for Parts A and B. This period starts three months before the month you turn 65 and ends three months after the month you turn 65. If you don't enroll during these seven months, your next option is to enroll during the general enrollment period that runs from Jan. 1 through March 31 of each year. However, if you fail to sign up during your initial enrollment period, your Part B premium may go up 10% for every 12-month period during which you could've had Part B but neglected to sign up.

Now if you're still working at 65 and therefore have health coverage through your employer, you can hold off on enrollment without penalty. Also, if you're already receiving Social Security benefits by the time you become eligible for Medicare, you'll probably be enrolled automatically -- but this isn't a given, so be sure to check up on your Medicare status to avoid that penalty.

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2. Take advantage of free preventative care

Some things in life are free if you have Medicare. The program offers a number of preventative care services that come with no out-of-pocket cost for enrollees. For example, you're entitled to a free wellness visit every year during which a doctor can provide a comprehensive health assessment and address any concerns you might have. If you're a woman, you're also eligible for a free mammogram once a year at no cost to you. You can consult this handy guide for a complete list of preventative services that are generally free for Medicare enrollees.

3. Use Medicare's telehealth services

Some seniors, particularly those with mobility issues, have trouble getting the care they need because the act of traveling to a specialist's office is physically exhausting. Thankfully, Medicare makes it easier for eligible enrollees to get expert medical advice without having to travel all over town. The program's telehealth services allow enrollees to consult with healthcare providers remotely using an interactive telecommunications system. Taking advantage of telehealth could mean saving yourself a fair amount of time, stress, and even money.

4. Review your plan options each year

Medicare consists of a variety of parts and plans. While Part A is usually free and covers things like hospitals and nursing facilities, Part B, which covers doctor visits and diagnostic tests, comes with a premium. The same holds true for Part D, which covers prescription drugs. There's also Part C, Medicare Advantage, which comes at a cost but offers additional benefits.

Even if you're happy with your current plan, it pays to review your options each year and adjust your coverage accordingly. You may, for example, find a plan that offers the coverage you need but at a lower premium -- though beware that some plans with lower premiums also charge higher deductibles and copays. Take some time to compare your options and see whether it pays to switch plans or keep things status quo.

If you're an older American who's retired and living on a fixed income, maximizing your Medicare benefits could mean changing your financial picture for the better. Even more importantly, you'll be doing your part to take the best possible care of your health.

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