3 Medicare mistakes to avoid during the coronavirus pandemic

Steer clear of these -- your health and finances depend on it

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way a lot of people live -- and not necessarily for the better. All of this upheaval could cause you to make some very poor choices with regard to your healthcare, and that's a good way to lose money and compromise your health at a time when you can't afford to. With that in mind, here are three Medicare mistakes to avoid at all costs during the ongoing crisis.

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1. Not signing up on time

Health coverage under Medicare begins at age 65, and you can enroll up to three months prior to the month of your 65th birthday. You can also enroll up to three months after that month and get retroactive coverage dating back to when you turn 65.

Either way, it pays to sign up for Medicare on time for a couple of reasons. First, the sooner you enroll, the sooner you'll avoid a coverage gap during a pandemic -- enough said. Secondly, if you wait too long to enroll, Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient services, could end up costing you more. Specifically, you'll face a 10% surcharge on your premiums for each year-long period you were eligible to enroll but didn't.

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Another thing: Don't use the fact that Social Security offices are closed to delay your Medicare enrollment. It's easy enough to sign up for Medicare online, and you can do so without signing up for Social Security.

2. Not seeing your doctor to manage existing conditions

Many people are putting off physicals during the COVID-19 crisis to avoid added exposure to germs, but if you have an existing condition your doctor has expressly told you to follow up on, then it pays to listen. If you neglect your health, you could make an existing health problem even worse, which could, in turn, not only compromise your physical wellbeing, but put you in a position where you're forced to spend more money than necessary on medical care. Furthermore, Medicare already had a telehealth network in place prior to the pandemic, and you can still use it to access professional care from the comfort of home.

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3. Not using your health savings account to pay your medical costs

You may have heard that health savings accounts (HSAs) and Medicare don't mix. But while it's true that you can't contribute to an HSA once you're enrolled in Medicare, you can use your existing account to cover expenses like Medicare deductibles and copays. If money is tight right now, it pays to tap your HSA before you start racking up debt for medical bills.

The more you know about Medicare, the more likely you are to make the most of your benefits under it. Whether you're new to Medicare, on the cusp of signing up, or a seasoned enrollee, it pays to learn more about what the program entails. That way, you'll avoid costly mistakes that are terrible to make in regular times, but even more detrimental at a time when the entire county is operating in crisis mode.

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