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3 Strategies to Make the Most of Medicare

A lot of people have Medicare on the brain right now because open enrollment is soon coming to an end -- and also because Medicare recently announced a major hike to Part B premiums. Whether you're currently on Medicare or are gearing up to enroll, it pays to get the maximum benefit out of the program. Here are a few things you can do to make that happen.

1. Enroll on time

You're allowed to start getting coverage under Medicare once you turn 65. But your initial enrollment window spans seven months, beginning three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ending three months after that month.

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Enrolling on time could help ensure that you have the coverage you need when medical issues arise. But it could also save you money.

For each 12-month period you're eligible for Part B but don't sign up, you'll risk a 10% surcharge on your (already expensive) monthly premiums. And you could be penalized for signing up for a Part D drug plan late, too.

This doesn't automatically mean that you have to enroll at or around age 65. If you're still working and/or covered by a group health plan with 20 people or more, the aforementioned surcharge won't apply to you. Rather, you'll get a special enrollment period to sign up for Medicare once you leave your job and/or lose your coverage.

You also don't have to be on Social Security to sign up for Medicare. In fact, full retirement age for Social Security purposes kicks in after age 65, so often, it pays to enroll in Medicare first.

2. Review your choices for coverage every year

As mentioned, we're in the middle of Medicare's open enrollment period, which starts every year in mid-October and ends in early December. Open enrollment isn't for new enrollees -- it's for those who have Medicare already.

During that period, you have an opportunity to review your plan choices and make changes that could save you money or give you better access to providers. So it pays to do that research, especially since Part D and Advantage plans can change from year to year, and not always for the better.

3. Take advantage of free preventive services

Many parts of Medicare aren't free. Often, you'll face a copay or coinsurance when you renew a prescription or see a doctor. But Medicare does offer enrollees a number of free preventive care services, and it pays to use them.

For example, you're entitled to a free physical every year. Attending that appointment could be a good way to get ahead of brewing health issues and address them before they become more problematic -- and more expensive to treat. There are also different screening exams you may be entitled to for free depending on your risk factors, so it pays to see what no-cost benefits apply to you.

Knowing the ins and outs of how Medicare works can really help you maximize your benefits. It pays to read up on Medicare, whether you've yet to enroll or have been on it for years, to ensure that you're spending as little as possible and getting as much as possible.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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