Critter Corner: Money- Saving Medicare Tips for 2021

Dear Oakley,

Some Medicare costs have increased for 2021, including the premiums and deductibles for Parts A and B. My wife and I are wondering if you know of any ways that we may be able to trim our expenditures when it comes to Medicare and healthcare in general. Thanks so much for your help!

Les Money

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Dear Les,

First, I want to announce to our readers some sad news. My friend and fellow Critter Corner writer for the past several years, Magic the bunny, has crossed the rainbow bridge. The staff at Farr Law Firm, the writers at Critter Corner, our clients, and our readers will miss him and his contributions dearly. Hopefully, I can channel his wisdom to help answer your question.

As you know, healthcare is a major expense for seniors, so it’s important to make the most of your coverage under Medicare. Whether you’re new to Medicare or have been enrolled for years, here are a few ways you can maximize your benefits this year.

1. Assess your coverage during Medicare Advantage’s open enrollment period
Medicare’s annual open enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 each year, but some seniors don’t realize that Medicare Advantage has its own open enrollment period from Jan. 1 through March 31. During this time, you can switch from one Advantage plan to another, or even drop Advantage altogether and go back to original Medicare. Be sure to assess your Medicare Advantage coverage early in the year and see if it makes sense to make a change. If you find, for example, that it’s hard to find a convenient in-network doctor or pharmacy, then switching plans could save you money as well as aggravation in the course of the year.

2. Pay attention to your special enrollment period
Your initial window to sign up for Medicare spans seven months, starting three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ending three months after that month. If you don’t sign up for Medicare on time, you’ll risk lifelong surcharges on your Part B premiums. If you’re covered by a group health plan through an employer (either yours or your spouse’s) during that initial enrollment window, you can opt out of Medicare and sign up later without incurring any penalties.

If you plan to leave your job in 2021 and will therefore be removed from your group health plan, make sure to sign up for Medicare promptly. In that situation, you’ll get a special enrollment period that lasts eight months and begins the month after your group coverage ends. The sooner you sign up, though, the more likely you’ll be to avoid a coverage gap.

3. Take advantage of Medicare’s free services
Although Medicare Part A is generally free for enrollees, there are numerous costs associated with the program — deductibles, coinsurance, and monthly premiums for Part B, which you either pay directly or get taken out of your Social Security benefits. But there are some important services you’re entitled to at no cost under Medicare, so take advantage of them. These free services include:

• A wellness visit once a year;
• Substance abuse counseling;
• Help quitting smoking;
• Depression screenings;
• Mammograms;
• Flu shots;
• Coronavirus vaccines, once they become available.

Getting ahead of medical issues could save you a lot of money down the line while ensuring you stay as healthy as possible.

Hope this is helpful!

Oakley

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