Your 2018 Guide to Medicare Enrollment

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Turning 65 soon? It's time to start researching Medicare plans. This can help you choose the right coverage to support your whole health, keep you healthy, and save you time and money.

You have many choices for Medicare coverage, and you probably have many questions, too. So let's get started with the basics. Because the more you know, the more likely you are to get the coverage that's right for you.

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The ABCs — and D's — of Medicare

Medicare has four parts — A, B, C, and D. Part A covers hospital insurance. Part B covers medical insurance, like doctor visits. Parts A and B combined make up "Original Medicare," which the federal government provides.

Part C is called Medicare Advantage. You can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan from private insurance companies, like Aetna. Medicare Advantage combines Parts A and B and may even offer prescription drug coverage (also known as Part D). And Medicare Advantage can include additional benefits, like eye care, hearing, wellness services, or a nurse phone line.

Finding the right Medicare plan for you

Let's start with Medicare Advantage. For initial enrollment, you have a seven-month window to join. It includes the three months before you turn 65, your birthday month, and the three months after your 65th birthday.

What do Medicare Advantage plans offer?

  • Parts A and B
  • Dental coverage
  • Vision coverage
  • Hearing aid coverage
  • Fitness club membership
  • Lifestyle coaching programs
  • A multidisciplinary care management team
  • Online tools and resources
  • Prescription drug coverage (Part D) — only with some plans
  • Yearly limit on out-of-pocket costs for covered medical services
  • Emergency medical care outside the U.S.

Keep in mind that Medicare Advantage plans vary. Not all plans may offer these benefits, so it's important to research and ask questions about which plan is right for you.

Are there other times I can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan?

From October 15 through December 7, anyone who has a Medicare plan can change health care plans. During this time, also known as the Annual Enrollment Period, you can make a change to your Medicare coverage.

You can also enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during a "Special Enrollment Period" for certain circumstances. These include, but are not limited to, losing your employer coverage, moving to a new service area, or having Extra Help.

Don't forget

Generally, if you're collecting Social Security, you'll be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare when you turn 65. If you're on Social Security disability, you'll be automatically enrolled during your 25th month of disability. If you're not getting Social Security, you can sign up for Original Medicare by ing Social Security during your seven-month enrollment window, or you can choose a Medicare Advantage plan that fits your needs.

Ultimately, it's best to take some time to do your homework. There are plenty of resources online, but it can also help to talk to your friends who are 65 and even your doctor. Here are five questions to ask your doctor about Medicare.

Amy Capomaccio is a health care writer at Aetna with experience in senior wellness, Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial health care. When she's not practicing new mindfulness techniques, Amy is spending time outdoors and traveling. Amy hails from Wakefield, MA and has a degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Tampa.