Five-Medicare-MistakesMedicare can be a maze to navigate, whether you’re getting ready to sign up or have had it for a few years. There are all sorts of deadlines and rules, and if you aren’t prepared, you could make a mistake with dire consequences. Luckily, you can easily avoid these stumbling blocks and make the most of Medicare. Here are five Medicare mistakes commonly made by people.

Mistake #1: Forgetting to sign up when you turn 65

This is an easy mistake to make and an easy one to avoid. If you’re getting Social Security benefits before age 65, you’re automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. However, if you are like many people and delayed Social Security, you need to remember to sign up for Medicare. The window begins three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after.

Mistake #2: Forgetting to sign up when you leave your job

Signing up at 65 doesn’t apply to you if you are still working and getting health benefits from your job. However, once you leave your job, you need to sign up for parts A and B within eight months. If you forget, you will probably have to wait until the next enrollment period comes around, which could leave you without insurance for a long time and/or paying a 10% lifetime late-enrollment penalty.

Mistake #3: Signing up for the same plan as your spouse without thinking about it

Signing up for the same plan as your spouse without checking what the plan covers is another common mistake. This is especially true of Medicare Part D, which deals with prescription-drug plans. You don’t get discounts by signing up together, and assuming you don’t take the exact same pills as your spouse, his or her plan is likely not the best one for you. You need to see what plans have the best coverage for you each, as individuals. It should be noted however that Medicare Supplement plans do often offer family discounts,, so one scenario might have you on the same Medicare Supplement plan with your spouse with a family discount, but different Part D plans.

Mistake #4: Going out-of-network on a Medicare Advantage plan

When you sign up for a private Medicare Advantage plan, you need to use their network of doctors and hospitals. If you don’t pay attention to who is in your network, you might end up visiting a doctor or hospital that’s out-of-network and rack up high expenses your insurance won’t cover.

Mistake #5: Not switching your plan mid-year if certain life changes occur

Usually you can only sign up for Medicare Advantage plans within a specific enrollment period, either when you first turn 65, or during the Annual Enrollment Period every October 15 – December 7. However, there are certain life changes that enable you to make a change other times of the year, like if your spouse dies, you get married, get divorced, move, or your insurance provider goes out of business or stops offering your plan.
By not taking the opportunity to re-examine your plan and switch, you might get into trouble down the line when new expenses pop up. With Medicare Supplement plans, you can sign up any time during the year, but you will have to go through medical underwriting approval if you’re outside the initial open enrollment period.

Wiley Long is founder and president of Medigap Advisors, and is passionate about helping people navigate the confusing waters of Medicare. He is the author of The Medicare Playbook: Designing Your Successful Health Coverage Strategy, a clear and simple explanation so you can make the most of your Medicare coverage. For more information visit