If you’re around the age of 64, you almost certainly remember the heyday of the Beatles. Their 1967 song, “When I’m Sixty Four,” laments getting older, pondering, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”
Fortunately, our attitudes about aging and what is considered “old” have evolved since the '60s. Today, you’re considered relatively young at 64 — in part because so many people are living longer, more active lives.
Nearly one in four Omaha households have someone age 65 or older. That’s a 37 percent increase in the number of seniors, according to census data from a decade ago. In metro Omaha that’s about 85,000 seniors. There’s more to come: The largest number of people will turn 65 in 2025.
Most will be eligible for Medicare. Most will be surprised to discover that Medicare doesn’t provide the kind of coverage they were used to under their employer’s health plan. It can be eye-opening to find out dental, vision and hearing benefits are not part of basic Medicare.
So if you’re 64, thinking about your retirement, what should you do?
Enrolling in Medicare
Some insurance companies will start contacting you about their Medicare products a year in advance — which is good, because there is homework to do.
Answers to two basic questions will help you begin:
1. Do you need to enroll in Medicare at your 65th birthday?
2. How do you choose the right Medicare coverage and avoid penalties?
Regarding the first question: If you don’t have health insurance through your employer or another source, you may want to enroll in both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B on your 65th birthday. If you do have employer coverage, you may want to sign up for just Part A. There’s no monthly premium.
“People get confused, thinking the deadline to enroll for Medicare is the same time as when they need to apply for Social Security,” said Dr. Debra Esser, chief medical officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. “They are different. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, retirement age for Social Security purposes is 66, but Medicare enrollment is at 65.”
In answer to the second question — how to avoid enrollment penalties — allow yourself plenty of time. Most experts advise three months before your 65th birthday. The penalties start if you don’t enroll when you’re first eligible. If you’re late enrolling for Part A you could pay a 10 percent penalty; for Part B, the penalty could go up 10 percent each year for as long as you are enrolled. In addition, Medicare Part D (prescription drug benefits), assesses a penalty based on the number of months you could have had coverage but didn’t sign up.
OK, so you’re enrolled in Medicare. But remember, Medicare doesn’t pay all your costs. You’ll need to purchase additional coverage to fill in the gaps. It’s important to pick the plan that best suits your coverage needs, budget and lifestyle. It’s also important to get advice from coverage experts, such as an agent or a broker.
“My advice: Don’t be afraid. There are many resources available and people more than willing to help you,” Esser said.
Medicare Supplement insurance (also called Medigap) can be purchased from a private insurance company. Medicare Supplement covers what basic Medicare doesn’t, such as co-payments, deductibles and health care outside the United States. Supplements don’t cover long-term care, dental, vision, hearing and private-duty nursing.
Medicare Advantage plans are often called Part C and are offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare. The plans often provide benefits for routine vision, dental and hearing services and prescription drugs. If you’re thinking you want a Medicare Advantage Plan, you must be enrolled in both Medicare Parts A and B.
Bottom line: Do your homework and get expert advice. That way, when you’re 64, with some preparation, you’ll be ready to make decisions about your Medicare coverage with confidence.
More resources, information
• Medicare Advantage from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska
• Medicare Supplement from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska