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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Costly Medicare Mistakes to Avoid if you’re Still Working

Age 65 is kind of a magic time where the health insurance world changes. But many people are continuing to work beyond 65 these days. What should you do when you become eligible for Medicare but you’re still covered by your employer’s health insurance?

 Avoid these common mistakes that can lead to higher premiums, penalties, or missed enrollment opportunities.

1)   Paying for Part B when you don’t need it

While Medicare Part A is free if you have been working in the U.S. for most of your life, Part B comes for a monthly premium (in 2012 it was $99 for most people). If you have health insurance through your employer, you’re allowed to defer Part B. Otherwise, there is a late enrollment penalty (10% of the premium for each year you didn’t have Part B). Contact Social Security to delay Part B but remember to sign up as soon as you retire or you could be hit with the penalty.

2)   Using your Medicare first

As long as you’re working and covered by your employer’s plan (or your spouse’s plan), Medicare considers that coverage to be your primary insurance.* That means Medicare won’t pay for anything that your primary plan doesn’t cover. They’ll only pay a portion of the bill after the primary plan pays a portion (yes, odd Medicare rules, right?).

So let’s say your employee plan is an HMO, and you go outside your physician network. Don’t expect Medicare to cover anything. However, if you do go to a network doctor, your primary insurance will pay first, and then Medicare will pay a portion, up to the Medicare benefit level. Bottom line? The two sources of coverage aren’t interchangeable. Rely on your employer insurance, and think of Medicare as a bonus, not an alternative.

3)   Not Getting Part D when you should

A lot of people put off enrolling in Part D when they have prescription drug coverage through their employer. And that’s usually just fine. You’ll run into trouble however, if your drug plan is not considered “creditable coverage.” That means Medicare has decided the plan meets certain standards of being equivalent to a Medicare Part D plan. Most employer plans are creditable, but you should still check with your HR department. If your plan isn’t creditable, you’ll end up paying a late enrollment fee  for every month you didn’t have Part D as long as you have Medicare.

You’ve probably noticed by now that Medicare is pretty strict when it comes to how employer health insurance coordinates. And that means little forgiveness if you don’t follow the rules. Questions? Contact Medicare Coordination of Benefits.

Or need more individualized help with Medicare?  SHIP, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, is a federal program that provides free one-on-one Medicare assistance. Search for the one in your area through Medicare.


* If you work for a small employer (20 or fewer employees), the rules are a bit different for you. Medicare is always your primary insurance!


5 Mistakes To Avoid During Open Enrollment

 This post originally appeared on the Mint.com blog. 

The last few months of the year usually mean time to think about choosing new health benefits. Some people think about Open Enrollment as an opportunity—it’s your chance to switch plans! But for most, it’s a looming headache: time to stress about choosing the right benefits.

It could be that there are just so many more options today than ever before. Several years ago, most employers just gave you a choice between a low-cost HMO and a more expensive PPO. Now the options have multiplied into an extended family of acronyms. To make things worse, employers and health insurance companies are pushing more costs onto consumers, so it’s even more important to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

As you approach your Open Enrollment period, here are 5 common mistakes, and how to avoid them.

1)   Doing nothing

Almost 9 out of 10 of us just keep the same benefits we had last year. That’s not necessarily a problem, especially if you’ve done your research and your needs haven’t changed. Just make sure nothing substantial has changed about the plan either. Sometimes premiums increase or  benefits get cut, and over time, the plan that was once a good deal may not be the best one for you anymore.

2)   Shopping only by the premium

It’s easy to focus on how much health insurance will cost you each month because it’s a clear, predictable expense. But don’t overlook what you’re paying for or you may find yourself facing big costs later on, such as high deductibles or co-insurance.

3)   Over-insuring

It’s possible to have more insurance than you need. While good-for-you from a health perspective, this might not be that great from a financial perspective.

This doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the cheapest plan if you are a healthy individual—because we are all at risk for those unexpected medical events. But it might mean choosing a plan that has a more limited network, like an HMO if you are not seeing any specialists. Or choosing a high-deductible plan if most of your visits are routine preventive care.

4)   Under-insuring 

Of course, you don’t want to go too far in the other direction choosing too minimal of a plan either. If you choose a high deductible plan, you should be able to pay the deductible at any time if needed. In an ideal world, you’d have lots of time to save up cash to cover your deductible in an HSA linked to the plan. But if you enroll in a high deductible plan, and suddenly have some medical bills before you’ve accumulated enough in your HSA, you could be in trouble.

5)   Ignoring the savings accounts

FSAs (Flexible spending accounts) and HRAs (Health reimbursement accounts) pretty much mean free money on the table. But there are estimates that as few as 20% of people set up an FSA when it’s offered.

If you’re turned off by the idea of keeping receipts and faxing photocopies, give these savings accounts another chance. Now, most issue debit-like cards and many merchants are set up to automatically recognize FSA or HRA eligible expenses—so you can spend easily. You should still keep receipts as proof, and you might still need them for certain expenses. But the tax savings are well worth the work.