When it comes to signing up for a Medicare plan, many seniors experience a moment (or several) of confusion and doubt. Navigating healthcare is complex in general, but for many seniors starting Medicare it can feel downright intimidating. While taking the time to do your research and talking to an independent agent is the best way to understand your options, this step-by-step guide can help you get started with the basics, so the rest of the process can feel a bit more organized and less overwhelming.

Step #1: Enrollment
In order to understand your Medicare benefits you need to start at the beginning— understanding the enrollment process. Knowing when to sign up can almost be as confusing as how to sign up, so keep in mind:

  • Some people, like those already receiving Social Security benefits, will be automatically enrolled in Medicare, while others must enroll manually.
  • The enrollment window opens around the time you turn 65. It:
    • Begins three months before the month you turn 65
    • Includes the month you turn 65
    • Closes three months after the month you turn 65
  • Open enrollment occurs once a year, from October 15-December 7.

Medicare Advantage enrollment periods are different, so be sure to examine your timelines for securing supplemental Medicare coverage. Once you know your windows for enrollment, you will know how much time you need or have to do your research and talk to an agent.

Step #2: Plans
You’ve probably heard the words Medicare followed by a whole slew of letters— A, B, C, D — without getting much additional explanation. Not only do these represent a variety of plans, but some of these plans also differ depending on the state where you live. You’ll want to do general and location-specific research on:

  •  Medicare Part A: Part of the traditional Medicare package, Part A provides inpatient/hospital coverage
  • Medicare Part B: Part of the traditional Medicare package, Part B provides outpatient/medical coverage
  • Medicare Part C: An alternative way to receive your traditional Medicare benefits, often called a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare private health plan, where you receive your Part A and Part B services but with different rules, costs, and restrictions that can impact your care
  • Medicare Part D: A supplemental Medicare plan that covers prescription drugs

Even with these four types of plans, it’s important — extremely important — to know that Medicare does not cover all the costs associated with your care. Knowing what is and is not covered is critical in the decision-making process.

Step #3: Coverage
Medicare is extraordinarily valuable to seniors. The peace of mind that comes with knowing your health needs are taken care of can actually add to your overall sense of well-being! Understanding coverage can help you make decisions about:

  • Needing coverage for routine dental and vision care. If no, traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) is fine. If yes, an advantage plan could be a good financial and health decision.
  • Wanting emergency coverage outside of your state (but not outside the U.S.). This isn’t covered by Medicare Parts A and B, so if this is important to you, again consider an advantage plan.
  • Whether you need a wellness program, like gym access or Silver Sneakers classes, that isn’t covered by traditional Medicare but is provided by most advantage plans, including many from Humana.

Navigating the complex world of Medicare can be challenging for anyone, but especially seniors pressed for time. That’s why getting a firm grasp on enrollment, plans and coverage early on can give you space to make the right decision. As a senior, your healthcare is a priority. Be open and honest with yourself to make the right choice in your healthcare needs.