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Approximately 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. If you’re like most people approaching this milestone, you have questions. What is Medicare? Am I eligible? How do I sign up? When do I sign up? Where can I go for help? Here are many common questions, answered.

Medicare ABCs

Medicare is the federal health insurance program administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for people in any of these groups: ages 65 and older, under age 65 with certain disabilities or any age with end stage renal disease.

Medicare Part A covers hospital, skilled nursing facility, hospice and home health care. This is the part you’ve paid into over the years.

Medicare Part B covers doctor visits, mental health care, outpatient surgery, lab tests and durable medical equipment. You pay an additional monthly premium for Part B when you sign up.

Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage, is sold by insurance companies contracted by the federal government. It combines the benefits, rights and protections of Original Medicare Part A and Part B with additional features.

Medicare Part D is prescription drug coverage sold by insurance companies contracted by the federal government. You can buy stand-alone Part D coverage or get it in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Supplement, also called Medigap, is sold by private insurance companies to help pay some out-of-pocket costs not covered by Original Medicare.

When to enroll

If you’re turning 65, you should enroll during this seven-month window: the three months before your 65th birthday, your birthday month and the three months after your 65th birthday.

If you’re turning 65 and plan to keep working, you may be able to delay enrollment in both Medicare Part A and Part B and avoid the lifetime late enrollment penalty. Ask your company’s benefits manager for details.

How to enroll

You have three options:

  • Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday for an appointment. TTY users call 800-325-0778.
  • Apply online at the official website, ssa.gov/medicareonly/
  • Visit your local Social Security office in person.

Help choosing a plan

Most plans have advisers who can help you over the phone or connect you to an independent agent who can meet with you.

The Michigan Medicare and Medicaid Assistance Program offers free counseling to help Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers make informed health benefit decisions. To speak with a counselor, call 800-803-7174 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. TTY users call 711. You can also visit MMAP online at mmapinc.org.

With a little research, you can choose the plan that’s right for you. Happy birthday and welcome to Medicare. 

About the expert

Krischa Winright is senior vice president of Business Performance and Development, Senior Health Services at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She has more than 25 years of health care and technology leadership, with extensive experience in Medicare Advantage and marketing.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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