The first wave of Baby Boomers begins turning 65 in January, which means they’ll be signing up for Medicare for the first time.

It can be a complex and frustrating process that can cost you time and money if you make mistakes or wrong choices.

Medicare has four parts: A, B, C and D.

Part A covers hospital stays and has an average $1,100 deductible. You should apply for part A three months before your 65th birthday, even if you’re still working.

Medicare part B covers doctor visits and most other medical services except prescription drugs. It has a premium averaging about $100 a month.

Consumer Reports says the biggest error people make is not signing up for part B because it has stiff penalties for signing up late.

“Beyond that, most individuals also at least consider whether they want to get, pay enhancement to the basic Medicare,” said Bill McKendree from the Family Service of Western Pennsylvania. “That can be in the form of a true supplement to Medicare and they’re referred to as ‘Medigap’ products or a Medicare Advantage product which are private insurance HMOs and PPO products.”

Unlike the rest of the country where about 75 percent of seniors choose Medigap, private insurance coverage, here in Allegheny County about 70 percent of seniors choose Medicare plan C.

Experts say that’s because local plans are considered to have excellent doctors and hospitals.

“So if a medical beneficiary here in Western Pennsylvania chooses Medicare Advantage, chances are that their physician that they’re using today is going to be in the network, so they don’t have to leave anything behind when they join Medicare Advantage,” said UPMC Health Plan’s Cathy Batteer.

But remember, and this is where a lot of people make mistakes, Medigap plans supplement parts A and B. Medicare Advantage, plan C, basically replaces parts A and B.

Finally, part D is a prescription drug service sold only through private companies.

The choices are tough, but there’s free advice available from Family Services of Western Pennsylvania.

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