For millions of Americans, 65 is a very special birthday.

Although the retirement age is gradually increasing –– and people retiring today are not eligible for full Social Security benefits until 66 –– 65 is still the age at which every American can enroll in Medicare.

While Medicare provides far more generous coverage at a much lower cost than commercial health plans, it does not always prevent its beneficiaries from experiencing serious financial problems due to medical bills.

Indeed, a 2015 study by the Kaiser Foundation shows Medicare patients dealing with a number of conditions that require expensive prescriptions, notably cancer, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, have to dig very deep to pay for their medication, even though they are only paying for a small share of the total cost. Cancer patients who are put on Revlimid, a specialty drug, pay a median of $11,538, the study says.

A new study by PrescribeWellness suggests many seniors aren’t planning enough for Medicare and managing their health care costs in old age.

According to the survey of 1,000 Americans over the age of 45, only 25 percent say they have researched Medicare and any secondary coverage they might need before hitting 65. More than half say they haven’t done any type of research, including talking to a doctor or a friend, on Medicare planning.

It’s important to note, however, that many of those responding are still many years away from Medicare eligibility.

When asked what they plan to do when they turn 65, more than half say they will enroll in Medicare as well as a secondary health plan, while 4 percent say they will enroll in a private sector Medicare Advantage plan, such as Scan. Another 23 percent say they haven’t decided and finally, 17 percent concede they know nothing about their Medicare options.

Americans admit a number of factors involved in Medicare confuse them. A quarter say it’s tough to decide between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage, while roughly half say they’re confused about which parts of Medicare (Part A, Part B, Part C, Part D) they should enroll in. A quarter say they have trouble understanding which providers are available to which Medicare plan.

Only 28 percent say they have no issues figuring out their retirement health care alternatives.

“These survey findings confirm that it’s difficult to choose the right health care plan when you turn 65 and that there are things that can make it easier, like having a trusted advisor walk you through the process,” says Al Babbington, CEO of PrescribeWellness.

The only thing people appear certain about is that they are going to try to take advantage of Medicare as soon as they are eligible.

Forty-eight percent plan to enroll before they turn 65 (you can enroll a month before your birthday), while 29 percent will do it on their 65th birthday. Fourteen percent admit that they’ll do it whenever they “get a reminder,” which could lead to stiff financial penalties for late enrollment. Only 8 percent say they will wait for a certain period of time after their 65th birthday to enroll. 

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