Buyer Beware: Aging into Medicare

As has become an annual activity for our organization, before we ring in the new year, we take a look back at events, projects and moments from 2014 that have impacted the health care scene in our communities and our nation.

On day seven of our Year In Review series, HCF Vice President/COO Rhonda Holman reflects on aging into Medicare.

It’s too bad that health care is such big business in our country because it puts the average consumer at a huge disadvantage. I turned 65 this year, a sobering experience for someone who once saw the wisdom of “not trusting anyone over 30.”

I was stunned by the amount of official looking mail I received in the months leading up to my birthday. I was urged to call this or that number to talk about Medicare and related coverage. I quickly learned to look past the typefaces and graphics for the tiny printed disclosure that the item was not from the Social Security Administration or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those were the first folks that I wanted to talk to, not the sales reps who were overly eager to simplify my buying decisions.

I could have signed up for Medicare via the web; but I played it safe and made an appointment to meet with a Social Security representative. The rep assured me that I had shown up within the right timeframe relative to my birthday, and he let me know that I had until year end to assemble the other insurances I needed to complement my new Medicare benefits.

Like most other people in this country, what I know about health insurance has come through two sources: my employment and advertising, and neither of those avenues led me to be a savvy buyer. It took me about 45 minutes at medicare.gov to see how far over my head I was and to turn to older friends for advice.

Thanks to a money-savvy pal who gave me the name of an independent broker that specializes in Medi-gap insurance, I got a crash course in buying health insurance in Missouri to complement Medicare coverage.

Needless to say, there are lots of choices and plenty of opportunities to mess up. For example, I knew a little about Parts A, B, C, and D of Medicare; but I had no idea how much more of the alphabet is in play in the world of Medigap plans! And it was news to me to find out that Medigap plans are standardized to make it easier to compare plans on an apples-to-apples basis. Left to my own meager devices, I would have assumed that better marketing meant better product offerings.

Be prepared, aging friends, for the full weight of Wall Street and Main Street to come down on you as you approach 65. We are part of a lucrative and woefully uninformed market that has to buy stuff that we don’t know much about.

Caveat emptor.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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