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This is the first in a series of posts that examine the process of signing up for Medicare, navigating its rules, choosing supplemental coverage and planning for health care in a program with a very uncertain future.
Even before I officially signed up for Medicare, sellers of Medicare Advantage plans, prescription drug benefits and Medigap policies began stuffing my mailbox with marketing brochures and lead cards'the kind that ask for your name and address and tell you that a salesperson will call if you return the card. Since the first of the year, I have received five lead cards asking for personal information, four solicitations for Medicare Advantage plans, two for stand-alone drug plans and three for Medigap insurance.
The first step after reading my collection of Medicare Advantage, prescription drug, and Medigap sales brochures was to find a way to fill in core Medicare coverage gaps'the deductibles for hospital stays and doctor care and the coinsurance for physician visits, lab tests, and hospital outpatient treatment that could really leave me with an unwelcome bill. I would have to pay 20 percent of those bills if I didn't have supplemental coverage.
If I were to choose a Medigap policy to supplement my basic Medicare coverage, I would still have to buy a separate plan for prescription drugs, since Medigap sellers can't include drug benefits in those policies.
Ah, those Medicare Advantage (MA) plans! The government can't seem to decide if it loves or hates them. On the one hand, when I tried to learn about my options, there was much more MA plan information available from the government than for traditional Medigap policies. So it seemed like I was being encouraged to select an MA plan.
Even though I have written about Medicare for many years, it wasn't until I actually went through the process of selecting an option to cover Medicare's gaps that I realized seniors have an extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, task. You can't make a perfect decision because so much depends on your future medical needs and no one can predict those with certainty.
I once thought that when I signed up for Medicare, I would never again have to worry about paying for health care. But I will. Medicare's future shape and substance is uncertain.
I didn't expect to write a sequel to my seven-part series about signing up for Medicare. Just when I thought I was on the program, and all was fine, it wasn't. After I submitted two bills for routine exams, I learned Medicare would not cover them as my primary carrier. That threw me into a tizzy. All my years of reporting about the program taught me that once you retire Medicare is primary.