Although 10 months before my 65th birthday seems early to investigate my Medicare options, it’s really not.
First, I can sign up for Medicare three months before my 65th birthday and January is seven months away.
Secondly, I will be doing most of my research this fall in a period that overlaps with the October 15 – December 7 open enrollment period for all Medicare beneficiaries. That is good because there will be a lot of 2017 plan information available at that time. That is bad because most insurance brokers and company representatives will be busy and it might be hard to get individual attention.
Thirdly, as someone with a pre-existing health condition, my initial selections can have lifelong effects. If I do not choose a Medigap (Supplemental) policy during my one-time Medigap Open Enrollment Period (the first six months after I turn 65), I can be refused Medigap coverage or charged higher rates in the future. Although an Advantage plan may seem more favorable in the short run, I need to analyze that decision on a longterm basis knowing the problems of switching to a Medigap policy in the future. Minnesota has the highest concentration of seniors with Medicare Cost plans. These plans are a hybrid between Advantage and Supplemental policies and may end up being a good choice for me.
My sources of information at the moment are:
SHIPs: State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) provide free one-on-one insurance assistance to Medicare beneficiaries and links to resources for senior citizens in each state. They are state-specific grant-funded projects of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Select your state on this site to obtain the relevant phone number and website. In Minnesota I am linked to the Minnesota Board on Aging along with the Senior LinkAge Line® and MinnesotaHelp.info®.
Insurance Companies: Commercial insurance websites currently provide information about 2016 plans. The 2017 plans will be released in October. Help numbers and retail store appointments are some of the options offered. Most companies also sponsor group sessions which provide information on Original Medicare, plan choices, and differences among the plans. Last year I attended an insurance company-sponsored meeting titled “Medicare 101.” This year I will attend one or more sessions provided by the companies whose plans I am considering.
Miscellaneous Websites: I can Google specific topics and receive multiple website recommendations. It’s a good idea to evaluate the reliability of the data and the source of the info (government vs commercial vs good information vs snake oil).
Books and Publications: Most of the websites mentioned above have free pamphlets and downloadable books. I have already downloaded the 160-page “official U.S. government Medicare handbook” titled Medicare & You 2016 from the Medicare.gov publications link. You can also purchase commercial books such as Medicare for Dummies.
Insurance Brokers: Insurance brokers who specialize in Medicare are a good source for individual help. They earn commissions from the insurance companies and are free for users. In recent years I have worked with an excellent broker for private insurance and recently touched base with the Medicare specialist in the same firm.
Friends with diabetes: I have already gained useful information from some of my Type 1 friends already on Medicare. For learning the ropes of navigating Medicare with an insulin pump and a CGM, they are a practical and valuable resource.
In some ways learning about Medicare is not that different from learning about diabetes. A lot of it seems confusing and overwhelming at first. As you learn more, you begin to understand how things fits together and become more confident about your decision-making skills. At the moment I would argue that my diabetes expertise greatly outweighs my Medicare knowledge, but I think I’m on the right road.
If you have other sources of information about Medicare, please share them in the comments. Advice is always welcomed!