by: Margie Johnson Ware, Aging and Health Specialist
Part one of our new “How to Ask for Help” series, which explores the best and most trustworthy Medicare assistance tools.
Welcome back! We’re so glad that many of you responded favorably to our first set of blog posts. In the “When to Ask for Help” series, we explored how three boomers with very different medical/financial backgrounds might approach their Medicare plans. When it comes to figuring out the best approach to Medicare, one size definitely does not fit all. But for every issue that we raised, we received an avalanche of questions from our readers: “How/Where/Why/When do I look for help…” and “Who can I turn to….?”
So now it’s time to get our hands dirty and really dig into the practicalities of navigating the Medicare system. In this new “How to Ask for Help” series, we will be exploring where you can turn to get trustworthy assistance with Medicare. Resources like SHIPs (State Health Insurance Assistance Programs), no-cost professional advising service from My Medicare Matter’s trusted partners at Aon Retiree Health Exchange, and a variety of online tools can all help you find the right Medicare plan for your needs.
While there is no “best” way to navigate Medicare—a lot of it has to do with your personality and life circumstances—we hope this series will help you figure out what makes the most sense for you. But before we dive into explaining SHIPs, accessing benefits advisers, and online tools (to be covered in future articles), let’s talk about some key initial research steps.
- Start your research as early as possible. Health insurance counselors are not supposed to have favorites, but we all love those of you who are “no stone unturned” Type-A people. Why? Because you are asking for help with plenty of time to spare. You have the luxury of being able to take information in in small quantities, digest it, and then go further. We recommend starting the research process 12 months before your 65th birthday so that you are completely prepared to enroll on time (enrolling late can result in lifelong penalties). In general, people first enroll in Medicare during a period called “Initial Enrollment” that begins three months before the month they turn 65, and continues until the end of the three months after the month they turn 65 (seven months total). There is also Open Enrollment, Medigap Open Enrollment, General Enrollment, and Special Enrollment Periods. The National Council on Aging created a tool called the Medicare QuickCheck® that can help you figure out which enrollment period makes the most sense for your situation.
- Assess your medical and financial situation and figure out what type of Medicare guidance makes the most sense for you. The National Council on Aging created another tool called the Medicare Questionnaire that asks you some basic questions about your employment status and personal situation, and then guides you to resources that might be helpful. For example, if you have a disability or currently live outside the U.S., you may have different Medicare needs than other 65-year-olds you know.
- Keep your eyes open for a “pre-retirement seminar.” No, not the kind where they try to sell you mutual funds or long-term care insurance (although both of those products may be useful eventually.) This is the kind of presentation or workshop that is put on by your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) or Aging Services Access Point (ASAP). In laymen’s terms, these organizations go by names like the Adams County Office on Aging, or Grovewood Senior Services, Inc. You can find your local AAA here. Ask for the “Information and Referral Department” and after you’re connected, tell them you’re beginning your research on Medicare and want to speak to someone knowledgeable. You may also want to call your Town or City Hall and ask which office handles information for those over 60.
Finally, take a deep breath. Relax. You have plenty of time to learn this. In our next post in the series we’ll talk about how your local SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance program) might be the right fit for assessing your situation and helping you find the best Medicare plan for your needs.