Don't make the biggest Medicare mistake of all

Reading the 'Medicare & You' guide will save you a lot of heartache

Published: October 14, 2013 04:25 PM

The image at right should look familiar if you're on Medicare. It's the cover of the "Medicare & You" handbook that every Medicare beneficiary receives free in the mail every fall. If you don't open the 2014 edition, you're making a big, big mistake.

The annual Medicare Open Enrollment period starts on Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7, so be sure to look at this booklet as soon as you can.

Why this advice? Because I regularly hear from people who have either gotten themselves into situations that they could have easily avoided or struggled with questions they could easily have answered, if they had just paged through this 153-page large-print publication. (If you haven't enrolled yet but are about to, download a PDF of "Medicare & You.")

Here's just a sample of what I mean:

  • Do you think that Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement plans are same thing? They're not. Explained on pages 15-16, and in much more detail on pages 58-60.
  • Have you "heard" that the new health care law is reducing Medicare benefits? It's not. See page 14.
  • Are you aware that you can pay a lifetime Part B premium penalty if you don't sign up for it at the right time? You would be if you were to read pages 22-23.
  • Do you even know what Part B is? See page 15 for the basics, page 34 and onward for the specifics.
  • Thinking of not signing up for a prescription drug plan right away because you aren't on any medications? A lot of people have done that, and they have lived to regret it. On pages 94-95 you'll learn why.
  • Struggling to pay your Medicare costs on a low retirement income? Lots of people in this situation would not be missing out on available help if they were to read pages 108-112.

Enough examples. I'm not going to promise you that everything in "Medicare & You" is easy reading. This is the U.S. health care system, after all—nothing is ever easy! But the government folks who wrote it have clearly worked very hard to put it in language that the average person can grasp if they concentrate a little bit. Try it. You won't be sorry.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here. It helps if you include the state you live in.

— Nancy Metcalf

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper.

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