Medicare Housekeeping Time!

A good practice to get into at the beginning of each year is to take a little time and do some annual Medicare housekeeping.  The following tips are also helpful if you have recently turned 65 or retired and you’re in first year on Medicare.

 1.  Schedule Your Check-up

Whether you have Original Medicare, Original Medicare with the addition of a Medicare Supplement or a Medicare Advantage plan, you are offered a yearly wellness exam.   Don’t forget to schedule this!  The earlier in the year, the better!  This is not only important for your general health but will also help make your overall healthcare run more smoothly.  If you happen to have a Medicare Advantage plan that requires referrals for specialist visits, you might be able to get any anticipated referrals taken care of at this initial appointment with your primary care provider.  For instance, if you know you need to see your cardiologist at least two times a year get those referrals while you’re already in your PCP’s office.   You can also find out what preventative care services and screenings you should take advantage of this year.  Medicare covers the following screenings along with many others – prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, mammograms, depression, diabetes – the list goes on.   Getting into the habit of scheduling these Medicare housekeeping “peace of mind” tests at the beginning of the year will make sure that it doesn’t slip your mind.

Complete list of screenings can be found by clicking here.

2.  Authorization Form

If you are brand new to Medicare or have never taken care of this in the past, you might want to consider filling out an Authorization Form to allow family or friends to call Medicare on your behalf.  You must give prior permission in writing for someone to be given access to your personal health information.   You can “revoke” permission or change the individual listed as authorized at a later date if you’d like.  It’s just important to make sure you take care of this before it’s needed.  Find the authorization form by clicking here.

3.  MyMedicare.gov

A convenient tool for those enrolled in Original Medicare or Original Medicare plus a supplement is MyMedicare.gov.  By signing up, you will be given access to a convenient, online service that puts your personal Medicare information at your fingertips anytime day or night.   After you sign up at Medicare.gov you can begin using the site’s services by completing an “Initial Enrollment Questionnaire” that will ensure your bills are processed correctly with Medicare.  With the click of their “Blue Button” you can easily download and save your health information and files to your computer, tablet or mobile device or print off an “On the Go” report to take with you to doctor appointments.   A few other things the site conveniently keeps track of is your Part B deductible status and a record of preventative services available to you.

4.  New ID cards

Recent enrollment in a Medicare Advantage plan, Supplement or PDP also means that you will have new cards arriving in the mail.  Make sure you remember to take these along on your first visit to your PCP and to any visit with a new doctor.  Your doctor’s office will want copies of the cards on file and this will ensure there is no confusion when it comes to billing.

5.  Prescription Medications

At the beginning of the year, try to get your medication prescriptions filled early.  Getting this taken care of early will make sure that you are made aware of any formulary changes in your plan.  You should receive a notification of changes in your insurance company’s drug list if it affects you, but in case you missed it or it hasn’t made it to your mailbox yet you will at least be aware of the situation before it becomes a problem.

The Takeaway:

There are a few Medicare housekeeping items to tick off every year you’re on Medicare to ensure smooth sailing.  Hopefully addressing these issues when you first sign up for Medicare will help eliminate any bumps you might run into down the road, but if you haven’t done all of these yet, making it a practice to do some of these things every year will keep things running smoothly.

The Three Types of Medicare Websites

Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of hours online reviewing Medicare websites.  What’s available is confusing, incomplete, wrong or not quite objective enough for me.   These websites fit neatly into three distinct categories.

1.  Insurance company websites

Insurance company websites can certainly be helpful, but looking for Medicare information at an insurance company website is much like doing new car research:  The Ford website will tell you everything you need to know about all the Ford options they have, but don’t/won’t tell you anything about Honda… or Chevy… or BMW… you get the point.  They don’t offer the complete picture or landscape of choices, but they usually do a pretty decent job of providing you company-specific information and the ability to enroll online.  Let’s be honest: the ability to enroll online may exist, but your patience will be taxed doing so.  Every insurance company website has a different way to enroll, different forms and different pages to navigate to.  The experience can be horribly frustrating, leading many people to simply either give up or call the company.  If you’re 100% sure you want to buy a policy from a particular policy, then enrolling online is the way to go.  If you want to compare different plans from different companies, you’ll have to visit multiple sites and each of them have their own web navigation positives and negatives.

2.  Lead-generation websites

Lead-generation websites are usually insurance agents or agencies that set up a site (or a dozen) to generate leads for themselves or their employees.  Often, these sites urge you to share your personal information, and then sell that information to a local agent or agency in your ear.  From what I’ve seen, they give you just enough information to get your interest piqued, then encourage you to contact them, send them your email address, etc.  They then either hound you to BUY BUY BUY or sell/give your information to call centers and/or insurance agents.  Their sites are full of long, complex definitions and articles chock-full of keywords the search engines love. They have to do this in order for Google, Bing or Yahoo to pay attention to them in hopes that when somebody searches for, “Medicare” their site ends up on the first page of the search results.  In all cases, unless you want to be contacted by someone trying to sell you something, stay away from these.

3.  Medicare’s Website

Medicare.gov is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) homepage.  Those are the folks who run (you guessed it!) Medicare and Medicaid.  If you’re ready to enroll in Medicare or you’re all set to enroll in a particular product, this is a good place to go but it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  However, there is a ton of content, and you could easily spend thousands of hours on their site reading through various items.  Information overload is easy to experience on this site, especially if you’re brand-new to Medicare.

The Takeaway

Learn to love medicare.gov.  The site does a decent job of helping you search for Medicare Advantage and PDP (Part D) plans, but is woefully lacking on helping you choose Medicare Supplemental plans.  Medicare.gov allows you to enter in your prescription drugs and pharmacy of choice.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a great job of letting you know your doctor or hospital of choice is in the plan’s network.  This is mostly due to the fact that Medicare PPO and HMO networks are in a state of constant flux; doctors and hospitals get added and removed on a monthly basis.   My advice is to use this site to enter in your prescriptions and pharmacy, and see what spits out.  Once you’ve narrowed down your top 3 choices, call those insurance companies and ask them if your doctors are in their plan.  They’ll try to sell you a policy over the phone.  Go ahead and buy it, if you’re ready, or do so online.

-OR-

Use a good independent Medicare insurance agent.  Note I said, “good” Medicare insurance agent, because they’re not all good and finding the good ones can be a chore.  Good agents will be able to narrow down the choices based on your financial goals, coverage needs, doctor usage and health status.  I’ve got a series of posts queued up on Medicare insurance agents, so check back soon!