Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medigap, and more. The complex array of Medicare insurance products can be baffling when you see or hear about them for the first time – or even the third. While info on websites and in brochures abounds, it’s not the same as having someone listen to your personal needs, guide you through the maze of decisions you’ll need to make before you enroll, and keep on top of plan changes.
Agencies, apps, and advice are here to help, though – all for free. It’s also wise to consult experts early on because it’s not always easy to switch plans later, when you might have more insight or info. You’ll need to think about what your future health care needs mighbe, too.
Help With Enrollment
State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), offers free, unbiased counseling tailored to your needs at the state level. As long as you’re eligible for Medicare, they’ll help you make key decisions and offer insights from understanding your rights to making a complaint. They’ll also help you:
- Understand what Medicare does and doesn’t cover
- Estimate your out-of-pocket costs and apply for financial assistance if you need it
- Figure out how Medicare can work with other insurance you have
- Go over prescription drug plan choices
- Help you make coverage changes later
Medicare.gov Live Chat offers one-on-one advice, too. Look for the chat icon in the upper right corner of the website. They can help you in much the same way as SHIP, including:
- Sort through your choices
- Avoid penalties for late sign-up
- Work out if you should sign up for Part D prescription coverage
- Find out if you’ll need to contact Social Security to sign up for Medicare
If you’re more comfortable talking by phone, call (800) MEDICARE (800-633-4227). A person is on the line or the chat 24/7 except for some federal holidays.
There’s an App for It
CMS’s free smartphone app, “What’s Covered,” tells you just that. It’s not an in-depth coaching tool, but it sends up-to-date coverage and cost info about Original Medicare policies to your phone. It’s extra handy if you’re making a health care appointment or in an office or hospital and quickly need to know whether Medicare will cover a certain service, item, or test. You can use the app offline, too.
Download What’s Covered from Google Play or the Apple App Store.
There are a number of apps suggested by Medicare to help you organize and share your medical information. For a full listing, go to Medicare.gov. Here are a couple:
Health Wizz digital file cabinet. Lots of apps can help organize financial information. Health Wizz bills itself as a patient recruitment tool, but Medicare.gov recommends it as a simple and secure way to store all your Medicare claims, patient records from hospitals and doctors’ offices, lab results, and more digitally on your phone.
Medicare Blue Button Apps can help you find plans, share info, and file your medical records and Medicare info in one place.
Involve Friends and Family
Bills, appointment info, statements, forms … even with electronic help, there’s a lot of paperwork needed to maintain your Medicare policy once you’ve enrolled. It can be overwhelming when you’re at your best. It can help for a trusted, organized person – whether it’s a friend, family member, or caregiver – to help you keep up with it.
For example, they can easily locate and share your key Medicare and health care information with others when needed, with your permission (also see Power of Attorney below).
And even if you have all your business under control, cluing in someone else about your records – whether you keep them on an app, your desk, or in a closet shoebox – will let someone else step in and take over when the time comes.
Power of Attorney
If you need help managing your affairs -- or know you will in the future -- from Medicare to your mortgage, think about giving a person you trust power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document that makes someone -- or more than one person -- an agent who can act on your behalf.
Power of attorney can be permanent or temporary. Also, you can set a time when the power of attorney will kick in. For example, this might be when you’re no longer able to act for yourself because of mental or physical challenges.
For more info, check out Medicare Interactive.
Photo Credit: Cecilie_Arcurs / Getty Images
State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP): “About Us.”
Consumer Reports: “Where To Get Free Medicare Advice.”
Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services: “Fact Sheet: Medicare Decisions for Someone Nearing Age 65,” “New App Displays What Original Medicare Covers.”
Medicare.gov: “Get Medicare’s New “What’s Covered” App!” “Organize & Share Your Medical Information & Claims,” “Medicare's Blue Button Apps.”
American Senior Communities: “Keeping Proper Caregiver Records.”
American Bar Association: “Power of Attorney.”
Medicare Interactive: “Power of Attorney.”