EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the April 2012 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.
When you turn 65, it's likely that you'll enroll in Medicare. But the program is riddled with complexities. The good news: There's a lot of information out there to help guide you. Here are resources that should answer all your questions.
Medicare.gov. This is the premier federal government site, where you can compare and enroll in Part D prescription-drug and private Medicare Advantage plans. Plug in your prescriptions, and Medicare.gov will find plans that include the drugs in their formularies. You also can compare private supplemental Medigap plans.
The site has tools that compare -- by certain quality standards -- local hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, home health providers and dialysis centers. If you have a question about a claim or your Medicare benefits, call 800-633-4227.
Medicare Rights Center. The nonprofit consumer group (www.medicarerights.org) helps Medicare beneficiaries navigate the complex enrollment and benefits system. Call its toll-free helpline (800-333-4114), and someone will counsel you on your rights, payment denials and appeals, complaints about care, and bills. In some cases, the center will take action on your behalf.
Go to the site's Medicare Interactive page, and you can find answers to dozens of questions. Topics include the relationship between COBRA and Medicare, the role of Medicare for federal and military retirees and nursing-home coverage.
State Health Insurance Assistance Program. The federally funded state-run SHIPs (www.shiptalk.org) provide free counseling and assistance by telephone and face-to-face sessions. SHIP counselors can help you sort through your many Part D choices and other options. SHIP programs also offer educational workshops on Medicare. The Web site does not provide information on Medicare. But it does provide links to agencies and counseling programs that offer SHIP services in each state.
PlanPrescriber.com. This is an easy-to-use tool that helps you compare the costs and coverage of Part D, Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans. For instance, you can sort out Part D and Medicare Advantage options by monthly premiums, estimated out-of-pocket costs, the numbers of restrictions and doughnut-hole coverage. With PlanPrescriber.com, a division of eHealth Inc., you can enroll online or ask for quotes from insurance companies. Or call 800-404-6968 for help in finding the best deal.
Kaiser Family Foundation. This is the go-to site (www.kff.org/medicare) if you're looking for detailed information on Medicare-related proposals by Congress and the White House. The site also offers comprehensive issue briefs on Medicare Advantage plans, income-related Part B and Part D premiums, trends in Medicare spending, and other policy topics. Kaiser Health News provides daily news coverage that involves Medicare, including information on the presidential election.
MedicareNewsWatch.com. Look at the CostShare Report, which compares the costs of private Medicare Advantage plans in your area based on your health status (good, fair and poor) and the use of the most common health benefits (physician office visits, emergency care, prescriptions and other benefits). MedicareNewsWatch.com also gives "Senior Choice Awards" to recognize the Advantage plans with the best value.
Social Security Administration. You can apply online for your traditional Medicare benefits at www.ssa.gov. The Web site's stand-out feature: an audio version of information regarding enrollment periods, eligibility requirements, the appeals process and other topics.
California Health Advocates. You don't need to live in California to make good use of this comprehensive site (www.cahealthadvocates.org). You can find information on Medicare and Medigap coverage for those with disabilities, ways to protect yourself from Medicare fraud and tips for filing Medicare claims.