investing

Health Coverage Is No Slam Dunk

I hadn’t reckoned on some curveballs along the way — especially when it came to signing up for Medicare Part B and Medigap.

When I was editor of this magazine, I read every story—usually more than once. So when I was planning my retirement as editor earlier this year, I thought I had everything under control. Imagine my dismay when I learned that, well prepared though I was, I hadn’t reckoned on some curveballs along the way—especially with regard to Medicare and health insurance—or how labor-intensive it would be to iron out all the devilish details. So I’d like to share a few nuggets of wisdom to smooth the way for future retirees.

Nugget No. 1:

Check your employer’s rules. I knew that I was covered by my employer’s health insurance until the end of July, the month in which I retired. So I figured I also had until the end of July to use money in my flexible spending account. I found out just in time that I had to spend the money by my actual retirement date, July 7. So on July 6, I made a beeline for my optometrist to buy a pair of prescription sunglasses and empty my account.

Nugget No. 2:

Start early. For me, signing up for Medicare Part B turned out to be unexpectedly time-consuming. I knew I had eight months after leaving my job to sign up for Part B, which covers doctor visits and other non-hospital expenses, without paying a penalty. But I wanted coverage to begin about a month after I retired. (I had signed up for Part A, which covers hospital costs, several years earlier when I turned 65, but because I was still working then and covered by my employer’s health insurance, I was able to delay Part B.) What I didn’t realize, and found out almost by chance, was that I should sign up six weeks to two months in advance of the month in which I wanted coverage to begin—in my case, August 1—to get the paperwork through the system.

I was already at the six-week mark, so I hotfooted it down to my local Social Security office to submit my application. I was handed a receipt dated June 21 and assured that my coverage would take effect on August 1. In the meantime, I was told, I’d receive a letter of enrollment in the mail so I could begin looking for a supplemental plan to fill the gaps in Medicare (see Your Medicare FAQs). When I got home, I opened an account at MyMedicare.gov. And then I waited. And waited. No letter of eligibility. No enrollment notice in my online account.

On Friday, July 28, I made another visit to the Social Security office. I was assured that I was “in the system.” But without proof of some kind, I couldn’t sign up for a supplemental plan. And I worried that after July 31, I’d have no proof of coverage if I needed care.

Finally, on August 2, a confirmation notice appeared in my online account. The physical letter, dated August 7, arrived the following week. My husband’s application didn’t take as long, and perhaps I needn’t have worried. But to avoid feeling adrift in the bureaucratic void, start the process at least two months in advance.

Nugget No. 3:

It’s complicated. While I was waiting for my Part B confirmation, I began researching coverage to supplement Medicare and pay for prescription drugs. The links at Medicare.gov and other sites were helpful but not conclusive. I spent hours poring over plan details to decide whether to sign up for a Medigap plan (and which one) or go with Medicare Advantage.

My colleague Manny Schiffres, who recently retired as Kiplinger’s executive editor, summed up the experience neatly: “I can’t believe how complicated this stuff is.” (We later found out that a friend of ours had hired an insurance consultant to handle his Medicare sign-up.)

Your experience may be easier—but you can’t count on it. Be prepared, and give yourself plenty of time.

Most Popular

Will Your Stimulus Check Increase Your Tax on Social Security Benefits?
Coronavirus and Your Money

Will Your Stimulus Check Increase Your Tax on Social Security Benefits?

The answer to this question comes down to whether your stimulus check increases your "provisional income."
March 1, 2021
Where's My Refund? How to Track Your Tax Refund Status
tax refunds

Where's My Refund? How to Track Your Tax Refund Status

If you're waiting for your tax refund, the IRS has an online tool that lets you track the status of your payment.
March 2, 2021
4 Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Career Success
careers

4 Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Career Success

To be a success, it’s helpful to know what NOT to do on the job. An interview with the best-selling author of “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work”…
March 1, 2021

Recommended

A COVID Storm Hits Senior Living
Coronavirus and Your Money

A COVID Storm Hits Senior Living

The pandemic has created significant challenges for all types of senior living communities. Because of that, it's more important than ever to review a…
March 3, 2021
8 Insurance Products You May Not Need
Financial Planning

8 Insurance Products You May Not Need

You may be paying for insurance, such as long-term disability or product warranties, that is potentially unnecessary.
February 26, 2021
Roth IRA Basics: 11 Things You Must Know
Financial Planning

Roth IRA Basics: 11 Things You Must Know

A Roth IRA can be a great way to save for retirement since the accounts have no required minimum distributions and you withdraw the money tax-free.
February 25, 2021
Love and Money with Financial Planner Mari Adam
Getting Married

Love and Money with Financial Planner Mari Adam

Financial planner Mari Adam helps couples work together to have a good relationship with each other – and their finances. Also, some twists for 2020 t…
February 25, 2021