As I approach my 65th birthday, I’ve been digging into a pile of information about Medicare. I’m talking a literal pile, as every insurance company I’ve ever heard of — and several I haven’t — mailed me brochures and letters and cards trying to get me to become a customer. I stacked them up on my desk until I could make time to try to decipher the mysteries of the program.
Not only did I have to figure out the different services covered under Parts A, B, C, and D, but whether it’s worth it to pay for what’s called Old Medicare or get a Medicare Advantage plan. And if it’s the latter, which of the dozens of those is best for my circumstances?
At first, it was utterly confusing, but after sifting through what had been mailed to me, as well as multiple websites, I finally got it whittled down to merely perplexing.
Fortunately, my union (SAG-AFTRA) offers a health plan for retirees and — even better — has outsourced the task of explaining and narrowing the options to a company called ViaBenefits. I had a good feeling about them from the very first time I called and didn’t have to wind my way through a phone tree maze just to get to a human being. The very first person I spoke with was extremely patient and able to lay things out in language I could understand, and then didn’t mind when I called back a couple more times with further questions.
Along the way, I also received several letters from the Social Security Administration, which controls Medicare. I’m sure whichever government employee crafted those correspondences thought they were making it simpler for recipients, but they didn’t. One of the missives I received had to do with determining my cost for Plan B coverage (non-hospital, non-prescription medical coverage). It so confused me that I reached out to the agency for help.
Unlike ViaBenefits, Medicare’s phone maze was nearly impenetrable, but I knew to expect that because of my dealings with the SSA several years ago when my mother became very ill and eventually died. At the time, I had to go to the Social Security office and join dozens of other humans just waiting and waiting and waiting (I wrote about that experience here) before finally hitting a brick wall of bureaucracy I could not crack.
But this time was different. I got through to an actual person relatively quickly, and could tell immediately by the tone of his voice that, despite it being a Monday, he was upbeat and ready to help. I filled him in on my situation and asked him, based on the information in the letter, what I have to do.
That’s when he said the best phrase I’ve ever heard from any customer relations person: “You ain’t gotta do nothing!”
I laughed, then he explained that Medicare and the SSA based the Part B premium on my most recent tax return and would automatically review it every year, then inform me of any changes. Without me having to lift a finger.
A couple of hours later, I told this story to the woman who cuts my hair, who laughed and said, “You know, I have the same policy here!” So, I just sat there and didn’t do nothing.