Are you really ready to enroll in Medicare?

Interactive tool helps gauge whether consumers are ready to make medicare enrollment decisions

We’ve been writing about health insurance long enough to know that most folks are confused by all of the coverage options. But the confusing world of health insurance doesn’t – in our opinion – hold a candle to the dizzying, mind-boggling maze that is the Medicare system.

It seems a day does not pass when we haven’t seen a quote in the news or heard a comment from a friend or family member about how choosing Medicare coverage can simply be exhausting.

Recently, a family friend told me about an ordeal that resulted from an attempt to help her mother-in-law apply for a Medicare supplement plan. My friend – an intelligent, articulate educator – was horrified when her online research for a Medigap plan had ended with a right-click that unwittingly enrolled her mother-in-law in a Medicare Advantage plan.

That one click resulted in a two-hour discussion with the Advantage provider’s agent who, at one point, revealed that her new enrollment meant that her mother-in-law would need to drop her existing Medicare prescription drug plan. The whole debacle culminated with a heated phone conversation, but fortunately, the unwanted coverage was ultimately cancelled the Advantage carrier.

Still, my friend was deeply disturbed by the process and completely frustrated that she  had been unable to navigate the enrollment process for Medicare coverage. And we know hers is not an isolated story.

Another friend told me last week about her own confusion over the complexity of Medicare regulations as she sought reimbursement for medical services and equipment for her mother. And just yesterday, a friend told me she had attended a Medicare information session at a church, where attendees had commented that they had no idea how Medicare Advantage differed from Medigap or Original Medicare.

It’s sad, but probably the most significant obstacle Americans face when they become eligible for enrollment in Medicare is that they simply don’t know enough about Medicare’s coverage options before they take action to enroll. And consumers who don’t know where to turn for information often turn to a carrier with a vested interest in pushing a particular plan. (If you contact an Advantage provider, you shouldn’t be surprised at all if the agent pushes you toward an Advantage policy – even if it’s not necessarily the best coverage option for your situation.)

Of course, consumers will ultimately contact carriers, but before they do, it’s critical that they have a grasp of Medicare fundamentals so they’re armed with questions that can help them avoid paying too much for benefits or paying for benefits they don’t actually need. A great starting point: the Medicare Smarts Self-Diagnosis, a 20-question interactive assessment to help you understand just how much you don’t know about Medicare.

Your score will help you decide whether you understand the basics well enough to make informed enrollment decisions. If your score is dismal, take the time to do some homework before you approach a plan provider.

What you should know:

It’s never too early to start researching, because even if you’re not closing in on Medicare eligibility, there’s a good chance you have a loved one who will soon be eligible and who will need your help sorting through options.

Take a minute to find out now how much you know about Medicare – and how much you don’t.

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