June 19th, 2010 at 2:11 am
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Signing On to Medicare: A First Hand Experience – Part 1

by Carol Bursack

As with so many things in life, firsthand experience often exceeds “book learning.” The most compelling reason for me to work long and hard in the elder care field stemmed from my two decades of eldercare. With a combined total of seven elders to care for, I learned a great deal.

I’ll always be grateful to the professionals that helped me along the way, including in-home care staff and a fabulous nursing home. However, I find that as a writer on elder care, most people first want to know my personal experiences as a caregiver, then my experience with professionals.

Medicare for Others

My first forage into Medicare was when I was informally caring for my deaf, eighty-year-old neighbor Joe. After several of his falls, he required ambulance rides (with me along holding his hand) and medical treatment. That, of course, brought bills. Left alone, Joe would open his mail whenever he felt like it, so we made a part of our daily visit into a mail opening ceremony.

After Joe dislocated his shoulder in one of his worst falls he had quite a bit of treatment. I found myself daily prying open envelopes containing seemingly incomprehensible Medicare statements. There were also, of course, plenty of bills from the hospital and clinic. Since I was a novice with elder issues at the time, this was all confusing to me. Joe’s son lived in another state and he came out to deal with those Medicare issues so I was off the hook.

As time went on, my family’s elders needed care. These folks included my childless aunt and uncle, my parents and my in-laws. Again, before their health issues arose (that I became responsible for), they were all set up on Medicare. All of them had good supplemental policies, so I basically ignored the formidable Medicare forms. The bills got paid, but I wasn’t being a good consumer in that Medicare fraud is huge and we all should look our statements over carefully (more on that in the last this three part series).

Enter Personal Experience

This month the calendar tells me my age turns over to the magic number of 65 years old (yes, I’m that old). It really doesn’t matter, for the most part. I don’t feel old at all, except, perhaps on a particularly arthritic morning. But 65 I am, and that means a (for me, welcome) health insurance change. I was educated enough about Medicare to begin learning more about the Medicare “Parts” approximately three months before I qualified. Also, I have a dependent son, so I’ve learned some ins and outs of the medical system while finding him the health insurance deserves, as Medicare has no provision for dependents.

Getting Medicare When We Aren’t Retired

I am not now retired and most likely won’t be for a decade or more. I have work that I love, to say nothing of financial needs. When one takes two decades out of the full-time work force to care for others, well, that Social Security “safety net” looks pretty pathetic once we look at the numbers. I am blessed to keep doing what I love and hope to grow more helpful through the years. So, onward!

During my Medicare investigation, I found that Social Security is basically set up for retirees. Therefore, when I was trying to complete the first step, that of Medicare A, I was in for a wild ride.

I went online, as I’m pretty tech savvy and that is the preferred method. However, the Social Security site at www.socialsecurity.gov is set up for retirees. Yet, you need to go through the Social Security system to get to Medicare. I went here and I went there. I went everywhere (pardon me but I feel a bit Dr. Seuss-ish). Nowhere would it let me get to Medicare until I filled in all of the Social Security information. So, I did. Brick wall. Nada. No doing. Still couldn’t get to Medicare because I am not retiring.

Finally, I called the phone number given on the site. After the expected endless menu, I was put on hold to wait for a human being. I finally got a very nice young man. After explaining my dilemma, he told me that I could sign up online. I told him the site said I couldn’t. He said, “Oh, after page 5 you check a box and you can then sign on.” I said thank you and hung up.

I went back online. No luck. Tired of the circus, I waited a day to rest up, then called once more. After the menu and a very long wait, I once again got a human being. As with the young man, this woman was very polite and helpful. The end result was that I finally got signed up for Medicare Part A.

In Tuesday’s blog post, I will continue my Medicare saga as I pursue Parts B , D and, um, F?

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