Applying for Medicare and Finding a Financial Advisor

by J. David Lewis

Even in the days when our newsletters were paper, I promised myself I would not clutter readers’ lives unless I felt I had something significant to say.  Some colleagues say we should buy content to contact people on-time every month.  I don’t go along with the philosophy that writing takes too much time.  Material written by others cannot really reflect Resource Advisory Services’ philosophy.  Sometimes, I recommend something written by others, as I did in our last two newsletters – two months and four months ago.  They can be found on the Resource Advisory Services Blog.  The next may be in a few days or it could be awhile.

In a staff meeting last week, I was encouraged to describe my experience applying for Medicare.  We hear a lot about concerns as people approach this process and little from people who have done it.   I will get to that in a moment.  The same day, I received the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors’ e-Newsletter with links to three excellent resources for finding financial advisors:

“The SEC just released a new resource entitled Investor Bulletin:  Top Tips for Selecting a Financial Professional.  The really exciting part is that they reference NAPFA’s Pursuit of a Financial Advisor Field Guide on the page of Additional Resources.  You will note we are the only non-regulatory body mentioned.”  The other link is CNN/Money’s “Ask How Your Financial Advisor is Paid” video.  These links are worth sharing among people you know.

Now, for Medicare – Around June, a flood of Medicare supplement insurance offers began appearing in my mail.  The vocabulary was foreign and the volume could puzzle anyone.  They all implied that the decision on the plan is monumental.  No wonder people feel overwhelmed with this stuff.  I had heard that some prescribed drugs could lead to one company over the others but had little guidance otherwise.

Eventually, I decided to browse the Social Security website to educate myself a bit.  Maybe I could learn how to read this stuff.  That first visit didn’t give much useful information, except that I could apply for Medicare online.  When I attempted it, I found I should wait until three months before my 65th birthday month – August for me.  So, I turned to the insurance question.

I have probably had BlueCross BlueShield health insurance more than 85% of the time since I was first aware of health insurances – including my parents’ plan.  So, I am inclined to stay with a company that has served me well.  On the BlueCross website there were two Medicare plans that appealed to me.  One cost nothing.  The other appeared to be about $50 per month.  Since I know the full cost of my employer provided coverage this was amazing.  Yet, these estimates were without my prescription information.

There is a much more expensive BlueCross Medicare plan.  Since I am satisfied I can handle the maximum out-of-pocket expenses for either of the less expensive plans, why pay someone to take this risk?  Insure for the losses that would be devastating, not convenience.  Sure, it will be inconvenient if events lead to spending the maximum out-of-pocket amount.  I don’t know whether that will happen.  If I elect to pay the higher premiums, those premiums are a certain expense.

I mentally set the whole thing aside, until the offers in my mail were more than normal one day and I was eligible to apply for Medicare.  The link is www.Medicare.gov.  On the opening page, two yellow rectangle buttons can get you started.  “Apply for Medicare” should take less than thirty minutes.  I don’t remember searching for information I couldn’t remember.  Apparently most people can complete the whole application by following those steps.  In my case, the last page said; “Your benefit application was received on … We cannot complete processing of your claim until we have received and verified all documents.”

They needed my birth certificate.  The Social Security Administration was missing information from it.  The young man helping me told me the information would have been collected if I had interacted with Social Security for almost anything in the past.  He was very professional, almost caring.  The wait to see him was reasonable, in a room that could handle many more than were there that day.  I can remember Dad talking about my brand new Social Security card and signing it.  I don’t remember ever going to a Social Security office.  I still have the same cards, but they sent me a new one.  It doesn’t look much different.  The Medicare card should arrive soon, after which I can apply for Medicare supplement insurance.  I was there about thirty minutes.  It could have been much longer if that waiting room was full.

The young man also told me there is a tool for comparing supplement plans on www.Medicare.gov.  This is the other yellow button on the opening page.  Following it is easier than comparing plans on the BlueCross website.  The tool needs basic information I could remember, plus data from my prescriptions.  I breezed through it faster than the Medicare application.  At the end, there was a list of the insurance companies and policies, with very clear information about total annual cost estimates, including out-of-pocket and premiums.  For me, three vendors were obviously better than the rest.  BlueCross was there with the two plans I found earlier.  Premiums were slightly higher.  I can sign up on that page as soon as I get that coveted Medicare Card.

I hope this will help calm those who approach the application.  If nothing else, it should help you, or someone around you, toss all that useless mail.

Added as of October 13, 2012:

A client responded to my Medicare application story – “David, Welcome to the over 65 age group. Medicare can be a very confusing subject for a lot of people – what plan to take and which way to turn. If I had what AARP wastes on paper I could smoke those big cigars and drink the best wines.”  So, I am adding a few words.

I came home one evening to find that someone had actually come to my house to “help” me decide on a plan. They left a brochure and business card. There had been a similar offer by phone. I wonder how much commission there is in selling these plans.

My Medicare card arrived and I apply for a supplement online. The application was straightforward. On this visit, I discovered my Medicare monthly premium will be more than the $99 I expected earlier. Income from work gets me one of those “tax breaks for the rich.” The supplement is still $50.

Amazingly, mailed brochures seemed to stop very soon. A curious one was from the company I chose online – for their more expensive choice. I first though it was paperwork to be completed, which may have inadvertently “upgraded” my application. The next day a letter from the correct plan and a three-page form arrived, to verify I would not be covered by other health insurance. There was also a 1 ½ inch stack of six booklets – postage over $5. The package tells me more current information may be available online.

I also received several pages of questionnaire from Social Security Administration, to determine whether I qualify for Medicare premium assistance. This is an adventure. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Contact J. David Lewis directly with DLewis@ResourceAdv.com. He founded Resource Advisory Services in 1985.  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) was formed only a few years before. Lewis became a NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor in 1986.  He is a passionate advocate for fiduciary, fee-only financial planning and has been associated with financial services since childhood in a banking family.  61112

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