This month marks a rite of passage for me. I am officially a senior citizen. I don’t feel the way I thought 65 would feel when I was 25, even though I see a 65-year-old in my mirror.
The good news is that I now qualify for every senior citizen discount there is. The bad news is that with the pandemic, I’m not eating out, attending performances, or visiting attractions, so for now I can’t enjoy my discounts.
Age 65 used to be Social Security’s Full Retirement Age (FRA). With gradual adjustments in recent years, the FRA for people born in 1955 is now age 66.2. That milestone for me will be in August of 2021.
Age 65, however, is the age someone qualifies for Medicare. For me, going on Medicare was a mixed bag of benefits and emotions.
It’s best to begin the process of signing up for Medicare about three months before you turn 65. When I called my insurance agent in March, I was excited to learn that my monthly medical premiums for Medicare Part A, B, D, and the Supplemental Plan G would decrease to about 50% of my current plan. Even better, my current plan has a deductible of $6,500 a year (which I almost always hit). With Medicare and the supplemental plan that should be under $1,200 a year. My overall savings will be around $900 a month.
Medicare begins on the first of the month in which you turn 65, so my coverage started June 1. I scheduled my annual two-day physical with Mayo Clinic on June 1 and 2. Afterward, I filled a renewed prescription at our local Walgreens. Instead of the $50 I had been paying, the clerk told me the charge was $780.
I asked, “Isn’t that covered by my Medicare insurance?”
“Probably, but we need your Medicare Plan D number.”
“Isn’t that in all the numbers I gave you?”
“No, sir. We only have your Medicare number and your supplemental plan number.”
I quickly called my insurance agent and asked her for my Plan D number. “Ok, I’ll get that.” Then the phone went very quiet.”Ummmmm, well, you don’t have Plan D coverage. I forgot to apply for that coverage. I am so sorry.”
It took a few seconds for it to sink in that I had no prescription drug coverage and would not have it until July 1. I felt a combination of anger, fear, and embarrassment. Anger that the insurance professional I trusted failed me. Fear that any serious illness in the next 30 days could mean expensive out-of-pocket drug costs. (I had a vision of getting COVID-19 and being treated with Remdesivir at a cost of $4,460.) Embarrassment that as a financial planner, I know a person needs a Part D insurance policy. How could I have missed the fact that I didn’t have Part D?
This misstep aside, I’m pleased at the cost savings I can expect with going on Medicare. I’m less pleased about actually being on Medicare. As a government health insurance plan, Medicare dictates what it pays physicians for their services. It typically does not pay well, forcing providers to make up the difference from their patients on private insurance or who pay in cash.
Not every medical provider accepts Medicare patients. I have elderly clients whose primary care doctors have moved or retired and who cannot find another primary care physician to take them on.
So if you are approaching your 60s, it might be wise to establish a primary care relationship with a doctor who is younger. And when you turn 65 and apply for Medicare, don’t forget Part D.