By Delight Clark
Most Americans would tie self reliance to finances, saying it means they have jobs where they can earn enough to meet monthly bills, and where there is money tucked away for unexpected expenses so they can survive challenging health or financial stress if necessary. For some it means their major assets are protected no matter what happens. Sometimes being self-reliant means identifying and asking for help from knowledgeable people who can help us make smart, informed choices. Whatever self-reliance means to you, identifying the key elements of it will help you find the assurance you’re looking for. One of those elements is adequate health insurance.
Most of us want to know that in case of an accident, on-going medical issues, an unexpected diagnosis or a turn of health for the worse, we will not have to bear the entire financial cost by ourselves. Aging and retiring from full time employment almost always mean we have to look at alternative forms of health coverage.
Medicare is the United States Government’s plan to medically insure senior and disabled people. Understanding Medicare and how it works, minimizing our risk while maximizing our benefits, and finding plans within our budget empowers us regardless of what health challenges come our way.
It is important to know that Medicare has four parts: A, B, C and D. Part A, Hospital Insurance, typically has no cost, as we have been paying into Medicare as part of our paycheck withholdings. Part B, Medical Insurance, is the complement to Part A that covers doctor visits, durable medical equipment, laboratory tests and hospice care. Medicare beneficiaries must pay a monthly premium for Part B. Often it is deducted from our Social Security income before it is deposited in our bank accounts. Together Part A and Part B are called Original Medicare and cover beneficiaries’ costs at 80%. Those on Medicare typically look for ways to cover the additional 20% that has become their responsibility. Part C- Medicare health plans, which must cover Part A and Part B benefits usually include prescription drug coverage. Part D must also be added to the Medicare mix to help cover expenses, whether you take prescription drugs or not. So, all beneficiaries must have Parts A, B and D.
Medicare has enrollment periods, special election periods and special needs plans that may cover us if we have limited incomes or a specific diagnosis such as diabetes. Subsidies for prescription drugs at reduced rates might also apply to some beneficiaries.
Knowing when to apply for Medicare benefits, how to avoid lifetime penalties, when to transition from employer insurance to Medicare and how to choose the most appropriate supplemental Medicare benefits can be challenging. For any coverage beyond Original Medicare, you may need someone with expertise to guide you through the Medicare maze. This is where contacting a broker or agent can be especially helpful. He or she can help you evaluate and choose appropriate plans, and modify your selections during the Annual Enrollment period. You won’t be left on your own to deal with the changes that are always happening in Medicare; your broker is your ongoing advocate.