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Signing Up for Medicare

I will be 65 soon, and in the USA, that means it’s time to sign up for Medicare. This post is to document my impressions as I go. There are tons of conditions and corner cases with the program, so what works for me might be sub-optimal, or even impossible, for someone else.

  1. Enrollment in the program is not automatic except in some rare cases. It seems to me that it could be automatic, at least parts A and B, for anyone with a social security number. Not signing up leaves a person wide open for crushing medical costs, or even inability to get treatment, so I really think it should be automatic signup for the eligible. I should just get a card and packet in the mail, with the ability to opt-out if I want.
  2. About 6 months before my eligibility, I started getting deluged by offers for insurance. Some were just little cards, saying to mail the card back for free information. In some cases, a company outright just mailed a full packet with brochures and an application. There were mailings from insurance agents representing multiple companies. Social media advertisements start showing those offers, too. My advice? Treat it like any other cold-call or spam: throw it all away. However, some of the junk mail is printed on one side only of letter-size paper, so can be used as printer paper, or for scratch.
  3. I checked out a book, Medicare for Dummies, from the library. Excellent reference.
  4. Looks like coverage starts on the 1st of the Month in which I turn 65, not on my actual birthday.

Government Part of the Signup

Signup was not through medicare.gov, but through the social security website, ssa.gov. I had an account there, but if I didn’t, I would have had to create one. I think there’s some legacy paper process for signup, but didn’t explore that.

The only hitch in signup was that they wanted my name exactly as shown on my social security card. Fortunately, I still had my original card from the 1960’s. As expected, the name on the social security site was an exact match. That’s unfortunate, as I would have preferred to apply with my full legal name. Other than the that, basic signup was just clicking a few boxes, and confirming contact information. Like most people, I signed up for parts A and B.

I got an email that said Thank you for your application, with a link so that I could check the status. In 2 days, I saw on the ssa.gov site that my application was approved. I never got any email announcing the approval.

Quasi-Government Part of the Signup (part C)

Medicare A and B has no annual limit. Sure they pay 80%, but what if the bill is a million? That would mean my share is $200,000! No good! I’m generally healthy, and have no regular prescriptions, at this time. The kind of insurance I have now pays for very little – it has a high deductible, which I never meet. It has an annual out-of-pocket maximum of something like $8000, which I’ve never some close to, but if I had pay it, I could. That’s the kind of protection I want going forward, which means a Medicare Advantage Plan (part C). In my case, the Advantage Plan from Kaiser will cost zero.

I can’t apply for a Medicare Advantage Plan until I have my Medicare number, so I must wait.

On Dec 16, I got physical mail saying I was approved, and that the card should come in 2 weeks.

My physical Medicare card came in the mail on 12/24 (Christmas Eve). With that in hand, I applied online for the Kaiser Medicare Advantage Basic Plan on 12/31. That was easy: confirm contact info, choose from one of two plans. On 1/8, I got an email from Kaiser saying that I was accepted. A few days later, I got a physical packet from them in the mail, including the following:

Being relatively healthy, I have never needed to seek legal remedies for health care. But if someone offers me the chance to opt out of arbitration, I generally take it.

My present medical insurance is from Covered California (“Obamacare”), and they sent me this notice in December:

This is an additional warning to do what I was already doing or had done.
However, there was one novel piece of information in the letter, which is how to cancel existing coverage. I might be able to completely cancel our Covered California insurance on the web, but that’s not what I want. I want to surgically remove myself only, keeping Covered California for Merrianne, who is not Medicare age, yet. I need to call them on the phone, 1-800-300-1506.

January 18, 2023: It’s now within the 45 to 14 day window to call Covered California. I called them at 11:08 am. Had my cup of hot chocolate ready, and a browser open for the expected wait in the phone queue. Dialed, pressed 1 for English, then “Representative.” Surprisingly, someone picked up in less than a minute. “Gwendolyn” told me that I need to wait until February to cancel, if my Medicare starts March 1st. The only way she could cancel me now would be to cancel the policy completely, which is not what I want. I confirmed that in February, Covered California could cancel just me, and leave my wife on the existing policy. So it’s not really 45 days, but really from the first of the month before Medicare starts, and as late as 14 days before Medicare starts.

I expect that the Covered California premium will go down a bit, covering one person instead of two. I didn’t ask; Covered California is so cheap, anyway.

I got a new Kaiser card in the mail. It looks very much like the old card, except that it says “MedicareRx” and “Senior Advantage” on it.
On 1/18, this came. I didn’t expect it; I thought that Dental and Vision coverage was extra. Looking back on the materials, I saw that it actually was included, at no cost, and I get up to 2 free cleanings and x-rays a year. Wow.

Feb 1, 2023: Okay, so now I’m in the month before Medicare starts. I called Covered California again. Press 1 for English. To the prompt about what I want: “Representative.” Someone answered almost immediately. I told “Corey” that I wanted to stop my Covered California coverage, but keep it for my wife. No problem. He also noticed that our daughter was still listed on the family application – was she disabled? No, but she was a dependent. I also said that she wasn’t receiving Covered California. He said that she shouldn’t be on there, even so. Fine with me, please remove her. Our old premium was $799, approximately, for both my wife and self. The new premium was $927. That’s right, more expensive to cover 1 person than 2. Maybe it was due to decreasing our coverage family size to 2? I don’t actually mind. It’s only until my wife turns Medicare age. And if the subsidy (if any) is based on family size, then when I fill out our taxes at the end of the year, any due to us will come back, anyway.

Feb 10, 2023: I got a paper bill in the mail for 3 months of Medicare part B $494.70, covering the next 3 months, and due on Feb 25 (not much notice). I just want to have automatic deductions from our checking account, so I went to medicare.gov to sign up for Easy Pay. I needed to create a new account, which was not possible before actually getting the physical medicare card with my medicare number. But in trying to sign up for Easy Pay, I got this back:

I’ll have to try again tomorrow.
Next day: Okay, looks like it’s pending. I don’t see why it should take 4 to 8 weeks to start, but will see if it kicks in for this month. Auto-deduct is apparently on the 20th, so if it doesn’t work by then, I still have time to make a manual payment before the due date.

Update, 18-APR-2023: I found out that the Kaiser Plan I chose doesn’t cover Durable Medical Equipment (DME). That’s a shame, not getting help with a CPAP machine. If you anticipate needing some kind of equipment, make sure the plan you choose covers it.