Happy I Had Medicare

Dennis Friedman

I WENT TO SEE MY primary care physician about a medical problem. I actually felt pretty good and wasn’t in any pain. I was fairly confident there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with me, so—when the doctor greeted me and asked how I was doing—I said, “I’m doing well.”

When he responded, “No, you’re not,” I knew this wasn’t going to go well.

I gave him my explanation of what might be causing my physical condition. After listening intently, he said, “I’m not buying it. I don’t believe what you’re telling me. That’s not what’s causing your problem. We need to run some tests on you.” He also suggested I see a specialist. Between the two of them, they ran me through a month-long battery of tests, one after another.

I tried to remain positive by telling myself there’s nothing seriously wrong with me, because I take good care of myself. But after a while, the unknown began to wear me down and my mind went to places I didn’t want to go.

I started going over my finances to make sure everything’s in order. I thought, “I’m glad my wife and I consolidated our financial accounts. It’ll make it easier for her to manage if something unexpected happens to me.” I thought of things around the house that needed to be addressed. I fixed the annoying garage door that seems to have a mind of its own. Another thought that kept banging around inside my head: Maybe I should have claimed Social Security at an earlier age.

I kept my medical adventure to myself, telling only my wife and a close friend who’s fighting his own health care battles. My reason: I just wasn’t ready to share it with anyone else.

As I went through this medical ordeal, I was glad I’d chosen federally run Medicare instead of opting for Medicare Advantage, the private insurance alternative. Because I have traditional Medicare, I didn’t have to wait to get approval for any of the tests and for my appointment with the specialist. Also, I wonder if Medicare Advantage would have approved all the tests that my doctors recommended. Even if a Medicare Advantage plan had approved them, how long would it have taken and how much would the co-payments have been? These are the types of things you don’t think about until something happens to you.

Medicare Advantage is okay if you’re fairly healthy. But if you have something seriously wrong, you’re relying on a private insurer with a network of doctors to provide you with timely, adequate and affordable health care. With traditional Medicare, you have more control over health care decisions. For instance, I could have easily gotten a second opinion or changed doctors if I were dissatisfied. That alone greatly eased my mind while going through this ordeal.

At this point, my medical problem seems to have gone away and, so far, they haven’t found anything wrong with me. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

My specialist, however, wanted to run one more test on me to make sure something hadn’t gone undetected. Before he starts the exam, he explains that I’m going to feel some discomfort. To help me feel more at ease, he and his assistant talk to me while they perform the procedure.

The assistant is a young man going to the University of California, Irvine. He begins the conversation by asking me if I have any vacation plans and what I do for fun. He tells me he’s applying for medical school and has been writing a lot of essays. I tell him I do some writing myself.

This catches my doctor’s attention, who finally speaks up. “What do you write about?” he asks.

“I write about personal finance,” I say. There’s dead silence for about a minute. There are no follow-up questions. I get the feeling that my doctor and his assistant are disappointed. They were probably hoping I wrote about something more exciting. Then again, maybe they think that, at this moment, there are more important things to discuss than money.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.

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