Alphabet Soup

Marjorie Kondrack

MOST PEOPLE ON Medicare report that they’re very satisfied with their health care coverage—but the program is undoubtedly complicated. There’s an alphabet soup of plans, coverage choices, premium levels and enrollment rules.

While it’s easy to be flummoxed by the ins and outs of Medicare, think of it as “eating an elephant.” The only way to start is one bite at a time. Learn the basics first—by deciding whether you want original Medicare or Medicare Advantage.

Original Medicare has these parts: Part A is for aggravation and Part B is for bureaucracy. Meanwhile, C is for confusion, better known as Medicare Advantage—which seems to have lots of disadvantages. And then we come to D, for the donut hole.

What happens when you come to the donut hole? Are the donuts glazed? Or do they have sprinkles? Just who is responsible for this incomprehensible concept? It had me crying in my alphabet soup.

Got the basics down? If you decide on original Medicare, you may wish to add a Medigap supplemental insurance plan, which involves a dizzying array of standardized plan options with more alphabet designations and varying degrees of coverage.

I’ll make it easy for you, and save you the hassle of figuring out the whole Medigap alphabet. You won’t even have to read the Medicare for Dummies book. Plan F exists, but it’s not open to new enrollees. Plans G and N are the most popular, with plan G being the most comprehensive. Plan N has co-pays which can easily add up and surpass what you think you might be saving in premiums. Pick your poison and try not to pull out too much hair.

It’s also easy to confuse the Medicare parts with the Medigap plans, as well as the premiums with the deductibles and co-pays. Just when you think you have a reasonable grasp of the whole shebang, you have to deal with all the companies that are providers of the various plans, each one saying they’re better than the others.

If you’re new to Medicare, your mailbox will be flooded with offers. This will happen automatically once you near the magical Medicare age of 65. If you have decided on original Medicare, just pitch all the Medicare Advantage offers. If you decide on Medicare Advantage, you’ll need to navigate all the competing possibilities—in my area, there are 35 major carriers offering Medicare Advantage plans—but at least you can toss all the Medigap plan offers.

Apologies to those who thought this article was a comprehensive guide through the Medicare maze, especially to our editor who prefers articles giving more detailed information. But I leave that to other HumbleDollar contributors, who have handled that task more admirably than I could.

Start slowly. Gather information. It’ll all fall into place eventually, preferably before Medicare madness sets in. As for me, I’m an information junkie, but writing about Medicare is giving me a headache. I think I need a donut.

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