As individuals retire or age into Medicare, their insurance situation can change dramatically. There are a multitude of options open to those with Medicare. The terms are different, the prices are different, the products offered are dramatically different each year.
The purpose of this column is to give those who are eligible for Medicare, or soon to be eligible for Medicare, some understanding of their insurance options and how it could impact their health and finances.
These questions and answers are meant as a guide to help you understand the complex questions you are now thinking about.
Each individual's specific situation may create a different solution. You shouldn't necessarily do what your friends, family and neighbors do.
Q: I am turning 65 in the coming months and am wondering about getting my Medicare card. How do I get my card?
A: As you approach your 65th birthday month, you may notice a definite increase in the mail that you receive. It seems as though every insurance company in the world knows your age and sends you information about their Medicare products.
In all that increased mail that you are receiving, there may be some very important documents. Definitely don't throw it all away. One of those documents may be your Medicare card.
If you are collecting Social Security retirement benefits, your Medicare coverage will begin automatically, and you will be hearing from Medicare about three months prior to your 65th birthday month. So if you are born in November, you should expect to receive your Medicare card in August.
If you are not collecting Social Security, you need to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to request to have your Medicare coverage begin. To contact SSA, you can either call 1-800-772-1213; go to their website, www.ssa.gov; call the local office at 1-877-319-9182; or visit the local office at 321 Hazeltine Ave., Jamestown. The local office is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
When you turn 65, you will be eligible for Medicare. Medicare coverage will begin the first of your birthday month. If you turn 65 on the 17th, 8th or 31st your coverage begins on the 1st of your birthday month. The only exception to this rule is if you are born on the 1st, then your coverage begins the month before your birthday month, but still on the 1st of that month.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be sending your enrollment information packet with a brochure about Medicare and the coverage for which you are now eligible. Your Medicare ID card is also in this packet. This is a paper card which you can take off the page and put in your wallet.
One of the most common questions I am asked is, "Why is this card still paper?" My answer is "I don't know." I do know this: Don't worry about that paper card and keeping it perfect. If you ever lose it or it gets torn or mutilated, you can simply order a new one.
To order a new Medicare Card you simply use the same contact information I listed above and request a new card. They will ask, "Why do you need a new one?" Just answer the question, and in about 30-days you will have a new card mailed to you.
I am also often asked, "Can I laminate the Medicare card?" Sure you can laminate it, after you sign it. A frustration I will admit to is that the Medicare card, with or without lamination, is just slightly bigger than most spots in your wallet will hold. It is larger than the standard issue plastic ID cards/credit cards we all have in our wallet.
So once the card is laminated you may have to store it in a different place in your wallet. Many people tell you not to carry your Medicare card regularly. Your Medicare card has some pretty significant and important information on it. So carry your Medicare card when you go to doctor appointments, and planned hospital stays. The rest of the time leave your Medicare card at home in a safe place. That may help to reduce Medicare Fraud and identity theft.
So, review that pile of mail you have been putting off looking at, and you may find your Medicare card in there. If you don't find the card, or think you already threw it away or don't collect Social Security retirement benefits, call Social Security Administration and get the Medicare ball rolling.
Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging.
She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.