OMG, I’m eligible for Medicare!

Hi FOFriends,

This is not a typical Geri blog, but since the subject matter is important to many of us, I strayed from my usual style. I encourage you to read it, even if you don’t have the dubious distinction of turning 65. And, please visit FabOverFifty, if you don’t know it already.  It’s about the greatest generation of women in history–and that means YOU!

I never thought it would be upon me, but the time has come to sign up for Medicare. (I turn 65 in March 2012). Saying the word is depressing, not to mention trying to figure out Part A from Part B, Part C from Part D, Medicare Supplement from Medigap and Medicare Advantage, and which of the zillion drug plans makes sense for my needs.

This much I’ve learned: There isn’t a single Medicare plan that reimburses me if I see doctors who do not opt into the Medicare network.  So I would have to stop using some of the doctors I now use.  I’ve been told that well over 90 percent of the country’s doctors accept Medicare, but it seems that those who don’t are all located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Oh well, I guess I’ll be able to find competent docs who aren’t greedy, unless I want to continue paying for a private plan through my company, which is around $1,000 a month.

When the PR people from health care organization, Kaiser Permanente, asked if I wanted to talk to someone about “Medicare Star Quality Ratings,” I said “Sure.” Why not learn anything I could about the subject!

I interviewed Agnes Strandberg, an intelligent, supremely patient woman, who is KP’s vice president of Medicare in California. I say patient because I ask an overwhelming number of questions when my thick skull can’t absorb a concept right away.

Agnes Strandberg from Kaiser Permanente

Me:  What are the fundamental points I need to understand about Medicare?

AS:   Part A covers hospitalization.  You automatically get it when you turn 65. It’s free.

Part B covers doctor visits, outpatient care and some preventative services. It’s optional and has a monthly premium (around $100).

Part C, also called Medicare Advantage, is a privately run alternative to Parts A and B,and often includes additional benefits, such as wellness programs and prescription drug coverage. Advantage plans are structured like HMO or PPO plans, and they either require that you choose a primary care physician or use the plan’s provider network. Monthly premiums could be higher than Part B but the deductibles and copayments are usually lower.

Part D is privately run, optional and covers prescription drugs. It has a monthly premium, which is based on deductibles and medications covered.

Medigap, also called Medicare Supplement, is available through private insurers and helps pay for many costs not covered by Parts A and B, such as deductibles and copayments. Supplement plans (there are 10 options, each with different deductibles and benefits) are regulated by the government and are precisely the same from state to state (Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Minnesota are exceptions.)

Me:  Is Medigap better than Medicare Advantage?

AS: Some people believe that the ability to choose their own doctors is superior to getting care in a controlled setting (through an HMO, for example). They want to go wherever they wish and they don’t care to have a primary doctor coordinating their health care. But KP believes that integrated care—one person monitoring all your medicines, for example—becomes more important as our functionality becomes more challenging with time.

KP is a health care organization that’s committed to a highly coordinated and integrated approach, so we have a clear picture about your multiple health conditions and can ensure that we’re delivering the right care at the right time. Supplements let you go anywhere to see a doctor, but you don’t capture a holistic picture of a person’s health. We own our hospitals and have exclusive contracts with the Permanente Medical Group.

Me: Now that I understand this much, tell me about the Medicare Star Quality Ratings.

AS: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans across the country, created the system to measure comparative quality of health care and service among providers. Five areas are covered:

  1. Performance in preventative care, including screenings and vaccinations. How does a plan ensure that its members stay healthy?
  2. The plan’s responsiveness to needed care and chronic conditions. For example, is it providing diabetic patients with eye exams on a regular basis?
  3. The number of complaints that CMS catalogs relative to other health plans
  4. Pharmacy benefits
  5. Customer service

After rating providers on 53 individual quality measures, CMS provides overall summary ratings of one to five stars. All of KP’s plans received at least 4.5 stars for 2012. There are 1 million people covered overall by five-star plans and we have over 900,000 of them.

Me: So Medicare Supplements aren’t rated?

AS: No

Me: OK, I’m sold.  I want to sign up for a KP Medicare Advantage Plan now.

AS: You can’t since we don’t offer Advantage Plans in New York. We don’t have a national footprint because we want to make sure we have great control over our integrated services. Being everywhere would make it challenging to maintain the level of service and consistency we want. KP is in California, Oregon, Washington State, Colorado, Georgia, Ohio, Washington DC, Maryland and Hawaii.

Me: What are some other five-star plans?

AS: Group Health Cooperative (GHC) in Washington State; Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin; Gundersen Lutheran Health System in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota; Martin’s Point Health Care in Maine and New Hampshire and Bay State Health in Massachusetts

Me:  I’m moving!

PS to my FOFriends approaching 65:  You can visit and to get more details on the five-star plans or call 1-800-MEDICARE









0 Responses to “OMG, I’m eligible for Medicare!”

  1. Gabrielle Miller says:

    We’re not just slumping into a downhill decline, we’re running hill repeats on steep inclines, getting fitter, firmer, faster, and more fabulous than we’ve ever been. 30 is flirty, 40 is sporty, 50 is fab, 60 is sexy, and on and on. Don’t just slay alive…strive, thrive! Awesome athletic accomplishments and achievements are always attainable at any age.

    Gabrielle Miller
    Ab Fab Fit – Absolutely Fabulous Fitness & Wellness
    I invite you to “Like” us on 🙂

  2. sharon Segal says:

    Dear geri, I am lucky the B of Ed made it easy for me. Medicare Part B. Unable to change. Most Dr’s 99 % take medicare. What is not covered is then paid by my GHI . Stay well and let’s not have to use it. The first time you use it after the deductible … no more DR bills. It is sent to medicare and it is up to your Dr if you are billed for the balance. Bottom line Do Not Go To Doctors. Love, Sharon

  3. Kate Line Snider says:

    It kind of freaked me out when I officially retired last spring and started drawing social security. Medicare is not that far off.Thanks for your informative blog.

    • Geri says:

      you’re welcome, Kate.


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