A new book about Medicare

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Deena Flinchum

Philip Moeller, coauthor of “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” has just released a new book about Medicare titled “Get What’s Yours for Medicare.”

The subject, I’ll admit, is dry; but this book was a pleasure to read. Moeller speaks in plain language about a complex subject. I highly recommend it to current Medicare beneficiaries, their families and those who will soon be dealing with Medicare.

He states that the “three big deals” to Medicare are (1) to sign up correctly in the first place, (2) to select whether you want original Medicare with a supplement and drug plan or Medicare Advantage, and finally, (3) to understand and maximize your benefits from whichever path you choose. Granted, these three steps are easier said than done, but his book helps you understand how to proceed.

As someone who has worked with Medicare beneficiaries for ten years now, I especially appreciate the detail that he goes into about making the initial entry into the Medicare system. Failure to sign up correctly in the first place can bring on lifelong penalties and can prevent beneficiaries from buying Medicare supplements when they want them.

There is no organization or governmental department whose task it has been to see that new Medicare beneficiaries get off on the right foot. All New-to-Medicare beneficiaries get so much mail from so many companies wanting to sell them everything from insurance to blood sugar monitors that it would be difficult to sort through the hype to get to the valuable information anyway.

I did find one small error in the book. He seems to suggest that signing up for both Medicare Part A and Part B is necessary to be allowed to purchase a Part D drug plan when either Part A or Part B will suffice.

This is hardly a major problem as few people would be seeking a drug plan without having both Parts A and B.

Another area where he and I agree is his assessment of state SHIP programs. SHIP is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program – the same program that I am a counselor with.

Here in Virginia the program is called VICAP (Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program). In a number of instances, Moeller advises readers to call their SHIP office to get a really complete and understandable answer to their Medicare questions.

The unfortunate truth is that yet again, Congress is contemplating defunding the SHIP program in this year’s budget. I think that the biggest issue is not that Congress is actually against the program, but it doesn’t know exactly what the program does and thinks a quick call to 1-800-MEDICARE will get you to a person who will solve your Medicare problems or answer your questions.

What such a call will often get you is the phone number of SHIP in the state where you live, and it in turn will refer you to your local SHIP program, which is to say, us in VICAP.

Additionally, Moeller suggests that persons aging into Medicare who have not yet begun to receive Social Security benefits contact their local Social Security office to set up an appointment to sign up for Medicare.

This is sound advice; however, the Roanoke office seems to be setting appointments rather far into the future so that you may be safer signing up on-line at either Medicare.gov or ssa.gov.

If you do not feel comfortable using a computer or just need to know how to proceed, take advice from Moeller’s book and call your local SHIP/VICAP at 980-7720.

Deena Flinchum is a retired IT professional who has lived in the New River Valley since 2002. She serves on the board of the NRV Agency on Aging and as an RSVP volunteer. She also serves the Agency on Aging as an insurance counselor.