I, one of tens of millions of baby boomers, was always under the impression that, if I was lucky enough to reach the ripe old age of 65, all of my health care costs would be covered under Medicare. I thought that was one of my entitlements, my payoff for working… and paying into Medicare… and surviving… until retirement.
I was looking forward to the day when I could drop my outrageously expensive private PPO high-risk health care coverage (which costs more than my monthly rent) and get what I was entitled to, get what I paid into for an entire working lifetime… Medicare. Three months before I became eligible for Medicare I decided to do some advance research on signing up for Medicare and also to see what my benefits would be.
Here is what I discovered… painfully.
I went to the official U.S. government web site for Medicare, medicare.gov. The government web site, medicare.gov, did an excellent job in describing and explaining what Medicare is and how it works. And how to sign up for Medicare. The devil, however, is in the details and the details are glaringly absent or extremely difficult to find and/or understand. I defy any human being in America, who is not a Medicare insurance specialist, to discover and comprehend the advantages and disadvantages of the various must-choose options under Medicare. It is impossible!
In essence here is what I discovered…
Plan A – covers hospitalization. Cost: free
Plan B – covers doctors visits. Cost: $110 a month
However, Medicare does NOT cover ALL the hospital costs or all the doctor visit costs. You must buy a supplemental private insurance policy to cover those gaps. In my zip code (Los Angeles) the cost of a supplemental private insurance policy, to cover the 20% gap in hospital costs and your doctor co-pays not covered by Medicare, is over $200 a month. So now, my supposed “free” Medicare will cost me $110 plus $200, over $300 a month. Out of pocket. But wait, it gets worse. Medicare does not cover the cost of prescription drugs! Zero coverage. What? No drug coverage? What kind of a health insurance policy is that? No drug coverage? The average number of prescription drugs taken by people age 65 and older is 11. None of which are covered under Medicare. So, that means you have to buy yet another health insurance policy to cover the cost of your medications. In my case, there were some 30 different “supplemental” insurance policies available in my area for prescription drug coverage and it is up to the individual to compare all the plans. Did I get a headache? Yes. Was I able to figure out on my own which plan was the best plan for me? No. Though the monthly premiums on these plans were very reasonable ($35-$65 per month) NONE of the available plans covered all the costs of my medications. They all had co-pays. The co-pays for my 5 meds would total up to as much as $300… every month. The co-pays are a lot less if I substitute generic brands for my meds but I cannot, there appears to be no generics for my cardiovascular meds.
So now, my “free” Medicare will end up costing about $600 a month. About the same cost as any decent normal private health care policy that you had before you are eligible for Medicare. And, under Medicare, you could end up with 3 different policies for your coverage (or 2 policies if you want to combine supplemental coverage and drug coverage, which is called “Medicare Advantage”, except you can’t figure out which “Medicare Advantage” policy is any good or what advantages and disadvantages they each have).
So, after paying into Medicare and achieving the retirement milestone of 65 years of age, you will end up getting nothing you didn’t already have. Under Medicare you get no free health care coverage, and worse, you likely end up paying about the same as you were paying for your health care coverage before Medicare, unless you were getting free or subsidized lifetime health coverage from your employer. Or, if your free or subsidized health coverage from your employer stops when you stop working, then, under Medicare, you will be paying MORE. A lot more.
The government collected Medicare money from your paycheck (and from your employer) all through your working years. The government collected that money all through your working years to cover the cost of your Medicare. Only it doesn’t cover the cost of your health care at age 65. Far from it. Instead of getting free and full health care under Medicare, at age 65 you may have to pay $500 or more per month, out of your own pocket, to get proper and full medical and drug coverage. And, to add insult to injury, the government wants to cut Medicare benefits even further!
This is what baby boomers worked a lifetime for? This is what baby boomers get for paying into Medicare over an entire working lifetime? This is the payoff for baby boomers who survive to age 65?
This begs the question: is it Medicare or Medicrap? Is Medicare a giant government rip-off? Is Medicare a giant government rip-off of an entire generation of baby boomers? Is Medicare a giant government rip-off of baby boomers, aided and abetted by the private insurance industry? As millions and millions of us approach age 65, and Medicare, we baby boomers will have to decide… and deal with it. And we will. Starting right here. Starting right now. We baby boomers have power. Lots of power. We have education, we have money, we have loud voices, and we have tens of millions of votes. Baby boomers are activists. We marched, we protested, we changed the world. And now we are armed with email and cell phones. We baby boomers can bombard our senators and our members of the House of Representatives in Washington about issues that deeply concern us. Like Medicare. We baby boomers have power. Lots of power. Use it or lose it!