What Does Medicare Pay For?: The Difficulties We Faced

Like many kids, I grew up thinking my parents were the smartest people on the planet.  They seemed to know everything.  In a world often confusing to a child, they had all the answers and could calm my worries with measured assurance.  Now that I am an adult, there have been few problems in my life that I haven’t shared with my mother and father  My entire life I have watched as one elderly family member after another relied on my parents for their caregiving support line. And they maintained remarkably good health, even after both became octogenarians in recent years. But with age comes a very valid question with regard to health: what does Medicare pay for?

Caring for My Mom and Dad

About a year ago, I received a phone call from my mother asking for help.  She was apologetic, and I could easily detect multiple emotions in her voice – frustration, exasperation, anger, perhaps even a bit of shame. Not from having to ask for help, but rather, for needing help on this particular topic.  And what was causing her so much grief?  The maze of information we now call ‘Medicare Part D’.

Don’t get me wrong:  I am thrilled that almost fifty years ago, well before the polarizing debates surrounding universal healthcare, our nation realized the importance of providing for our aging citizens – those who had educated our children, fought our wars, helped build our industries – and in retirement needed assistance for the costs of many medical services (Medicare Parts A and B). Over the decades, Medicare has expanded to allow payment of Medicare benefits through private plan providers (Part C), and most recently, in 2006, to include prescription drug benefits, known as ‘Part D’.

Five years before my mother’s phone call, my parents had muddled through the miasma of literature to choose a prescription drug plan, unconcerned with their choice, though admittedly confused.  Recently, my father experienced a serious medical event, and suddenly their monthly prescription drug costs had grown enormously, no longer functioning with their fixed income.  My mother was desperate to find a cheaper plan, and sounded even more desperate in expressing her frustration at the fog surrounding the available information. She sought a simple answer to a simple question: what does Medicare pay for?

Finding the Best Resources for Understanding Medicare

As I threw myself into the details of this universe, promising my mother that we would find the right solution, I soon discovered that my assurance was not well founded.  To be sure there are plenty of resources available to help.  But depending on one’s level of experience, knowledge of the healthcare system, and understanding of prescription medicines, finding the best resources for help in making a decision is a significant challenge!  I spent many hours for several days trying to match my parents’ priorities with the claimed benefits/distinctions among the scores of available Part D plans.  In the end, I came back to my mother with what I hoped was the best choice for them. I attempted to explain or justify my decision, wanting to portray a sense of confidence with my decision.  I knew that what she needed almost as much as the best choice was a sense of reassurance.  I was keeping my fingers crossed that the new enrollment would bring my parents financial relief, simplicity, and confidence; and that I had not missed some small print somewhere negating a prescription benefit I had thought would be covered for them. I was relieved several weeks later when their new cards arrived by mail, and my mother reported how much money they were now saving. They had successfully refilled all their prescriptions, and she was disappointed that they hadn’t received better help until now!

Medicare Resources: What You Need to Know

Medicare is the nation’s largest health insurance program, with 49 million Americans enrolled, yet according to a survey conducted last year by the National Council on Aging and United Healthcare, most Americans over 60 years old say they find Medicare confusing or do not understand it all.  This week, in advance of the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, United Healthcare, with the support of such organizations as AARP and National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), launched National Medicare Education Week “to inspire and encourage baby boomers, Medicare beneficiaries, their families and caregivers to become educated about their Medicare health care options.”  I say, “Yay!” As the single biggest provider of Medicare benefits, United Healthcare is uniquely positioned to rally millions of Americans to spend time learning about the benefits, choices, and complexities of this hugely successful program.

According to United Healthcare, National Medicare Education Week activities include educational events in more than 50 cities across the country where representatives will present the basics of Medicare and what critical information is needed to help find the best coverage to answer the question, “what does Medicare pay for.”  Question and answer sessions will follow. The events will include educational workshops about online resources and how to take advantage of social media tools.  For more information, as well as additional online resources  check out the National Medicare Education Week’s web site.

National Medicare Education Week is a remarkable opportunity for beneficiaries and their caregivers to master the basics, learn how to ask the right questions, review their health and budget needs, and get questions answered.  Whether you are considering enrolling in a Medicare plan for the first time, or wondering whether to change your current plan, National Medicare Education Week events and resources will help you.

We all play many roles in our lives.  In the theater of caregiving, I am myself a caregiver, a social entrepreneur in the caregiving world, as well as a son to healthy but aging parents.  I have also experienced some of the frustrations (and ultimate success!) associated with obtaining the wonderful benefits provided by Medicare. Do you have a story you’d like to share about Medicare? Post it here, or share a useful tip about navigating its complexities.

Hal Chapel is CEO and Co-Founder of Lotsa Helping Hands.