Saturday, October 23, 2010

Retirement Transitions—Donut Holes and Paper Trails

Yesterday I had my semi-annual checkup. It was the first time I used my new insurance (other than for prescriptions.) I presented my Medicare card, but could not find the one for my supplemental coverage. I rooted through a rubber-banded stack of cards an inch thick. Bank card, AAA, two AARP, countless membership and contact cards, a variety of appointment paperwork as far ahead as next summer. But no United Health card.

I stood there feeling half-naked, as though I had been caught without my “Friday” panties. (See posting from September 7 for explanation on that.) By dumb luck, I had next month’s bill in my purse, so they took my information from that.

Last night I scoured my purse for the missing card. It was there all along. That second AARP card I mentioned? A supplemental coverage card branded with their logo. The provider’s name, United Health, was buried in the mice type.

This experience added fuel to a fire that was sparked by some insurance paperwork that came last week. Since I have now completed my first month on Medicare, I received a report of my prescription drug claims for September. As I read closely, I realized I was holding the first accounting of my march toward the infamous donut hole.

You’ve probably heard of the donut hole. It’s that gap in coverage in a range of prescription drug payments. Coverage stops from $2,830 to $4,550 and then picks up again. I’m on several prescription medications, but if I’m ever taking so many drugs that I pass $2,800 a year in claims, I’ve been scarfing far too many donuts. Still, attention must be paid.

The report I received caused a bulb to light up. Not only do I now have multiple health insurance cards, I’ll have to set up a complicated system to track my medical expenses. I’ll need to record date of service, doctor’s name, amount billed, date and amount paid by Medicare, ditto for supplemental coverage and for payments I make. I haven’t met my deductible, so I’ll need to track that, too.

I am suddenly reminded of the later years of my mother’s life. My sister would come from Vermont and spend a week with our mother in New Jersey every summer. One of Barb’s tasks was to sort through all of Mom’s medical expenses and payments so she could file any errant claims. There were few personal computers back then, so everything was posted to green ledger paper using a system our father had set up years earlier.

Since I lived closer, I took our mother to doctors’ appointments, on special shopping trips and out to dinner occasionally. The medical paperwork was Barb’s contribution to Mom’s care. I remember thinking even back then that I had the better end of the deal. Now I feel that I owe my sister big time.

Back to my present day paperwork. I was finally feeling somewhat in control again when a hefty packet arrived in the mail. Turns out we’re about to enter the much-hyped “open enrollment period,” that once-a-year window when we can change our health care coverage without penalty.

Be still my heart. I spent much of August figuring out what coverage I wanted. Do you really think that just two months later I’m going to change my mind? (No comments, please.) I suppose I should at least open the envelope and skim the contents. What if there’s something I need to do even if I don’t want to change plans?

My lack of knowledge embarrasses me. With my self-confidence waning, I’m compelled to check my panties to make sure I’m wearing the right day. I discover they’re inside out, so I can’t tell. At least they’re clean and free of holes. My mother would be proud.

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