Friday, October 26, 2012

I Don't Get It

In this world of sound bites, instant messages and late breaking headlines, a most extraordinary development has occurred. There seems to be a wide-spread breakdown in information that we all need.

The public is told the minute that certain celebrities get plastic surgery, check into rehab or file for divorce. It doesn't escape our attention when a politician misrepresents a fact or ignites controversy. There is instant coverage for any number of media trollops who bask in the spotlight promising some juicy tidbit.

No, that "information" is immediately provided to the public.

What seems to be missing is good, old-fashioned details about matters which are confusing.

Recently I have been sifting through materials provided by insurance companies hoping to lure Medicare recipients during the so-called open enrollment period. Having turned 65 this year, I quietly entered the bracket and selected supplemental coverage. Open enrollment is my first indication of just how many friends I have in the insurance industry. It's rather nice to be wanted.

But gotta say that navigating the materials is daunting. In fact, I'm only reviewing materials following a rather disappointing performance by my original choice. On more than one occasion, I had contacted my original provider to ask coverage questions. In each instance, I was given the assurance that yes, the matter would be 100% covered. At no time was this information correct, resulting in additional expenses to me. One matter was "appealed" and I was assured in writing that a reimbursement payment would be forthcoming. When 60 days had passed without receiving a check, a follow-up inquiry uncovered that the letter was wrong and in fact there would be no payment. Why had I received a letter saying that a check would be issued? "Sorry, I don't know" is hardly reassuring.

It's thoughtful to offer an annual period when seniors can shop around to identify a different provider. From what I've gathered, it sounds like many people actually do change coverage to find better customer service or access to information.

But after looking at alternatives, I'm not so sure that such an option exists.

Recently I met with a local insurance consultant who helped explain coverage. His answer? "They're all pretty much the same. They will avoid paying you if at all possible." This statement is probably the most revealing information received to date on the subject.

Medicare supplemental insurance is not the only area to deal in smoke and mirrors. It only happens to be a current example which impacts a large audience. Someone remarked to me that I happen to be inquisitive enough to ask some pertinent questions. He added that most people don't even ask questions and merely accept what is offered.

While the Medicare coverage issue seems rather insignificant in the "big picture" of life, this example provides a chance to revisit some points we should all keep in mind.

  • Pay attention. If you are about to do something big (or even small, for that matter), pay attention. Whether that action involves buying a house/car, signing a contract/agreement, or getting married/divorced, slow down a bit and think the matter through. Putting your name on anything should not to be done carelessly. If the matter is particularly momentous or intimidating, get a second opinion.
  • Ask questions. It's surprising how many times I ask a question about some matter when the response is "You're the first person to ask that." People should ask questions about anything that is unclear. Expressions like "what if" or "why" should be part of your dialogue. Take these phrases out of storage, dust them off and use them.
  • Do your homework. Whether it's changing insurance providers or trying a new medication, gather some information. It's out there. Try searching the internet. Don't have internet access? Most local libraries are wired. If not, the library can help you find information one way or another. There is likely a senior center or agency which can provide guidance.
  • Get assistance. Being a pest is not necessarily a bad thing. Customer service is provided by most organizations. They may not welcome questions, but that's the reason they exist. Make sure you feel comfortable with your conclusion.

You owe it to yourself to take control of your decisions. You'll be glad that you did.

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