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by Martha M. Hamilton, AARP Bulletin, July 9, 2010
Aaaargh! I’ve spent the last several days trying to find what I consider basic information for someone making choices about Medicare. I wanted to know whether and how to sign up for medigap insurance, which pays for many of the costs that Medicare doesn’t cover, such as your portion of the cost of a visit to the doctor.
I started out like any civilian—looking online. I’m very good at navigating the Web, but at Medicare.gov, I found myself running into dead ends.
When I looked at a chart on available medigap policies in my ZIP code, under the key category I would use for comparing plans—“Estimated Annual Cost for People Like You”—I found “information not available.”
Because I knew that each state and D.C. (where I live) has a state health insurance assistance program to help consumers, my next tactic was to look on the Medicare.gov website for the District’s SHIP. I went straight to the online version of “Medicare and You.” But the pages where the phone numbers were supposed to be had none, noting that “the printed version contains phone number information.”
Of course I didn’t have the printed version.
Thus it went for many more hours of frustrated searching.
I found out later that Medicare has received reports from many regular users about problems finding things at the website, which is newly redesigned. The site was intentionally updated over the summer so as to allow time to work out the bugs before the period of heaviest usage, the fall open-enrollment season. No wonder I was having problems.
Finally I called Medicare’s acting director of media relations Peter Ashkenaz, who gave me some good advice: “On some things, I would go to the website. On other things, I would call 1-800-Medicare.”
I picked up the phone. It took 16 minutes while the exceptionally polite and helpful phone agent figured out for herself how to find the information I wanted. But find it she did, after long pauses punctuated by “One moment. Sorry.” Then she walked me through it.
And I’ll do that for you.
• Go to the home page for Medicare.gov.
•At the top, on the left-hand side, click on “Health & Drug Plans,” then on “Compare Drug and Health Plans & Medigap Policies.”
• Ignore requests for ZIP code and other information.
• From the right-hand column labeled “Additional Tools” click on “Find and Compare Medigap Policies.”
• You are now at “Step 1.” Enter your ZIP code, age range, health status and whether you already have a medigap policy. Click continue.
• You get a listing of medigap policies A through L. The chart has limited information but if you click “view details” under a particular type of policy—for instance, F—you get more information.
• When you view details, you’ll also see a box on the right that allows you to “view all companies” that sell that particular policy in your area.
With this information, you can begin shopping around.
Martha M. Hamilton writes a regular column for the AARP Bulletin on retirement and financial issues.
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