Why is Signing Up for Medicare So Complicated?

I turn 65 in August, which means I’m enrolling in Medicare for the first time.

OMG, I had no idea how confusing it would be.

Even with several AARP “how to sign up for Medicare” webinars…even with a knowledgeable broker I’ve worked with for years…even with a healthcare-savvy, detail-oriented sister whose husband has been on Medicare for nearly two decades…even with the fact that I’ve written brochures about health insurance, including Medicare.

Does it really need to be so complicated?

First, there’s the timing of my “initial enrollment period,” which I wouldn’t have even known about if my broker hadn’t reached out to me.

Then there’s Original Medicare, which I think is also called traditional Medicare. Offered through the federal government and accepted by most doctors, it’s made up of Part A to cover hospital costs, and Part B to cover doctor visits and outpatient services.

There’s also Medicare Advantage, sometimes called Part C, which is an “all in one” alternative to Original Medicare. If I understand correctly, it limits out-of-pocket expenses, while Original Medicare does not.

Which coverage is right for me depends on my health, my doctors, the insurance my doctors accept, where I live, where I travel and my financial situation. All things that are up in the air.

Oh, and don’t forget Part D for the drugs I’m likely to need in the years. And what about a Medigap policy which helps pay for out-of-pocket costs? Do I need one of them? If so, how much does it cost?

And of course there are enrollment deadlines. Miss them, and I’ll have to pay more.

I could go on and on. I imagine many of you reading this could as well. I also imagine some of you have good advice to offer. If so, please share.

Three Books at Once

As a readaholic, I love getting lost in a story, whether fiction or memoir. A recent Strib article discussed reading two novels at once as a hedge against running out of books. Being without a book to read is terrible, but that’s not why I’ve begun reading several at once.

For years, I read one book at a time, diligently plowing through like the good English major I was. Not only did I read one at a time, but I also doggedly finished what I started. 

Now those rules don’t hold me. If I don’t enjoy a book I ditch it. Life’s too short to read books I don’t like. Especially since there are so many books I can’t wait to read (The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang, The Pages by Hugo Hamilton, Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenridge).

Several things changed my habits.

Thanks to my two books groups, I’ve read and enjoyed many books I might not have picked up on my own (e.g., We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson, Grace by Paul Lynch). However, sometimes I’m lukewarm about the chosen book. I read it to be a good sport, but I start another book for fun. 

Occasionally, I choose difficult books because I want to be better informed about race, aging, Millennials, or whatever. I’m committed to reading them and I learn a lot, but they’re not plow-through-able. Weighty subjects need to be taken in smaller doses. In between, there’s the pleasure of fiction. 

I’ve also taken this approach with recent Nobel prize winners (The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah) and classic literature I read so long ago I’ve forgotten it (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte). I read a little and mull it over, read some more.

COVID and the heaviness of the world in the last six years have changed my habits. Being pinned in place away from my usual activities heightened my need for escape. The Pleasing Hour by Lily King and Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley took me away when I couldn’t travel.

Often my concentration has been undermined in COVID-times, so I alternated literary fiction with mysteries/thrillers (State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny) or lighter stories (This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith, The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood).

A more recent phenomenon also supports my changed reading habits. Some nights I’m inexplicably sleepless for an hour or more. Then having several books to choose from helps.

Now I’m unapologetic and unfussed about reading several books at once: (Hell of a Book by Jason Mott, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty, Emma by Jane Austen). 

How do you approach reading?

Sometimes

“She’s staring again,” Juan Jose’ remarked to Crystel on Tuesday. The three of us were dining at Pizza Luce. The 19-year-olds sat across from me. I was looking past them, merely looking, not staring at all, at the people coming in the door, the servers rushing into the kitchen, dodging for silverware, the water pitcher, the food that was ordered.

Crystel shook her head back and forth, “She always does that, you know that.”

It could be a girl Crystel’s age that will pull me back to the horror of being raped. A toddler sitting on my lap, dozing, her limbs a rag doll. Trusting. Safe. No worries. What would she have to worry about? She’s 2 years old. At 4, adorned in colorful scarves, beads, and unmatched socks. A Jasmine Princess at 5. Loving Johnny Depp at 8. Being the first to jump in the pool, the first to ride her bike, the first…

“I’m writing stories,” I say in my defense.

I’m studying people. Their familial relationships. Body language. Emotional state. Piercings. Tattoos. Eye contact.

That morning I studied a photo of a 10-year-old Wisconsin girl. She had long brown hair, parted in the middle, smiling eyes, smooth face. She looked happy.

I pictured the 14-year-old who raped and killed her. How much bigger he would have been than her. His height, weight, and strength. My stomach tightened.

I was her.

8 years old

8 years old.

The young girl with a smooth face. Smiling.

I was no match for a 14-year-old.

My four older siblings just kept getting older. And I would always be the younger.

The running track already set. An oval that I would run round and round.

Never getting away.

I asked for help when I was 9. I was afraid. They were bigger. I needed help.

None was forthcoming. I became that 10-year-old. Only I didn’t die.

It lives within me. The assaults. The rapes.

The watching of others.

Wishing and Hoping

We know better. Outdoor party plans don’t guarantee sunshine and soft breezes. We can hope for the best, but best be prepared for rain and thunder. We can wish that just this one time, the weather gods will spin the right number so our guests can enjoy walking and talking in the gardens.

Feels like wishing and hoping might be what’s left as what regular people can do about more and more truly large decisions or actions that impact their lives. With masks and vaccinations, many hope to escape sneaky Covid variations.  Powerful men chose to scrape other people from the face of the earth although everyone hoped the threat was just that. Partisan hatred locks decision making amidst the people we elected hoping they might work together. They tie up the executive branch where folks are wishing things would start improving. Then what was once the most solemn of our nation’s institutions spits out a hateful decision on all those who hoped the laws of the land would be upheld or wished for a miracle from the stacked bench.

Sure seems like miracles have followed the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to fantasy land. Appeals for contributions to protect the environment, protect freedom of speech, protect women’s health, or many other threatened values mostly keep people employed in the gigantic rat race called the great democratic experiment with no guarantee of positive results. 

So many groups stand outside, disenchanted and disenfranchised, hoping for a sunny day in Washington, D.C. when the politicians and policy makers might come out of their buildings, shake off whatever protects them from the stuff normal folks deal with and breathe in some real air. 

I’m wishing they would come live with regular people for a couple of months, sit in a public school classroom for a full day, plan two weeks of meals before grocery shopping on a budget, deal with the endless impersonal bureaucracy everywhere from making a doctor appointment to asking about a bill. That’s just a start. And hope they could walk city streets safely among those tired of disappointment in government and feel the strength and anger of their action. 

Not hoping for daily sunshine and soft breezes or wishing for more than our fair share. Just reminding those who govern that it is at the will of the people who expect some respect for what we hold as truth. 

When it Comes to Your Age, Do You Share?

I’m a few months shy of 65, and yes, I find that nearly impossible to believe—and sometimes difficult to share.

Divulging one’s age is definitely a personal decision. I respect that, and so do most women I know.

My friend Maery, who coincidentally turns 65 today, not only willingly shares her age, she dares people to make a joke or a derogatory comment. 

Others I know are more sensitive about sharing. One reason is because they fear age-related discrimination. That’s the situation of another friend who, unlike me, spent most of her 30s and 40s as a stay-at-home mom focused on her family.

Now, eager to complete her PhD and advance in her career, she recently declined being nominated for the Minnesota 50 Over 50, an AARP Minnesota awards program that honors Minnesotans over the age of 50 who are doing amazing things in one of five categories: arts, business, community, nonprofit and disruptor.

Two other women I know declined to be nominated as well because they, too, didn’t want to call attention their age. One felt doing so would diminish her accomplishments, another thought doing so might jeopardize her job hunt.

The male colleague who asked them if he could nominate them described the experience as awkward and uncomfortable. He went on to say that he would never feel uncomfortable asking a man about his age. And he doubts a man would ever decline being nominated because of his age.  

What do you think? Do you own your age or are you sensitive about revealing it? If so, why? Do you see a difference between how men and women view age and their willingness to talk about it? What can we, individually or as a society, do to help ourselves and others openly claim—and share—our age? 

Share your thoughts.