Written by: Patricia Barry, AARP
When the prospect of becoming a Medicare beneficiary looms on the horizon, you suddenly become aware — if you’re like most people — of how little you know about the program. And can you be sure what you think you know is accurate?
Based on the questions I receive as the Ask Ms. Medicare columnist for AARP, I can tell you that a lot of perceptions about the program are way off base. Often, they’re gleaned from the Internet or even mass emails that are deliberately misleading. And if you’ve had health insurance in the past, especially from an employer, you may naturally be nervous about how Medicare coverage compares with it.
Q: As a government-run system, will Medicare provide me with inferior care?
Q: Is Medicare free?
A: No, you pay monthly premiums unless you qualify for low-income assistance from your state. (If your income is over a certain level, you pay a surcharge on your premiums.) You also pay deductibles and copayments, which vary according to the type of coverage you choose.
Q: Will Medicare allow me fewer choices than I have now?
Q: Will my out-of-pocket expenses be capped in Medicare?
A: Not necessarily. Traditional Medicare sets no limit on out-of-pocket expenses during a year (although many people buy separate medigap supplemental insurance to cover them). However, all Medicare Advantage plans are required by law to set annual caps on these expenses (up to $6,700 in 2013). In Part D, after you’ve spent a certain amount out of pocket on prescription drugs in a year, you qualify for catastrophic coverage, which greatly lowers your costs for the rest of the year.