Navigating the Medicare Maze

Those of you who live in a country that believes ensuring adequate healthcare for all of its citizens is the right thing to do, may find this post puzzling. Feel free to gloat.

Recently, my husband became eligible for Medicare. After 64 years of being either covered by his parents’ healthcare plan or the one provided by his employer, his upcoming 65th birthday presented him with a dizzying array of healthcare plans and options – often with similar descriptions and letter designations – that he needed to choose from. Adding to his stress was the knowledge that he had a limited time window, a wrong decision now could be costly in the future, and, since my healthcare coverage is tied to his through his work until I turn 65, his choice directly affected me.

Even though my husband had officially retired from his company over six years ago, he continued to receive our healthcare coverage through them. With his impending birthday, he had to decide whether to switch to the company’s over 65 retiree medical plan or opt-out and dive into the Medicare pool on his own. There were pluses and minuses with both options, but, once we realized that leaving his company’s plan would force me to find coverage on the costly open market, we decided to stay.

Despite remaining under his company’s program, he still had to decide which plan they offered was best for us. I won’t go into all the details but, again, each option carried with it a set of consequences, and it wasn’t always apparent what those might be. We found ourselves trying to predict the future, including aliments, health challenges, and even if and where we might move at some point. This is one of many instances when navigating the Medicare maze, a crystal ball would have come in handy.

And, we are among the lucky ones.

We have healthcare coverage that we can afford and that is fairly robust. We are currently in good health, and we have the mental acuity – with a lot of research and careful reading – to understand the options offered and the possible ramifications of each choice.

We also know that can change.

The company or the government can – and most likely will over time – tweak the plans, and probably not to our benefit. We will most likely face health challenges as we age and our capacity to read and understand complex subjects and make sound decisions will probably fade over time. All of these likely progressions will impact our experience accessing Medicare.

It has been a month since he officially became a card-carrying member of Medicare. We are confident hopeful that we have made the right decisions for our situation. The financial penalties for non- or delayed-decisions (and there are a few so be careful) have been avoided. And, we have set things up so that we can make desired adjustments once I reach 65.

If you, or a loved one, turns 65 soon, I encourage you to start doing your homework now. There are many decisions to make and missing certain deadlines can be costly. If you haven’t already, soon you will find yourself flooded with mailings from various insurance companies and organizations that offer guidance (some better than others). You might feel overwhelmed and/or confused enough to want to just ignore it all together. Don’t.

Attend a few seminars if you can. Talk to your friends, family members, and colleagues. Ask how they made their decision and if they’ve found any helpful resources. One company you might want to check out is Boomer Benefits. They have a great website that contains a lot of information, answers to common questions, videos, and webinars. Most areas also have local Medicare insurance advisers who might be able to help you sort through the various options (at no cost to you).

Good luck and stay as healthy as you can. The best healthcare plan is the one you don’t have to use.

A Moving Question

We have had a decent amount of rain in our corner of Southern California over the last several weeks. Our succulents are happy, and the weeds are ecstatic.

The other day, as my husband and I were enjoying spending the afternoon in guilt-free, rainy-day lazing about, we became aware of a drip, drip, drip sound coming from the downstairs guest bathroom. That couldn’t be good… and it wasn’t. Upon inspection, we discovered water dripping through the ceiling vent onto the bathroom floor. Not a lot of water but no amount of precipitation traveling from the outside to the inside can be considered acceptable. So, when we had a short break in the rain, we climbed on our roof and laid out a tarp, then we called a roofing company to schedule an inspection.

Of all the things that can go wrong with a house (structural, plumbing, electrical, etc.) this certainly wasn’t the worse, but it restarted the conversation we have now and then about where and how we want to live at this time of our lives. Has our house become too much of a burden when what we really want to do is spend our time enjoying our retirement while we are healthy and able?

We love our house and our neighborhood so if we made the choice to relocate, it would be a very difficult decision. We’d give up a lot but living in a home that is virtually maintenance-free (for us, anyway) is tempting. A condo or a townhome, for instance, could mean that our repair responsibilities would end at the interior walls. When we left for a trip, all we’d have to do is lock the door and go. Yes, we’d have to off-load a lot of our stuff, but we’ve been doing that over the last few years anyway. Yes, we’d probably have to give up some luxuries (like having two separate offices), but I’m sure we could work things out.

As with most major decisions there is give and take, and both positive and negative outcomes. When we’ve discussed this in the past, we decided that what we’d lose outweighed what we’d gain. Lately, though, we’ve begun to realize that our priorities are changing. Do we want to spend a large amount of time doing yardwork and house projects, or would we rather let go of house-related stress, have more time to explore our interests, and travel without concerns?

Obviously, there are financial impacts that weigh in a decision like this but, right now, we are thinking about emotional and lifestyle considerations – both short- and long-term. If we move, would we soon regret what we gave up? Or, if we stay, would we look back and realize that we spent too much time caring for our house and not enough time enjoying our retirement?

So, I’m curious. Have any of you thought about moving – or, maybe you have moved – for similar reasons? What were some of your considerations in making your decision? What did you decide? Are you happy with the decision you made? Do you have any regrets? And, those of you who decided to sell your house and buy a low-maintenance alternative, are you now spending your free time in ways that you thought you would?

I know we aren’t the first – and won’t be the last – to think about this. Maybe we can learn from each other.

Renewed, Refreshed, and Realigned

Wow, has it been two months already?

Last October, I decided to give myself a blogging vacation over November and December. During those months, I wouldn’t write any posts (mission accomplished) and I wouldn’t read any of the many blogs I follow (mostly accomplished… although I cheated now-and-then).

I had great plans for all the free time my blogging break would give me. In addition to going on a two-week road trip up to northern California around the holidays, I looked forward to having more time to get organized, reduce clutter (mostly on my computer), enjoy neglected hobbies, work on house projects, and think about things other than my next blog topic.

Wine tasting in Napa Valley

Isn’t it amazing how quickly freed up time can get filled? Any of you who are retired have probably wondered how you were able to get anything done while you were working. The vast amounts of free time we envisioned having are nowhere to be found. Instead, we find ourselves just as busy – if not more – than we ever were.

At least that’s my excuse.

I did manage to accomplish many of the items on my to-do list, but I fell short in a few areas… and, you know what? That’s OK.

As much as I missed my friends in the blogosphere, I also enjoyed a feeling of freedom. Yes, I felt guilty about deleting unread posts; yes, I missed the connections made commenting and replying; and, yes, I still jotted down some ideas and took a few pictures that I thought would work for my blog. But I reminded myself that blogging was completely voluntary, and, at that moment, I chose to focus on other pursuits.

Several bloggers I follow also took time off over the holidays and are returning in the new year. Interestingly, a few have written about changes they will be making to their blogs going forward. Whether it’s because of an illness, the desire to pursue other interests, or the realization that blogging – as much as we may love it – takes an amazing amount of time, they are pulling back. Some a little, some a lot.

Although I don’t have any formal plans, I will be less active in the blogosphere too… at least for a while. I never had an actual blogging schedule, but the timing of my posts will probably become even more haphazard. Topics too. I will, of course, share my thoughts and write about my retirement journey, but only when I really have something to say. I enjoy my GratiTuesday theme… but I won’t be posting one every Tuesday. As I explore my interest in photography, I imagine there will be more, simple, image-centric posts.

However my blog may change over time, what will remain constant is the enjoyment I get from interacting with the people who read, like, and comment on my posts. But, in retirement – and life in general – realigning ourselves now-and-then keeps things interesting and allows us to discover new paths to happiness and fulfillment.

GratiTuesday: Showing Up

As most of you know, the U.S. midterm elections take place next Tuesday, November 6. I have voted in every election since I first became eligible in 1974, and I’m shocked at the number of people who don’t even bother. Of all the excuses given for sitting out an election, only one is valid: … oh, wait, none of them are valid.

Marty, who writes the terrific blog, Snakes in the Grass, recently related his experience taking part in a get-out-the-vote phone bank. Although his post mostly dealt with the humorous side of making calls in an often phone-adverse world, it reminded me that, as important as our vote is, we can all do more to encourage others to vote as well.

In addition to being grateful for all those who make the effort to understand the issues and cast their vote, volunteers who walk precincts, make phone calls, and send text messages to boost voter participation get a special dose of my gratitude.

And, if you can, please encourage a young person to vote. If they don’t think their vote matters, remind them their non-vote hands their power to someone else… and that person may not have their best interests at heart.

We all need to show up and be counted.

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As I wrote in my last post, Realigning My Retirement, my blog will be going into hibernation during the months of November and December. While on my blogging break, I won’t be visiting or commenting on the blogs that I follow and, beginning with this post, comments will be closed on my blog. It will be a challenge to stay away but I look forward to spending time on other areas of my life.

I’m truly grateful for all the kind words my post generated. I’m not surprised that many others said they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and are considering taking a break too. Blogging is a passion, but it is also time-consuming.

Enjoy the holiday season with your friends and families. I look forward to connecting back again in the new year.

Realigning My Retirement

When Donna (Retirement Reflections), Kathy (Smart Living 365), and I started to plan last weekend’s blogger meet-up in Palm Desert, we asked each other to think of topics we wanted to discuss as a group. It didn’t take me long to pinpoint my #1 concern: “How can I better manage my time as a blogger?”

I know that I’m not alone in this struggle; I read posts regularly with the same basic topic: “I love to blog but it’s taking so much time out of my life.” Expanding the number of hours in a day doesn’t appear to be a viable option, so how do we find a better balance?

Before I retired, I thought about all the things I would do with my new freedom. Besides traveling and generally enjoying time with my husband and friends, I looked forward to activities like exploring my artistic side, focusing on healthy living, getting organized, cutting clutter, and joining a book club (or two). In addition to these plans and to give me an avenue to continue writing once I retired, I started this blog… just for fun.

During my four years in retirement, I’ve managed to keep very busy, but I realize that I’m currently devoting an inordinate amount of time to my “just for fun” blog to the detriment of my other desired pursuits.
When I started blogging, I searched for and eagerly followed other (mostly) retirement bloggers that I found compelling. As time went on, I expanded my follow list as I discovered even more interesting blogs. I loved the connections I was making and enjoyed the engagement and the interaction that comes with commenting and replying.

At our meet-up, I started to list the blogs I currently follow. When I got to 80 (and was still writing), I knew I was in trouble. Granted, I don’t write comments on all 80+ blogs, but I do on most of them. It was easy for me to see why I was feeling overwhelmed and overextended, and that something had to change.

Hibernating My Blog

Several bloggers I follow have taken a blogging break at different times for various reasons: some to travel, some to take care of loved ones, and some to allow time to pursue other interests. Donna took a complete break from all her electronic devices for seven weeks this past summer to better enjoy time with her family.

I have now decided to take a break too. My blog will go into hibernation during the months of November and December and, hopefully, wake up in the new year refreshed and renewed. During my time off, I won’t be posting or commenting on my blog nor will I read or comment on other blogs.

More of this, this, and this:

Less of this:


While realigning my retirement to focus on other pursuits, I will also be:

Corralling My Email Inbox

My inbox would make a sane person cry. I don’t know exactly how many emails are in there, but with all the blog post notices and other emails I get it must be approaching 1,000. I just about fell off my chair when Donna told me that she maintains a zero inbox (“Read, Act, Delete, or File”) I don’t know how she does it, but she is my hero. I want to get there.

Culling My Blog List

80+ blogs are just too many to read and comment on. To help me maintain a better life-balance, I need to determine which ones I especially love to read and best align with my interests. This will be a big challenge with so many great blogs out there but isn’t that a great problem to have?

Rethinking My Blog

Who knows what changes I will make to my blog, but I expect there will be some. After two months of hibernation it’s bound to awake a little leaner but also hungry to rejoin the blogging world.

November 1st is several days away (and I have one more post before then), but I am missing the blogging world already. The good news is that it’s in great hands and I’m comfortable that it will be here when I get back.

GratiTuesday: Couple Friends

Enjoying the friendship of other couples is a delightful part of our marriage. I have female friends that I do gal things with and my husband has male friends he does guy things with. Although we like each other’s friends, sometimes when we’ve introduced a friend’s spouse to the mix, things haven’t clicked as well as we’d like. The spouse may be a delightful person on his or her own, but, for whatever reason, the group dynamic just doesn’t work.

When my husband and I discover a couple whose company we enjoy equally, we feel as if we’ve won the lottery. We know that when we get together as a foursome, the conversation will flow, and the time we spend together will be fun and engaging.

This past weekend, two blogging friends and I met up to discuss – what else? – blogging. This was not the first time I have gotten together with Donna from Retirement Reflections and Kathy from Smart Living 365, and I consider them good friends as well as fellow bloggers. I knew that the three of us would have plenty to talk about and I had been looking forward to our gathering for quite a while.

Kathy and her husband live in the community where we met, and Donna and her husband were staying close by in a home exchange. My husband and I drove a few hours from our home to join them for the weekend.

Knowing what wonderful husbands my friends have and knowing that my husband is pretty terrific too, I had no doubt that we’d enjoy each other’s company. What I didn’t anticipate – and was thrilled to discover – is how well all six of us meshed together. Even though blogging brought the three of us women together, I was delighted that our husbands enjoyed commonalities and mutual interests too.

Kathy and Thom, Donna and Richard, me and Paul enjoying a warm desert evening… oh, and wine.

I came away from our weekend together with much to be grateful for. I am grateful that Donna, Kathy and I were able to meet and talk about a subject that means a lot to us (more about that later). I am grateful for the generous hospitality that my husband and I were shown. Most of all, I am grateful that the six of us – husbands and wives – were able to break bread together, share our stories, and enjoy the bond of friendship.

Sunday Stills: Texture

When I saw this week’s Sunday Stills photo prompt topic, I knew that I wanted to participate. My first thought was to share a photo – or two, or three – of the wonderful texture found on the buildings, doors, and objects that we’ve encountered on our travels. I find old much more interesting than new, textured more intriguing than smooth. I love the peeling paint, the patina of age and weather, and the character that is created – layer upon layer – with the march of time.

Then, I remembered a woman I photographed last year in the central square in Oaxaca, Mexico and knew that would be my picture. Her clothes were typical of the older indigenous women we saw in Oaxaca: flat black shoes, a simple, long-skirted dress, and an apron… always an apron. She was quite small and stooped, and her hair – thick and wiry, mostly free of gray despite her obvious age – was worn long and braided. It was her face that intrigued me the most. Her strong features told of her Zapotec ancestry and the lines on her weathered skin was a roadmap of her life.

 

Sunday Stills is a weekly photography link-up co-hosted by my blogging friend Terri Webster Schrandt. Each week there is a new word prompt to inspire a shared photo (or photos). Follow this link to learn more about it, see other submissions, and to share your own.