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Main | The ups and downs of hiking in Montenegro »

How retirees stay busy

Ever heard someone who is retired remark, "I'm busier now than when I was working!"

What they don't tell you is that they are just busy trying to figure out Medicare.

I'll say right up front that health insurance has never been a time suck for me. I simply took the plans the schools I worked for offered. I have had no major health issues. (Knock wood.) I take no medications except Rolaids. No one has yet committed me to psychiatric treatment.

Until now.

Two things have happened that have caused insurance to eat up large chunks of my time.

The first was moving to Medicare now that I am retired and no longer covered by an employer. Here is what I've learned about this federal program: 

  1. It is not free. I get about $200 deducted from my social security check each month. I pay for a "supplemental" plan that supposedly fills in some of the holes in Medicare. I have high deductibles and co-pays.
  2. It is complicated. There is Medicare Part A, Part B, and Part D (and probably others as well). I honestly have not studied this enough to determine what part does what, what is optional and what is not, etc. I get to learn about things like determining if a provider is "in-network" or even accepts Medicare patients. Some stuff requires preapproval and some stuff does not.
  3. It is not user friendly. When I actually went to a Social Security office to get a statement of what I paid for my Medicare on a monthly basis so I could apply for reimbursement from my health savings account, I was simply told it was not possible. Get lost. The complexity mentioned above could be reduced. A lot.

Yes, this sounds like the grumbling of a cranky old man who wants to diss "socialized medicine." I will admit that I have little stomach for studying this sort of thing and I have had little reason to worry about how insurance in general works since I've not needed to use it much.

The second thing that has happened to focus my attention on insurance is that I actually need to use it.

Last month while hiking, I noticed a loss of vision in my right eye. The top and sides were dark and I had a tough time reading small print even with my cheaters. So when I got back to the good old USA, I made an appointment with an optometrist - my first in 50 years. When he wasn't trying to hard sell me glasses, he ran a scan on my eyeballs and determined I have tear in my retina - which could get worse, resulting in the total loss of vision in that eye. Since I don't have room for a seeing eye dog in my townhouse, I took up his suggestion to visit a retinal surgical specialist. 

That's when the fun really began. Over the past five days, I've learned:


  • You don't see just one doctor. So far, I have seen an optometrist, a retinal specialist, a primary care physician, and a pharmacist. Today I will meet the doctor who actually performs the surgery. Each doctor, of course, has a medical assistant to give one of the half dozen or so blood pressure checks I've had. And I know each has a clerical person to process the bill I will receive for each visit.
  • Costs are crazy high. I know right now that the eye exam (Is this better or is this better? Put this over your right eye. Look at my ear.) is $200. Just the exam - no glasses. One prescription for eye drops is about $100. I can't wait to see what the cost of the actual out patient surgery will be.
  • There is redundancy everywhere. There is no central online source for my medical information. I get the same stupid questions from every doctor. No, I don't have diabetes. Yes, I smoked but quit. No, I don't have dizzy spells. Yes, I drink (and lie about how much.) I'm still not allergic to anything (except doctors.)
  • No dual purposes are allowed. I asked that my pre-op physical exam be used to sign off for my Boy Scout exam I will need for hiking next summer. They looked at me like I'd grown a horn out the top of my head.
  • Health savings accounts are a pain in the ass from which to get reimbursement. My last two school districts both contributed to my health savings account when I did not use all my sick days. So after 28 years of employment and having used about 7 sick days, I have a healthy balance. Oh, but filing for reimbursement? Better have lots of papers and tenacity.
  • Speaking of paper... I have two folders now that contain brochures, scribble notes, appointment reminders, and forms. At some point, can't the health care industry go paper - less?


I suspect for many Blue Skunk readers little of this is news, but it has come as a surprise to me. I'd rather be hiking or reading a novel than filling our paperwork or getting my pulse checked. And I would certainly rather spend my savings on travel or on my grandsons or, well, just damn near anything.

I'll let you know how the eye surgery turns out. Provided I can see my computer.

Any survival tips for the medical morass?

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Reader Comments (4)

I agree this is so crazy! You need an advanced degree and a clear mind to deal with it. What happens to those without those qualifications? Be well!

November 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterElena Williams

And the mail you get before you qualify for Medicare! My husband will hit that magic age in February, but will still be covered under my plan. He must get 2-3 pieces of mail a day about different plans. I'm glad we have a few more years before he has to deal with it. You'd think a librarian and a CFO could do the research and work the numbers, but it's a challenge.

Good luck with the surgery!

November 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMary Clark

I know the feeling. Since I retired and have been on Medicare I learned: never leave my secondary health insurance from the State, cause once you leave there is no return. Medicare supplements trump Medicare advantipkans. Be warned. All plans are good until you use them

November 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

Smile and wave Doug, smile and wave...

November 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

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