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"Ask Phil, by UnitedHealthcare"

Editor's Note: UnitedHealthcare works to make it as easy as possible for people to understand Medicare. That’s why we created Medicare Made Clear and National Medicare Education Week (Sept. 15-21). These initiatives are designed to help people learn more about Medicare and make informed decisions about their coverage, whether they’re just starting to explore their options as they prepare for retirement or are thinking of switching plans.

With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 and becoming eligible every day, it’s going to take a collaborative effort to ensure the rapidly growing population of Medicare-eligible people has the support and information they need to make confident health care choices.

So in the spirit of collaboration, we’re now working with Phil Moeller to enhance the support we offer to people wanting to learn more about Medicare. Phil is a veteran journalist, columnist and author who has written extensively on the topics of retirement, aging and health. He’s best known for the “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven” column that’s featured on the PBS “Making Sense” website. Phil’s column builds on the success of his books: Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security and Get What's Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs.

This partnership makes sense because we share a common goal of helping consumers understand the complexities of Medicare so they’re prepared to make smart decisions about their coverage. Given that those decisions can have such a significant impact on people’s health and budget, we take this work seriously and know that Phil does as well.

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Have Questions about Medicare? Ask Phil!

By: Phil Moeller

Medicare and Social Security are the twin pillars of our retirement hopes and dreams. Social Security came first, in 1935, and Medicare was created 30 years later. Since then, both have contributed to big gains in senior health and financial security.

Fifty years ago, nearly 30 percent of those aged 65 and older lived in poverty, versus less than 17 percent of all Americans. In 2015, senior poverty had fallen to less than 9 percent, while the overall poverty rate actually increased slightly to nearly 20 percent.*

Along the way, these benefit programs have grown into enormous – and enormously complicated – bureaucracies. The difficulties in navigating them were driven home as I was researching a book called Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.

My co-authors were a leading economist and an accomplished economics journalist. It took the three of us two years to decipher and then describe the workings of an 80-year benefit program that we had thought was simple and well understood: you work until you’re 65, you apply for Social Security, and then you live happily ever after. Ha!

What we found was a program with enormous financial implications for retirees but one that nearly no one understood, including the representatives of Social Security. More to the point, we found these were things that people really wanted to know, which might explain why lots of people are buying this book.

Its success prompted me to take a solo turn at writing a companion volume that was published in October 2016, Get What’s Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs.

If anything, it turns out, Medicare is even more complicated and less understood than Social Security! And once again, I found that people were hungry for information to help them understand their health care choices and how they could choose the best Medicare coverage for the least money.

I also found a new journalistic calling. After more than 45 years as a reporter and editor, I have begun devoting nearly all of my time to answering people’s questions about Medicare, Social Security, and related aging and retirement issues.

For the past three years, I have written the Ask Phil column for the PBS Making Sen$e website. Now, I am very pleased to be able to take Ask Phil “on the road” and share what I’ve learned directly with UnitedHealthcare’s audience. My connection to the company started while I was researching Get What’s Yours for Medicare. UnitedHealthcare provided me substantial access to its people and expertise. No other health insurer was nearly so forthcoming. I believe UnitedHealthcare stepped forward because it believes, as do I, that a more informed consumer is a healthier consumer.

Beginning today, I will be speaking directly to you, through monthly columns, answers to Ask Phil questions, and the occasional video. For starters, here’s my list of the most common Medicare questions that flow into my inbox. I make no claim to statistical accuracy here, and freely acknowledge that the most common questions may not be the most important. Hey, I was a campus tour guide one summer in college, and what most people wanted to know was the quickest way to the restroom!

  1. Why is my (fill in a treatment, drug or piece of medical equipment) not covered?
  2. Do I have to get Medicare just because I’m 65?
  3. How does my retiree health plan work with Medicare?
  4. I don’t understand Medicare’s enrollment periods and late-enrollment penalties.
  5. What can I do if my health care provider is not in my Medicare plan’s provider network?
  6. I am totally confused by how Social Security calculates my Medicare Part B premium.
  7. Does Medicare cover me outside the United States?
  8. How can I avoid Medicare’s high-income surcharges?
  9. Please help me choose or switch my Medigap plan.
  10. Why does getting Part A of Medicare make it illegal for me to contribute to my health savings account?

Tune in here to find answers to these and other questions. These matters are especially relevant as we approach Medicare’s open enrollment season, which runs each year from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. During that window, you will have the chance to review upcoming changes to your coverage and decide whether you wish to keep the policies you have or move to a new coverage package in 2018.

I look forward to working with UnitedHealthcare to get you the answers you need. If you want Medicare answers, you can send your questions to me at AskPhilByUHC@gmail.com. You can check out more of my content in my Ask Phil column for PBS and on the Get What’s Yours website. You also can follow me on Twitter @PhilMoeller.

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Editor’s Note: Ready to get a jump start on your preparation for Open Enrollment? You’re in luck! This week is National Medicare Education Week (Sept. 15-21), an annual week dedicated to helping people learn about Medicare that begins exactly one month before the start of Open Enrollment on Oct. 15. National Medicare Education Week is all about helping people better understand the program so they can make smart decisions about their coverage. Check out NMEW.com to find out if an educational event is planned in your area. If not, you’ll find a host of resources on MedicareMadeClear.com, including educational videos, worksheets, how-to articles and a guided walk through Medicare. You can also see Phil Moeller in action during a Facebook Live event we hosted on the Medicare Made Clear Facebook page on Sept. 18.  

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Journalist Phil Moeller is an expert on retirement and aging. He writes the “Ask Phil” column for the PBS NewsHour, is the author of “Get What’s Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs,” and is the co-author of the updated edition of The New York Times bestseller “How to Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” You can follow him on Twitter (@PhilMoeller) or reach him via e-mail: AskPhilByUHC@gmail.com

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Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies. For Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans: A Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract and a Medicare-approved Part D sponsor. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.

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*U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Poverty Tables: People and Families - 1959 to 2015, Table 3. Poverty Status of People, by Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin; 2016.