The Best Fitness Center for your 50+ Body


For someone 50+ a fitness center has to be more than a room or rooms full of machines and weights. It needs to have professionally-trained staff that can start and periodically check your workout, to make sure that you’re not damaging those arthritic knees or exacerbating the problem in your back or neck, and so forth. You need guidance on how to regulate your heart rate so you don’t overdo. While you don’t have to pay a fortune to get this kind of service, you probably won’t find it at the cheapest place in town either. Of course, what you could do is start your workout – say the first six months – at a place that offers personal training, and then move over to the no-frills low-priced gym when you know what you’re doing and no longer need that guidance. If you are seriously overweight, however, keep in mind that somewhere along the way, you’re going to plateau. I found that after a year of working out I had to leave behind the machines and get serious with free weights or I wasn’t going to take off that last 20 pounds. For that I needed a trainer once again.

In Phoenix, there are many many fitness center choices. Smaller towns will have fewer. In some towns, about the only option other than higher-priced small boutique centers,  will be the YMCA.

If you are just starting a workout regimen, or haven’t worked out in a long time, check out Daily Deals sites. (see my former post on Daily Deals sites if you’re not familiar.) Many of the smaller, higher-end personal-training centers offer great deals. I signed up for one that cost me less than $50 for eight half hour lessons whose value was over $300. That trainer taught me some new tricks, and then I moved on to a larger lower-priced center.

Here is what you need to think about:

  • How far is it from my home? Gas is costly, and if you’re still working, time spent traveling can be an issue as well. If a center is $20 a month less than another, but is 10 miles farther from home, it’s not a good deal.
  • What hours is it open? Maybe you don’t care that it’s open 24 hours because you don’t plan on working out at midnight, but the problem I’ve always had with the YMCA is its hours are way too short. Many of the local Y’s are closed on Sundays, or open 1-5pm or some such. That’s ridiculous for folks who are busy during the week.
  • How much does it cost, and what does that provide? While cost is a concern, if one center is $10 more but you can take the Zumba class at no additional charge, while the cheaper one charges you for classes, do you care about taking those classes?
  • How available is the staff if you need help? This isn’t just about personal training. What if you want to try a new machine and you can’t find it, or or you don’t really understand how to use it. Is there someone there who will say, “Sure, let me show you how that works.”
  • Who is the clientele? Some fitness centers are full of 20 somethings who dress in the latest high-end spandex wardrobe, and the atmosphere seems more of a meat rack than a place to get in shape. Perhaps you don’t care, but perhaps you’ll feel out of place when you show up all fat-bodied in your old sweats.
  • Are there enough machines for the number of people who want to use them? Or do you have to wait your turn? You may think you don’t care because after all you’re retired and you have free time, but waiting for a machine changes your heart rate, lowers your metabolism and makes it harder to burn calories in the same amount of time. You get a far better workout if you keep at it, especially when you’re trying to cross train.
  • Are the machines well-maintained? Or do you see several “This machine is out of order” signs. This isn’t just annoying, it can be dangerous as well.
  • Must you sign a contract to use the center? Fewer and fewer fitness centers are requiring a contract, and you shouldn’t have to sign one. Look for a place that lets you cancel with a 30 or 60 day notice.
  • Does membership allow you to work out at any of its locations? And what other locations are there? Perhaps this doesn’t matter to you but if you’re a snowbird who spends winters in Phoenix and summers in Denver,  or if there are days you’d like to head to the gym near the office and other days when you’d like to exercise at the location near your home, it would be nice to join a fitness center that had a facility in both areas. That is one key advantage to the YMCA. Its membership is national, and it is just about everywhere.
  • How much parking is available, and what is the security and lighting like? is there plenty of lighting in the parking lot, and if it’s 24 hours is the place locked up at night, with the only access by way of member keys or key fobs? If not, it’s unsafe. Look elsewhere.
  • What do you have to pay to get personal attention, or is there personal attention? Some places let you schedule an hour here and there with a personal trainer, while others offer an hour with your personal trainer once a month. Some will give you a personal trainer at sign-up, after which you’re on your own. Ask about this. As I mentioned before, when you’re just starting out you need some one-on-one so you don’t get hurt and you get on the most efficient path to good health.
  • Is there a pool? Pools aren’t all that common, but it might be important to you.
  • What is available in the locker room? Must you bring your own lock? Are there hair dryers, clean showers? Are towels provided? I don’t particularly care either way – I typically go to the gym in my workout clothes and drive home in them. But perhaps you want to come after work and change there. If these things are important to you be sure and ask.
  • Is child care available? While most of us in this age bracket don’t have this worry, the presence of child care means the presence of children. And if the center is not vigilant – and you’d be surprised how few are –  inevitably some of the members are going to let their pre-teens and young teens wander out onto the gym floor to play on the machines. It’s scary for the kids, and it’s annoying as you wait for access to the machines. Nor do you need to be dodging a running youngster as you’re puffing your way around the track.
  • Is there an indoor track? This is fairly uncommon, but in places such as Phoenix where it’s just too hot in the summer to use an outdoor track, this could be a nice perk for runners, joggers and power walkers who want to keep in shape.
  • Is there a fitness bar, or some other place to get a snack or smoothie if you feel your blood sugar getting low?
  • How prevalent are the water fountains? And do they offer a way of easily filling up your own water bottle, and is the water cold and tasty? Water is crucial! If you have to walk a few hundred feet to refill your water bottle with flat, tepid water, you might want to consider another center.
  • Are there TVs on the machines or on the walls? Are the TV channels close captioned so that if you don’t want to bring your headphones you can still watch the show?
  • What music is being played, and how loud is it? I love loud rock music when I’m working out but maybe you can’t stand it. If you don’t like what you hear ask, “Who decides about the music? Does the majority rule or does the staff turn it on and it just stays there no matter who complains?” Of course, you can bring your own iPod or similar device too. This doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
  • What is the temperature in the gym? I workout very hard and sweat profusely. I believe that if you’re not breathing like a steam engine and sweating like a pig, you’re not working out hard enough. And because of that I want to walk into a gym that makes me shiver when I first enter. 15 minutes later I’m sweaty. I simply will not tolerate a gym that is not cold. It elevates my blood pressure and I end up with a hideous headache.
  • What do others say about it? If you can’t strike up a conversation with a couple current members, and even if you can, check out the center on a review site such as Yelp. Just do a keyword search of “fitness center” in your zip code.

Before you choose your fitness center, visit it at various times of day, and on various days of the week. Make sure you are there on a weekday morning, right after 5pm on a weekday, and on both Saturday and Sunday. See if it is crowded on the days and times you’d typically want to use it. The best way to do that is with a free trial. With the competition in this economy virtually every fitness center will offer a free trial of at least 3 days, and most are 7 days or more. Take full advantage of them, and don’t let anyone pressure you into signing on the dotted line until the free trial is over. Try one gym and then move on to the free trail at the next one. THEN decide on your best choice. Each time you go, attend at different days and times. One time use the machines, another time take a group class. If there is a pool, give that a try at least once.

I’m in the midst of free trials right now. I was at Pure Fitness for 18 months until it was sold. Then I got working too many hours and stopped working out. I’m now starting out again after an absence of 18 months. I made a list of all the gyms within a reasonable distance from my home – there were 6. With all the free trials offered – from 3 to 21 days, I’ll be working out for nearly two months at no charge. THEN I will decide which is my best choice.

Here is what I’ve discovered so far:

  • I signed up for a free 7-day trial at Lifetime Fitness in Glendale. The place is huge, and gorgeous. There is everything you could want and more – not only a huge fitness center with dozens of machines and no waiting, but a cafe with free wifi, masseuses on staff, a hair salon, two outdoor and two indoor pools, and indoor and outdoor jacuzzis, a steam room, gym and racquet ball courts. It’s $52 a month, but certainly worth every penny. Of course, the salon and massage services are additional. The problem? On the fourth day of my visit I was pulled aside by the person at the desk who wanted me to fill out the same information sheet I had filled out on the first day, and again meet with the sales rep. She said I’d have to do it every time I visited during my free trial. I said “No thanks,” and walked out, never to return. A free trial with that kind of pressure and waste of my time was NO free trial.
  • Now I’m on a 14- day free trial with Anytime Fitness in Goodyear. There are folks on Yelp that rave about this place because it’s small and the staff knows them by name. Well, it’s so small that it has few machines, and it’s hot in there. I climbed on the treadmill already feeling warm. The treadmills are placed in the only part of the room where there is no ceiling fan overhead. And then one staff member was running the vacuum while I was working out and ended up getting the cord under my feet.  And there’s one water fountain, in the back near the bathrooms. One of those spray to the side types which are hard to use to fill water bottles. Perhaps it was just a bad day for them and I’ll continue my trial, but these are concerns. The good thing about this 24-hour center is they took my picture and gave me a key fob to get in after hours. It unlocks the door, which stays locked after hours except for members. I don’t know what the night lighting is like – going to check that out this weekend.

In summary…

  1. Start your search for a fitness center (after you get your doctor’s okay) by looking for a Daily Deal discount for a few sessions with a personal trainer.
  2. Sign up for as many free trials at as many fitness centers as are reasonable choices for you, and then visit at various days and times, and using various services.
  3. Don’t sign any contract
  4. Don’t commit to any center until the free trials are over
  5. You’ll need sweat-resistant clothes, good shoes with plenty of traction and support, a sweat band, a towel, and a water bottle. You might want an iPod too. I also take a protein drink that I drink in my car immediately after my workout.

Home Alarms, Medical Alerts with no landline required – UPDATE


I received an email from a reader saying that she was 76 years of age and needed a medical alert while at home but that she had no landline, just a cell phone. I had also been wondering about something similar, as I have a home alarm system and wanted to cancel my home phone. I thought I could not because of my ADT system. I did some research and made some calls and found out that yes, you can have both medical /emergency alert and home alarm even when you have no landline.

HOWEVER, in the case of the home alarm, replacing the alarm with the wireless option is not always cost-effective. I am 2.5 years into a three year contract with ADT, so I called them first.  The cost for its CellGuard wireless system, despite my already having an ADT system, is $239, and then the monthly fee increases by $10 forever. Since I have already cut my home phone back to just the basic local service, my landline is now a mere $19 a month, with a Century Link promise not to raise that for five years. I therefore would only save $9 a month, and incur an upfront cost of $239. It would take me more than two years to recoup my money doing this. I have decided to keep my landline, at least until my ADT contract expires in February.

There is at least one other wireless option, however, and while I haven’t tried it and don’t know anyone who has, it is surely less costly. SimpliSafe is a wireless system that talks to local cell towers. It is so easy to install that they send it and you do it yourself – so there’s no install fee. The hardware itself is $169-$269 depending on whether you want the version that allows you to work it remotely from your smart phone, and also have it check for fire, flood and carbon monoxide. Then the price starts at $14.99 a month. If you want to add services such as email and SMS alerts the price is $19.99 a month.  The full package, the SimpliSafe 2 with the fire and carbon monoxide warnings as well as freezing alert, is due out this fall , and will add about $5 a month to the cost.  So you’ll pay several hundred less  upfront compared with ADT, about half what you pay to ADT each month, and you will have no contract to sign. Again, I caution, I have not tried this system and have no personal testimonials I can trust either. Here are the details and some media coverage.

For medical alerts there are some nice options however. LifeAlert has what it calls a 911 mobile phone, which is basically a one-button 911 wireless device that you can carry anywhere. It works anywhere within the U.S. and its battery is supposed to last at least seven years. Additionally, LifeAlert offers an emergency system that ties into your own mobile phone. All it takes is the touch of one key and you’re on the phone with a LifeAlert responder, to report an intruder, a fall while hiking, someone following you back to your car or any other emergency. What I don’t like about Life Alert is that its site keeps pricing a deep dark secret and when you phone the 800 number splashed everywhere you get a call center rep whose sole job it is to get your address to send out a free printed brochure. I found no evidence of any Facebook page, or other social media presence. The company just seems really out of touch with today’s boomers and seniors, and for a firm that is clearly targeting a younger audience with its emergency mobility, its product marketing is dismally out of date.

Alert1, a competitor, posted this pricing comparison (see graphic below) between it and LifeAlert, and assuming accuracy, here’s a brief glance at LifeAlert pricing for its standard products. What is not made clear, however, is that not all Alert1 differentiating products and services are available when you choose the monthly and quarterly billing option it touts. Alert1 does not seem to have a wireless option.

Another wireless medical alert option, which I’ve been impressed with for a long time, is the Jitterbug cell phone.  Yes, it might be bigger than something you want to carry around with you from one room to the next, but if you need both a mobile phone and a medical alert system that is wireless this would fit the bill. The phone is well-suited for those who are elderly, hearing impaired or suffering from cataracts or other sight difficulties. The keys are very large, and the phone works well with hearing aids. But it also can be programmed as a medical responder. It’s 5 Star Urgent Response, for $14.99 a month, brings emergency help with the touch of one key. No contract is required for either the phone service or the 5 Star add-on. Jitterbug also has a 24/7 Nurse line app as well as one for medication information. Keep in mind, however, this is NOT a smart phone. If, like me, you want to be able to check your email, send a text,  get directions, use your calculator, make notes, and take a picture via your mobile device, the Jitterbug is not for you. At least not as your only mobile device.

UPDATE – Since I first posted this, I’ve learned of another medical alert product that can work without a landline phone. MyPersonalResponse.com offers a choice of two landline systems that vary by range and a cellular system. The most costly, the cellular is $29.95 a month, with no contract and free shipping. There’s an offer on its site for a free first month. You install it yourself.

Diabetes Foot Care ~ Keep Those Tootsies Healthy!


This is a repost from a great blog by my new friend Pat, who blogs as Grow Old With Grace.  She lives in Arizona, just south of Tucson. Hopefully we’ll get to meet someday. 

Do you have diabetes or “pre-diabetes?”  Are you aware of how vulnerable your feet are to wounds, punctures, neuropathy, and other dangers?  HB (HoneyBunny) is diabetic and has neuropathy.  A double whammy.  He is not good at scheduling regular visits to the podiatrist to get his feet checked and nails clipped.

However, we did go today…both of us.  My visit was a followup after getting an ingrown toenail clipped last week.  My toe “thumb” (did you ever hear that term?) is doing just peachy, thanks.  HB got clipped and will have a couple of new prescriptions to take for his neuropathy and diabetic shoes.

This is welcome news to me, as well as HB.  I swear, he has more shoes than Imelda Marcos and not many of them fit him well.  Yet, he insists on struggling to get them on and wearing them because he likes the brand or the style.  He hasn’t come to terms with comfy and Happy Feet like some of us have.  It is my hope that these shoes will help with balance and give him those “happy feet” and save his tootsies!

Here is some helpful information from the National Diabetes Educational Program (NDEP):

AZ AARP to Launch Medicare Talks by Inexperienced Non-Experts


I was appalled to learn yesterday that the Outreach program of the metro-Phoenix office of AARP plans to send poorly-trained volunteers out into various Arizona communities to conduct “informative” presentations on Medicare to interested local residents. My broker and I offer informational sessions on Medicare, and after hearing about this AARP-affiliated opportunity to present on behalf of  AARP I gladly signed up for yesterday’s training. I assumed that I and the other would-be presenters would be provided with CMS (Center for Medicare Services)-approved pre-written scripts. I assumed that those invited to the training workshop would have brought to the table at least some expertise in the subject matter.

With the exception of myself and another life insurance agent, the few attendees had little or no knowledge of Medicare products, however. Nor was there to be any script. A few minutes into the 2-4 hour training ( depending on our questions,)  I learned that after a quick peruse of Medicare.gov’s “Medicare and You” and some materials the AARP manager had gathered, presenters were to write their own scripts or extemporize. Oh my.

“There is no CMS-approved script?” I asked. “No, we don’t need approval,” I was told. Perhaps YOU don’t, but I and the other agent did if we were to keep our insurance license. We left the meeting.

I am appalled that folks with 2-4 hours of training on Medicare are going to be given what the public will perceive as the full credentials of AARP expertise and trustworthiness, to go out into the community and provide what might well be yet more inaccurate information about a system that is already confusing, and has incredibly serious ramifications for our senior citizens. I have spent several dozen hours learning the ins and outs of Medicare, and still haven’t stopped learning. CMS regulates every presentation I and any other agent or broker provides to the public, as well it should.  Each Medicare plan provider requires training and certification – and all of this training repeats each year. It’s THAT important.

The last thing the confused public needs is bad information about Medicare and missed deadlines. Medicare beneficiaries who don’t meet their deadlines due to poor information and misguidance risk health problems and in the case of a couple parts of the program, increased fees each month for the rest of their lives. This is serious business, folks. People with 2-4 hours of training have no business writing their own unsupervised scripts or speaking off the cuff to people who must get the correct information, pricing and deadlines to make the right choices on time, and thus keep themselves healthy and within their fixed budgets.

I want to make clear that I have enormous respect for AARP and am a long-time member. But this program – NOT a national-AARP-sanctioned program – is not one of its finer moments. While the Arizona founder of the program clearly has the best intentions, his decision to put this in the hands of the less-than-well-informed gives me grave concern.

HOWEVER…. You’ve Earned a Say, what a positive experience!

When I left that meeting abruptly I ran to one I had thought I’d be missing – the Palos Verdes Senior Living -based AARP “You’ve Earned a Say” interactive presentation on Social Security and Medicare. I was late and missed the first 30 minutes. I hope to get to another soon, and hear it from start to finish. The two speakers – Ginny Craeger and Ritch Steven – were nationally-sanctioned AARP Lead Volunteer speakers, well-trained, and while not  experts they came bearing a power point of well-researched material. They were informative and well-versed in leading a discussion and keeping it on track. The audience was vocal, and very concerned about the future of both programs.

The obstacles for the future of Social Security and Medicare were much the same, according to the AARP speakers – fewer people being born, going to work and paying into Social Security than in past decades. Additionally, more people are collecting and will collect and will live longer than in past decades.

Some of the facts we learned:

  • Social Security is a pay-as-you-go plan. By law any excess money it holds above and beyond what it issues to beneficiaries must be invested in safe, secure, liquid, high-quality investment vehicles.  That has been the case from day one.  The product invested in has been U.S. treasury bonds. The government has never missed a payment and always lived up to its obligation.
  • Medicare plans C and D became the auspices of private insurance carriers when it was determined that the cost to the government of running these programs was $14 million beyond what it cost to run plans A and B.
  • Our FICA payroll deductions only account for 37 percent of the cost of Medicare. General taxes pay another 42 percent of the bill, and Medicare premiums only pick up 12 percent of the tab.  In 2024 Medicare will run out of money to pay all its health care obligations. This pertains to Part A, the hospital care obligation, as Part B is somewhat alleviated by the beneficiaries’ commitment to pay a pre-determined portion of the cost, no matter the increase in its doctor bill and other covered costs.
  • Half of Medicare beneficiaries spend at least 17 percent of their income on health care, while the average U.S. adult spends only 12 percent.
  • Since 1991 national health care spending in the U.S. has exceeded inflation by an annual average of 2.4 percent, while healthcare costs have increased a compounded 6 percent annually.
  • The Affordable Care Act, if enacted exactly as written, is purported to add 10 years to the life of the Medicare program as it now exists. However, the Act has already been altered from its original.
  • By 2030 the number of people on Medicare will be double that of beneficiaries in 2000.
The most startling fact to come out of the entire presentation:
” Seventy-five percent of most people’s health care costs are spent in the last six months of their lives,” AARP presenter Ritch Steven told us.
(Steven, incidentally, had previously given a highly-informative presentation on senior living options at the same venue. Here’s my coverage of that presentation. )

The small audience, made up of folks that ranged from 80ish to 30ish, responded to several questions.

When asked “How confident are you that Social Security will be there for you:”

8 were very confident

10 were somewhat confident

8 were not confident

– 4 didn’t know or didn’t respond

When asked “What is the biggest challenge facing Social Security:”

4 thought that fewer workers was the primary obstacle

14 blamed the increase in senior numbers to be the biggest problem

4 thought the issue was that the government didn’t have enough funds

4 blamed other issues such as politics, and the federal government’s having dipped into Social Security monies to pay for other programs.

The audience was asked for suggestions to save the program – “What do you hope happens to Social Security,” ideas included: 

  • Increase the age to qualify
  • Raise or remove the cap for employees and entrepreneurs paying into it
  • The wealthy should opt out of receiving Social Security benefits
  • The COLA should be reviewed annually
  • All of us must suffer, including those already on Social Security

With regard to Medicare the audience was asked, “How important is Medicare to your health?”

24 of the 26 that replied said it was very important, while one called it somewhat important and one simply didn’t know. Only 3 were very confident the program would be there for them, while 16 were somewhat confident, 5 were not confident, and 3 didn’t know.

When asked, “What is the biggest challenge facing the Medicare program?”

11 said rising health care costs was the number one problem

8 thought that having too few funds was the biggest obstacle

2 thought that fewer workers paying into it was its biggest hurdle, and

5 thought that the increase in seniors using the system caused the most trouble.

Several folks spoke about their hopes  and suggestions for keeping the Medicare program healthy:

“I would be willing to pay more for it because the coverage is well worth it,” said one current female beneficiary in the audience.”

“Get control of the fraud,” said another woman.  In response, Steven told us that the Affordable Care Act is designed to help with that, by putting obstacles in the way of the current practice of paying out Medicare claims to providers within 14 days or receipt, and later on down the road perhaps noticing that some claims seemed worth a closer look. Proposed changes would allow Medicare administrators to take the time to investigate where needed before paying claims.

We also learned that that Affordable Care Act would require every congress member and her or his staff to accept state-run insurance rather than any federal option. The thought was that these folks needed “skin in the game.”

When asked what message we would like to send to Congress and whichever candidate remains or becomes president two responses were heard:

“Cut programs to companies that don’t appreciate us,” said one.

“Get private insurance out,” said another. To the latter a clearly-appalled audience member replied, “No, I still want to be able to choose my own health care coverage.”

It is my hope that the woman who suggested that private insurance be removed from the Medicare system – and anyone who agrees with her – reads the first part of what I’ve written here. When it comes to oversight, instruction, help with understanding and application to the various Medicare programs, you would be far better off leaning on the well-trained, licensed, highly-regulated and arduously-supervised insurance agents whose right to earn their living is dependent on their ethics and their obligation to provide you with honest, objective and complete information on the Medicare program. We are the folks who are forbidden, under pain of having our licenses revoked, from doing as Arizona AARP is setting out to do – go unsupervised and ill-trained into any town, any city and any area of the state and provide what could be poorly-understood and highly inaccurate information on a health care program many of you believe you MUST have to lead a healthy life.

Should anyone wish further accurate, detailed information on the Medicare program, I am happy to help. I am not a Social Security expert. That I must leave to others. But whether you turn to me, or Medicare.gov, or another, turn to those whose jobs or long-time commitment it has been to keep abreast of the Medicare program. If your organization would like an informative, no-obligation Medicare presentation, you can reach me at SeniorWellth@gmail.com. I am NOT offering a sales presentation. I am offering good, solid information that will help you make the right Medicare decision at the right time.  I am happy to provide that one-on-one as well. While this nationally-backed event was informative, the upcoming Arizona AARP program seems destined to be less than reliable.

You’ve Earned a Say re Medicare, Social Security


Metro-Phoenix AARP members would do well to take advantage of this opportunity to share your thoughts, and hear what’s going on in Washington, with regard to Medicare and Social Security.

If you missed the gathering in Surprise, here’s another opportunity, at Palos Verdes Senior Living in Peoria. I’ll be there blogging and tweeting it all, but I’d love to meet you there too.

EarnedaSay.org

RN Patient Advocate Says Be Your Own Advocate


I visited  Pacific Senior Living in Peoria yesterday,  where Mary Aime-Juedes RN, BSN, iRNPA, founder of RN Patient Advocates of Scottsdale spoke to a small local audience about patient advocacy. A delicious lunch was included at this free presentation.  Pacifica Senior Living offers memory care units at two local facilities (Peoria and Paradise Valley,) with a noted Rediscovery Program developed by Encore Senior Living. The locked grounds are spacious, with plenty of shade trees and roomy covered porches, so residents can walk or gather outside at will and in comfort and safety.

Aime-Juedes is an accomplished RN with 20 years experience in many fields including Workers Compensation and oncology.  A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she learned to be a patient advocate at UofA’s College of Nursing, along with three other students. There are, however, only two practicing patient advocates in all of Arizona, and a little over 50 in the entire U.S.  Continue reading “RN Patient Advocate Says Be Your Own Advocate”

Medicare 101


While there are multiple facets to the U.S. Medicare system and the products available, here’s an overview of your options at age 65:

MEDICARE

Part A – Your hospital coverage. With the exception of folks whose lack of employment has paid too little into the system over their lifetime, Part A is free to you. It helps cover inpatient care in hospitals, skilled nursing facility care, hospice and home health care.

Part B – Your doctor visits, preventive service, and hospital outpatient care. Part B is an optional purchase.  In 2012, the most you’ll pay for this is approximately $115 each month. Those who earn $85,000 annually, or couples filing jointly who earn $170,000 together, would be assessed an additional fee.

Part C – Medicare Advantage plans. These are HMOs, PPOs or fee-for-service plans sold by private companies that replace Medicare Parts A and B, and may offer additional services and features such as vision, dental, hearing, chiropractic and podiatry care. Many include prescription drug coverage. Some, called Special Needs Plan, are especially designed to help those with diabetes or other serious conditions. They might also focus on meeting the needs of those struggling with low income.

Part D – Your prescription drug coverage. You would pay approximately $20-$60 each month depending on the plan.

Medigap policies, unlike Medicare Advantage plans which replace Parts A and B, work hand in glove with what is called Original Medicare (A and B), to help pay your out-of-pocket costs such as coinsurance, copayments and deductibles. As with Medicare Advantage, Medigap is sold by private insurance companies. Some Medigap policies offer other services Original Medicare does not.

Please note: You cannot have both a Medigap policy and a Medicare Advantage Plan.

When to apply:

This can be a little confusing; in fact, you might have more than one enrollment period for which you are eligible. Additionally, different plans might have different enrollment dates. Medicare And You, a publication of the U.S. Social Services Department, provides a lot of detail about your enrollment dates.

In general…

  • You can first apply for Medicare three months before you turn 65, until three months after that birthday. If you turn 65 May 27, you can apply February 1st through August 31st.
  • You can additionally apply for Medicare Advantage and / or Part D coverage during the annual election period October 15-December 7, as long as you are enrolled for Parts A and B. This applies to everyone, not just those turning 65.
  • There are also three-month-long special enrollment periods. These individualized dates are based on your having special circumstances such as the onset of illness, or a move out of the coverage area of your current provider. Those who lose their low-income subsidy eligibility would be able to change (enroll or disenroll) their Medicare plans January 1-March 31.

Please note: It’s important that you not miss your enrollment period. Doing so can increase the premium you pay for the plan for the rest of your life, and /or require you to wait several months before enrolling.

We’ll talk more about the details later, and should you have questions, feel free to call, text or email me. My contact information is on the About page. You can also call 1-800-MEDICARE. Here, from the Medicare.gov site, is a list of frequently asked questions, and their answers.