Coffee heat rising

Nope… Money unhappens

That six-month free ride for COBRA sounded too good to be true, and, as the saying predicts, it wasn’t. True, I mean. Called the Department of Administration again today to confirm what I thought I’d heard and learned that the “six” syllable actually occurred in the word sixty, as in sixty days.

You have sixty days after canning to enroll in COBRA and start paying up.

LOL! My scheme would’ve worked if I’d been born on March 7 instead of May 7. But in the cold cruel light of reality, it fell way short of its goal.

Oh well. At least I still have the $571 GDU dumped in my account today. Now all I have to do is persuade the federal government that it’s 2009 earnings (which it is), so that I don’t get nicked on the Social Security earnings limit. Even five hundred bucks will make a difference.

Medicare is going to cost a lot of money. Relatively. Yes, I do understand that $300 a month is a microscopic droplet in the bucket compared to what some people are paying for health insurance. But nevertheless, it’s more than eight times what I’ve been paying for an excellent plan, at a time when I’ll be earning a third of what I grossed on the job. With the ARRAS discount in force, Medicare will actually cost more than COBRA!

The base cost of Medicare Part B will be $110 a month. Parts A and B cover your basic needs, but leave your pants down around your knees: it’s an 80-20 coverage with rather limited hospitalization and no prescription meds. As we all know, one serious car accident, one heart attack, one stroke and 20 percent of the resulting medical bills will ruin you financially.

To take up the slack, you have to buy a “Medigap” policy from a private insurer. These policies, which come in a dozen flavors, are standardized, so that all policies issued in any one of the 12 available plans are the same. Only three—Plans C, F, and J—seem to cover all the contingencies well. Insurers charge whatever they feel like charging, and so in Arizona premiums for Medigap policies range from around $80 a month to over $300, depending on your gender and age. One outfit charges $417 to $560 for plan J—this is for supplemental insurance!

On the low end, a 65-year-old Arizona woman will pay between $107 and $163 to get into one of those three plans. Well, at least she did last year; I can’t get my hands on the 2010 rates, but I’m sure they’re higher.

Then you have to buy a prescription drug plan—and you have to get it whether or not you take any meds. If you don’t buy in as soon as you’re eligible, you’re penalized with a whopping fine when you go to sign up later. These plans run around $25 or $30 a month, and they don’t cover all drugs nor do they cover all costs of drugs; you still get to pony up a hefty copay for most prescriptions.

So: $110 for Plan B + $110 or so for Medigap + $25 for drugs and you’re at $245…at 2009 rates. Let’s add, say, 10% for inflation, and that brings us to about $270, for the cheapest plans on the market. By way of comparison, my cost for COBRA will be $185 a month; my cost for an employer-based EPO that let me go to the Mayo Clinic was $36 a month.

I guess you can get cheaper coverage by going with an HMO, which is what Medicare Advantage is. But having watched my mother die pretty hideously in the negligent hands of HMO doctors, I’m not going that way (it’s not in an HMO’s financial interest to treat you when you have a catastrophic illness; au contraire, what works for them is to deny you’re sick until it’s too late to do a thing for you, and then to withhold palliative care).

Interestingly, AARP’s much vaunted senior-friendly plan is far from the cheapest. They charge $187 for Plan C, $190 for Plan F, and $217 for Plan J. By comparison, the lowest rate I could find for Plans C and F was $107; four companies charge around $115 to $120, and quite a few are in the $150 range.

Well, I’ll be happy if I can keep the total cobbled-together cost of this pushmi-pullyu lash-up under $300. But I figure three C-notes a month is what I’d better budget for Medicare over the next two or three years…until it goes up.

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