CathyKernsUsethisPicBy Cathy Kerns

Two weeks ago, news organizations across America carried encouraging news:  Medicare, the landmark government health insurance program for those 65 and older, is in stronger financial condition than it’s been for years.  The news came only two days after Medicare celebrated the 49th anniversary of its enactment, on July 30, 1965.

Having recently turned 65, I am celebrating too.  Together with hundreds of thousands of other Central Florida residents, Medicare has made a big positive difference in my life.  Thank heavens for Medicare!  Its benefits came just in time to save me from a devastating financial blow.

Two weeks before my 65th birthday I had my annual physical. I have lived with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) for 26 years and Lupus but I had been feeling great so I had no fears. An exam alerted my doctor something was wrong with my carotid artery. Following multiple doc visits and numerous tests it was determined my right artery was 95 percent blocked and surgery was scheduled immediately. I was a walking time bomb! The news was daunting and the thought of medical expenses draining my Social Security benefits immediately made me sick to my stomach.

Throughout our careers my husband and I made sure we purchased the best medical insurance we could afford. When we retired we were forced to buy an expensive COBRA insurance plan because we lived with pre-existing conditions and no company would insure us.

For five years we paid over $2,500 per month for a COBRA plan. Then Gary joined Medicare. He shopped for a supplemental policy and selected the lowest cost plan he could find. I was still paying about $1,200 per month out of pocket for coverage. You’ve heard of “house poor”? We were “health poor!” At that time I looked forward to turning 65 because I knew our medical expenses would be less costly. My husband was nine years older than me so I had some years to wait for my healthcare benefits to kick in.

Sadly my husband became ill with cancer and heart disease. His final two years were devastating. Our out-of-pocket medical expenses exceeded $40,000. Our hard-earned career savings we were going use to for vacations became dedicated to paying medical expenses. The copay bills for radiation and chemo treatments, multiple surgeries and procedures arrived on a daily basis. We discovered that shopping for a Medicare supplemental plan by price alone was not appropriate if you have any pre-existing chronic illnesses like diabetes or MS. Our experience taught us the importance of being sure coverage will be sufficient to provide the majority of treatment(s) as necessary should you become ill.

The estimated total cost of my recent  medical crisis will be in the tens of thousands of dollars. My out of pocket? So far, nothing. I was able to join Medicare on the first day of my 65th birthday month! The Grace of God, Medicare and the supplemental plan I purchased the same month of my diagnosis has saved me from another financial medical nightmare.

Without Medicare I don’t know how I could financially afford to live healthfully. The new healthcare law gives most medicare recipients  no charge annual screening tests. We have a better chance of beating cancer and other illnesses when we take time to have our colonoscopies, mammograms, blood pressure checks and other important exams. If there are no costs for us to take the tests, we have no excuse for not taking them!

When I enrolled in Medicare and shopped for a supplemental plan I took the time to research my possible future healthcare needs. I purchased an affordable plan based on those needs.

I sincerely give daily thanks for Medicare.  My benefits arrived in the nick of time and really saved me.

Cathy Kerns, of Orlando, is a member of AARP Florida’s volunteer executive council.

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