Patience required for Medicare explanation


Patsy Pridgen


Life Columnist

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Since becoming Medicare eligible, I’ve encountered an agency even more difficult to deal with than the cable company: the Social Security Administration.

Correspondence is confusing, and the wait to talk to a real person on the phone is punishing.

I’d been looking forward to turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare. Silly me, I thought Medicare was free for old folks. I now know it’s not, especially if you‘re married to someone who’s still employed like my husband. Just how much my Part B is going to cost me has taken the government a while to figure out. I’ve had three bills now since December, and none of them match. Determined to get to the bottom of things, I called the 1-800 number given in a letter from the Social Security Administration for people who “have questions about your Part A or Part B bill amount ...”

Oh, I had questions, all right.

After being thanked for calling by a recorded voice and told my call may be monitored, I was subjected to several announcements such as a warning about fraudulent calls, an explanation of this year’s COLA and a suggestion that I could go online to find answers to my questions. Then I was subjected to the main menu, where I had to choose my problem from the options given.

The real kicker came when I finished all the preliminaries only to learn there would be a 40-minute wait to talk to a representative.

Forty minutes! I put my phone down on my desk, walked out of the room and went upstairs to put in a load of laundry. I cleaned up the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and sweeping the floor. With 10 minutes to go, I checked the phone again. I was still on hold, so I started organizing the piles of papers on my desk. Close to the 40-minute mark, I faintly heard what sounded like a real voice on the phone. I snatched up the receiver and put it to my ear.

After having to again supply identification, I explained about the inconsistent billing. “Hmm,” my representative responded. “May I put you on hold while I assess your situation?”

Being put on hold again was the last thing I wanted to have happen, but what choice did I have? Fortunately, she came back on the line after a few minutes — but unfortunately, she put me on hold two more times while she studied my case.

It turned out the government had simply charged me a basic Medicare rate to begin with. After I was signed up, the Social Security people then took their sweet time figuring out what my premium should be. I was then back billed for the difference. Also, my check for the second month wasn’t processed until three weeks after I sent it. “You should be getting a letter explaining the final calculation in a few weeks.”

Weeks, did I hear weeks? Not a few days? Oh no, I was dealing with the Social Security Administration. Take a number and wait. And then wait some more.

Check out Patsy Pridgen’s blog at www.patsypridgen.com.