On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

I’ve been writing about my Medicare experiences the last couple of days, about the feelings and response when I received my card  and about the confusion and decisions involved in choosing coverage. But the real experiences came the last couple of weeks when I used my cards for the first time.

When we left Florida in January of 2011, my intention was to continue seeing my doctors there. I have a couple of chronic “conditions” that require check-ups every 6 months or so, and I developed relationships with several doctors I liked and trusted. We planned to spend a good deal of time on the road, so it seemed logical to include semi-annual visits to Florida to catch up with friends and make my medical rounds. It worked last summer. We hooked the car to the RV and made our way east. We spent 6 weeks in the Tampa area catching up with friends, visiting various labs and doctors, and avoiding the worst of the Texas heat. We left with scheduled appointments and promises to see everyone in January.

A lot can change in 6 months. By the time we got back to Texas, the motorhome needed some work. Mechanics who know their way around a 350 horse diesel engine don’t work cheap, and we ended up with a bill for several thousand dollars to work into our budget. In addition, my major medical at the time was not a Plan F, and it did have deductibles and co-pays which added more to the unexpected expenses. As the time for my check-ups approached, the idea of spending $4 a gallon for diesel in a vehicle that gets 8-10 miles per gallon didn’t seem like such a good idea regardless of how much I trusted my doctors.

My intention was to stay on schedule medically and set up appointments locally, but that didn’t happen. It’s complicated finding new doctors and transferring records, and as I began my Medicare research, one of the salesmen pointed out that I could avoid the $650 annual deductible on my old insurance if I waited until my new coverage went into effect. I wasn’t hard to convince. I might have waited even longer except for one thing, expiring prescriptions. My medicine cabinet doesn’t look like the pharmacy I dealt with when caring for Mom and Dad, but I take a few medications. Motivated by dwindling supplies of pills and encouraged by the promise of a “Welcome to Medicare Physical,” I got a recommendation for a primary care doctor from a friend at the Senior Center, which by the way is an excellent source of medical information, and set up an appointment.

Last week when I went in for my appointment, I approached the check-in desk a little timidly. What if they looked at my cards and said Oh, we don’t accept that insurance. But they didn’t. The receptionist asked me a couple of questions, disappeared into the back room to make a copy of my cards, and handed them back to me with a smile.

“Have a seat,” she said. “You’ll be called shortly.”

No look of pity at the old woman with the Medicare card, no look of contempt at a supplement card that was not valid, no mention of a co-pay. Cool! I barely had time to read a couple of pages in the novel I brought with me before my name was called and I was escorted further into the clinic where I was greeted by Janice, the sweet nurse I was told to expect. She didn’t snicker when I laid my purse and book on the floor and took off my shoes before stepping on the scale, and she didn’t scowl in disapproval when the numbers popped up on the digital read-out, so I loved her from the start. When we got to the examining room, she didn’t make me take off my clothes or sit on the examining table, so I loved her even more.

I had to wait a while for Dr. Miller to show up, but when he did, his easy-going apologetic manner made it impossible to be mad. He took a complete history and said since it had been less than a year since my last physical, we’d wait until July or August to do an exam. After that, he’d set me up with specialists as needed. He ordered a bone density scan, wrote out new prescriptions, and sent me on my way. I stopped at the desk on the way out.

“Dr. Miller wants to see me in August.”

“Call us toward the end of July and we’ll set it up.”

Interesting. Florida doctors set up appointments a year in advance. I guess the demand is greater there with all the retirees. “Do I need to sign anything?”

“No, you’re all set to go.”

That was easy. I grabbed David and hurried out the door before she changed her mind.

A few days later, when I went to the outpatient area of the hospital for the bone scan, I had a similar experience. The registration clerk took my cards without questions – well, except when I handed her my Part D card instead of my Medicare card. There was one other unexpected moment. After keying information into her computer and making copies of my cards, the clerk handed me a stack of familiar forms. As I initialed and signed, giving Medicare permission to invade my privacy in exchange for paying my bills, my eyes started to sting and I had to blink back the tears. The last time I filled out forms like this was for Mom and Dad. The moment passed quickly, though, and after 30 minutes or so I walked out of the hospital, exhilarated at not being asked for that one last piece of plastic, my Visa card.

The final test was using the Part D card. It worked better at the pharmacy than at the hospital, but there was a “Big Brother” moment when I picked up my prescriptions.

“Two of your prescriptions are ready, but it’s too soon on the other two.”

I could feel my jaw drop, but I recovered quickly if not brilliantly. “Okay,” was all I could think of to say.

I’ve been taking these medications for a while, but I had presented new prescriptions written by a new doctor. This was a new pharmacy, and I was using new insurance. How did they know when I had last filled those prescription?

I walked out of the pharmacy with my medications and my receipt that read $.00. I was thrilled that my new coverage was performing as advertised, but I had an uneasy feeling that I was actually living in a state of suspended animation somewhere and what I was experiencing was a Matrix composed of a series of 0s and 1s. If that’s the case, I’m glad they made my first Medicare experiences so positive, but I wonder who I talk to about getting a publishing contract programmed into my near future.




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