THE BLOG
08/28/2014 02:43 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Aging Baby Boomers: Get Hip to Medicare Part D

Many aging Baby Boomers seem dazed and confused about Medicare. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) surveyed 377 citizens born between 1946 and 1964 across the country to find less than half knew Medicare eligibility begins at 65 years for those who are not disabled. More than half of the Baby Boomers surveyed were unfamiliar with Medicare prescription drug coverage, even though Medicare Part D is now in its ninth year.

"Becoming eligible for Medicare provides prospective retirees with clarity and certainty about their future health insurance coverage," says Arthur Carlos, President and CEO of Symphonix Health, a national health insurer company specializing in Medicare Part D. However, newly eligible retirees face a host of questions about whether to enroll in original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan, what Part D plan should they select, and whether they should purchase Medicare supplement coverage."

Yet despite these findings, more than 37 million Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare drug plans this year. That's an increase of 2 million compared to 2013 and 15 million since 2006.

"Increases annually in Part D enrollment are a sign of confidence in the Medicare program and the value the members receive from Part D plan sponsors," explains Carlos. "Part D beneficiaries value broad coverage available from plan sponsors and appreciate the opportunity to review plan options annually during the annual enrollment period. The Part D program is well regarded by Part D beneficiaries and has significantly improved prescription drug coverage for seniors, especially low income beneficiaries."

According to the Medicare Star Rating program, only 5 percent of PDP enrollees are in plans with four stars or more. Perhaps that's due to the belief that all plans -- regardless of their rating -- deliver successful results because, as Carlos, puts it, "the minimum standard to enter are already high. To qualify as a provider of benefits under Medicare Part D, a health plan must demonstrate competence and proficiency."

When shopping for plans, aging Baby Boomers can access the government's online Medicare comparison tool. However, a recent report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation cited few seniors could decipher the information and needed it to be translated by others -- from family and friends to doctors and pharmacists or insurance agents and plan representatives.

Symphonix Health Insurance conducted a nationwide survey in 2014 of more than 500 Medicare Part D beneficiaries about how they learned about the benefits, prices, and costs of Part D plans. Key findings revealed: 36 percent of PDP members obtained advice about Part D from their pharmacist; 29 percent visited Plan sponsor websites; 29 percent obtained recommendations from friends and family; and 25 percent obtained information from the Medicare.gov website.

As the nation's largest health insurance program, Medicare currently covers more than 40 million Americans. But many observers are concerned what will happen when more and more Baby Boomers become eligible.

"Higher Medicare enrollment means increasing Medicare costs for the next 20 years as the population of Baby Boomers ages into Medicare," says Carlos "Increasing life expectancies as well as the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases are also contributing factors to future cost increases in the Medicare program.

According to the Pew Research Center, everyday 10,000 Americans become 65; beginning in 2011 and continuing for the next 19 years. As Medicare enrollment booms, those in their early sixties should start learning about their options now.

There are a wealth of resources and information available to prospective retirees about the Medicare program including eligibility, plan design, and monthly premiums. It is important Baby Boomers start their personal education process about Medicare coverage several years prior to their expected retirement so they make the best choices for future coverage.

To learn more visit Medicare.gov, AARP, the Center for Medicare Advocacy.