Kentucky voices: Boomers, study Medicare options

Every day approximately 11,000 baby boomers age in to Medicare. In addition, people under 65 with disabilities account for more than 16 percent of the total Medicare population.

While the Medicare-age population will continue to grow as the flood of baby boomers reaches 65, the health challenges faced by these boomers are enormous:

31 percent of people turning 65 in 2011 said their physical health is worse than they thought it would be.

14 million — or one out of every four boomers — is expected to be living with diabetes by 2030.

The future could be challenging for beneficiaries in general, and boomers in particular, who do not start to focus on their health and well-being today. Boomers need to realize there is an array of preventive care benefits the federal health care system provides for them. And it pays to learn what Medicare and Medicare Advantage, the private-sector Medicare option that one in four Medicare-eligibles chooses for their coverage, deliver and how to access these benefits. For example:

Preventive screenings, like blood glucose tests, are now offered by all Medicare Advantage plans.

Regardless of the plan they choose, beneficiaries can participate in a comprehensive "Welcome to Medicare" session with their physician. These sessions provide preventive tests and screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies, a medical history review and planning for a healthy future.

Such preventive health care is critical to help ensure boomers aging into Medicare and other beneficiaries live healthier, more productive lives, which will allow them to spend time doing the things they enjoy most.

With Medicare's enrollment period for 2013 starting this week, boomers will want to research Medicare health care and prescription-drug plans before they enroll for the coming year. Choosing a Medicare plan can be daunting. Here are three ways to help make the right choice.

Look at past year's expenses — hospital, pharmacy and physician costs — to determine if that year was typical and to help make the best estimate for the year ahead.

Medicare.gov (www.medicare.gov) is an excellent resource, enabling beneficiaries to find and compare Medicare health plans and prescription drug plans.

For estimating costs, valuable information can be obtained from Family Health Budget (www.familyhealthbudget.com).

In addition, once boomers and other beneficiaries understand the options available to them, they can visit the Web sites of specific health plans such as www.humana-medicare.com and compare.

With the Medicare enrollment period underway, boomers should learn about their health-plan options, including preventive care, to prepare for a healthy future.