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The Boomer Generation faces health and retirement choices

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By DOUG HEINLEN
AARP Florida President
On Jan. 1, 2011, the first wave of Baby Boomers — 2.8 million of them in this one year alone — will begin turning 65. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that almost 8,000 people a day will celebrate that significant birthday, and it's a process that will continue through 2039 when the last of the 78 million Boomers reaches 65.
The months leading up to this milestone birthday are fraught with decisions about retirement, health care and lifestyles.
But none are as important and long-reaching as choices about Medicare. In the months preceding their 65th birthdays, Boomers will receive their Medicare cards for the first time. Although most Boomers are not eligible for full Social Security benefits until age 66, they are eligible for Medicare at age 65.
The questions being asked by this generation are significant: Do I sign up for Medicare? When must I enroll? And, most importantly, where can I find accurate information about my Medicare choices?
It's best to seek out accurate and trustworthy information on Medicare when trying to sort out what’s best for you.  A great place to start is the Medicare Rights Center at www.medicareinteractive.org/ or the U.S. Government's Medicare site at www.medicare.gov.
You may also want to contact your local SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) volunteer. Operating under the auspices of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, SHINE’s statewide network of volunteers can help you sort out some of the more complex issues surrounding Medicare. Contact the Florida Elder Helpline at 1-800-926-5337 (1-800-92 ELDER) for more information.
Enrolling in Medicare offers another set of choices.  If you are already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement pensions, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A & B at age 65. If you are not receiving benefits from these pension programs, however, you must actively enroll in Medicare. You will have a 7-month period to complete your enrollment, which begins three months before your 65th birthday.
Don't postpone your decision because if you miss the initial enrollment period, you could face an additional charge, called a delayed enrollment penalty.
If you have adequate health coverage (called "creditable coverage") through your workplace, you can delay enrollment in Medicare without incurring a penalty. The same is true if you or your spouse work for an employer with more than 20 employees.
Another choice you’ll have to make involves prescription-drug coverage, under Medicare Part D.  What kind of coverage you need can take some thought.  One excellent resource is AARP's “doughnut hole” calculator  at http://doughnuthole.aarp.org/. This useful tool can help you figure out if, and when, you might fall into the dreaded Medicare Part D coverage gap.
Once you successfully navigate through these Medicare decisions, you will definitely want to celebrate your big day. And there's good reason to celebrate.   I know.  I and my family will save about $9,000 a year on health-care coverage costs now that I’m enrolled in Medicare.
You've earned this benefit, so go ahead and party, in that inimitable Boomer-Generation style.