[NOTE TO NON-U.S. READERS: You can safely skip reading today's post. It's all about the American system of Social Security and medical care for elders.]
In the eight years since I joined Medicare, my card has become not just smudgy but nearly in shreds. I have always wondered why it is issued on paper instead of plastic.
Even cardboard would be better. But no, and this photo doesn't show how fragile mine really is – that with the slightest mishandling it could easily disintegrate.
Last week, I visited the Medicare website to see how to get a new card and it was easy – especially so because I had previously registered for My Medicare. A few clicks, no more than two minutes, and I was advised that it would soon be in the mail.
Because I recently had a physical exam and wellness visit with my primary care physician along with cataract surgery in both eyes and a foot problem that required some minor physical therapy, I've had more medical bills in two or three months than I usually have in that many years.
But all of the charges and payments are listed clearly for each physician and other specialists along with what I may or may not be expected to pay depending on my Medigap coverage.
Medicare has always snailmailed these healthcare documents but I like having them so tidy and available online – and not taking up the large amount of desk drawer space as in the past.
Also in My Medicare are my preferred providers (available if you've entered the information), current Medigap and Part D coverage details and there is a space for a remarkably thorough health summary if you take the time to enter all that information so it's all in one place.
Questions? In addition to the usual 800 number for Medicare, there is a button for a live online chat. And that is all in addition to the main Medicare website with databases of doctors, group practices and tons of other useful information.
Over at the Social Security website, there is another “my” service - My Social Security. You can check your benefit and payment details, change your bank deposit information when you need to, view earnings records, get a replacement card, a benefit verification letter and more.
Nearly 20 years ago when I was managing editor at the then-brand new cbsnews.com, everyone was new at making websites. At that time, CNN was the only other news site and we were stealing ideas from one another every day.
They, we and all kinds of other novices like us, many – also like us – at big-name companies, were making mistakes every day, learning while we were earning. The one place that was light years ahead of us was the Social Security website.
In those days, I used to exchange email with the woman (I'm so sorry I've forgotten her name) who was in charge of it and learned so much from her. Our website was almost as complicated as hers but in different ways so she and I traded ideas and I know I benefited much more than she did.
Now, all these years later (and the Affordable Care Act website debacle notwithstanding), the Social Security and Medicare websites are even better - models of user friendliness and efficiency.
If you haven't, you should explore them and sign up for My Social Security and My Medicare so they will be ready for you when you need them. Our tax dollars pay for these websites and they are worth every penny.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson: Now and Then