Seeing the bigger picture is what makes Elizabeth Smith's expertise so valuable not only to her clients but to community members as well. A senior advocate and Medicare insurance agent, Smith frequently hosts free "Medicare 101" online workshops through San Jacinto College's Continuing and Professional Development Community Engagement Center Learn@Home offerings. Nearing or beginning retirement is new territory, and Smith believes in educating her students and clients about the Medicare plan decision-making process and how to plan for the things they may not see coming down the road.
"We plan bar mitzvahs, confirmations, graduations, weddings, etc., but the one thing people don't do is plan for growing older," said Smith, who also chairs the Houston Methodist Patient Family Advocacy group and co-chairs San Jacinto College's Senior Advisory Council. "As an advocate, I've seen seniors in crisis because they stopped planning. Now I help educate seniors on what their choices are."
Smith's "Medicare 101" hour-long Zoom webinars focus on the Medicare basics. Attendees learn about Medicare Part A, Part B, and the Part D prescription plan. Smith also discusses the Medicare Advantage Plans, supplement plans, deductibles, co-shares, co-pays, and other terms and information new Medicare members need to know.
She encourages seniors to think about their current health care situation but to plan the best they can for what that will look like 5 to 20 years from now. Ultimately, that's where the greatest costs come into play.
"So many people choose their plan based on how they feel today and don't think about health issues that could come up. However, with my experience as a senior advocate, volunteering with Methodist Hospital and working with seniors outside of the insurance industry, I can see a bigger picture. I always tell people let's not make the decision based on today, but let's look at what could happen when you're 75 or 85 and make decisions based on that."
Smith also warns seniors to be cautious of unfamiliar companies calling or emailing asking for financial information or trying to sell Medicare insurance. Senior citizens are often victims of various scams, with false Medicare insurance being one of the largest.
"Do not buy something on the internet, over the phone, or through the mail. When you turn 65, you will be amazed at the amount of phone calls and mail pieces you'll receive about Medicare plans, insurance options, etc. It's always best to sit down and talk to an insurance agent that specifies in Medicare. Also make sure the agent is not just representing one or two companies. Make sure they broker with all the major companies. Otherwise, they'll only provide you with those one or two options since that's all they have to offer."
In addition to Smith's "Medicare 101" webinars, she also hosts "Aging with Dignity," which covers areas on final wishes such as the kinds of legal documents to have in place prior to passing like wills and medical decisions, along with how to document other important decisions, such as what age to relinquish your car keys, aging at home or in an assisted living facility, guardianship, etc.
Since these conversations and decisions can be hard, Smith says she puts a positive spin on things.
"I try not to make it doom and gloom. I tell them that we're planning for the party of your life. If you don't plan for it, you're going to be in the ugliest dress and lipstick because that's what your kids or family members will pick out for you because they won't have a clue about what you want. So this gives you control of your destiny and how you're going to live your life instead of not having any control. As we age, we lose our independence, and this allows you to keep it."
Smith will also add two new webinars to her list: "Long-term Care" and "Health Care Nuts and Bolts for Those Under 65." Her upcoming summer Zoom webinars include: Aging with Dignity (May 18), Funeral Planning (June 22), and Health Care Nuts and Bolts for Those Under 65 (Aug. 31).
Tips for choosing a Medicare plan: