Start by being your own best advocate. Advocacy is about having someone on your side. We all need advocates throughout our lives. But having someone in your corner can be especially important as you prepare for retirement — when you're making decisions about Medicare and other things that will impact the future of your finances and your ability to afford the health care you may need in retirement.
Becoming your own advocate is the first and most important step you can take. After all, no one is going to be more invested in the outcome of your decisions than you.
Being a self-advocate begins with education. It means doing research and asking questions, and determining what you can — or can't — live with.
Sometimes being your own advocate also means asking a relative or friend for their advice. They may have knowledge or skills you can tap into, or they may be able to provide support.
Seek advice from an expert. Even if you get advice from relatives and friends you trust, don't stop there. Make sure you validate the information they give you by talking to someone with expert knowledge. Inaccurate advice about Medicare or other matters related to retirement can work against you in different ways. It can give you a false sense of security, or even cause worry and anxiety for unfounded reasons. And in some cases, it can lead you into making a bad decision you may or may not be able to undo.
Talking with a trained professional who can provide you with unbiased, expert guidance on issues related to Medicare, Medicare Supplement insurance or other retirement issues you're not fully familiar with can help you make informed, confident decisions about your retirement.
Remember, if you don't feel the expert is on your side and advocating for you along the way — for instance, giving you advice that doesn't sound right or makes you feel uncomfortable, you have the right to walk away and seek out the guidance of another expert.
Choose someone to advocate on your behalf before you need help. Being a strong self-advocate and seeking expert advice are important steps as you make decisions about your health care, finances and other important matters that will impact your retirement. Yet, for one reason or another, the time may come when you're simply not able to be your own best advocate. You'll need to rely on someone you trust to legally act on your behalf to make decisions and handle your affairs for you.
For instance, you may want to consider setting up a power of attorney (POA) ahead of time. A POA is a legal document that designates another person to act on your behalf when you're unable to make decisions about your health care and financial well-being. It's a good idea to talk with an attorney to set up a POA, and to learn about any other legal documents you may want to have in place to protect your best interests in the future.
Remember, these are plans you need to make ahead of time ... before you need the help.
Source: "Power of Attorney: When You Need One," by Kimberly Rotter, investopedia.com, updated January 30, 2018
Communicate your advocacy plan. The person you choose to be your legal advocate needs to be someone you trust and are comfortable with ... and someone who will be comfortable in that role. Make sure you communicate your decisions to whomever you want to be part of your plan, and especially where all of your important papers and documents are. Even if you don't want to share the information now, it's important to let someone you trust know how to access it quickly should something happen.
HIPAA and what it means for you. Getting sick or injured can be stressful and overwhelming. If something were to happen to you, you may need a loved one or caregiver to advocate for you while you're undergoing care — whether you're admitted into the hospital or are being seen as an outpatient.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was designed to protect patient privacy and requires a written authorization from a patient before health care providers can share the patient's information with a third party. That includes caregivers — even those who are close relatives.
To ensure your loved ones or caregivers can be informed of your medical status or have access to your health information, including any insurance matters you may need help with, you'll need to have legal permissions in place ahead of time.
Be prepared in advance by signing a HIPAA authorization form. Your doctor's office or hospital should have blank forms on hand. It's also important to have a power of attorney and advance health care directive in place. An attorney can help you with these legal documents.
Source: "3 Legal Documents Caregivers Need to Manage a Senior's Healthcare," by Marlo Sollitto, agingcare.com, updated May 3, 2018