You may be approaching the Medicare years. Or you may have already arrived. In either case, this tale should have personal and practical appeal. It may also give you a few smiles and chuckles.
Years ago, when I was in my teens, a diabolical fortune teller told me I would die when I was 64. As a result, I must have been the only person in the country who could hardly wait to be 65. I concentrated during that fateful 64th year answering the detailed forms arriving, almost daily, to qualify for Medicare. The final questionnaire had been quite a challenge. After pondering several of the questions, I decided to enlist the help of my husband, who had qualified for Medicare a few years earlier. I assumed he would be a whiz at filling in the proper boxes and giving the correct responses.
No such luck. They must have made some changes when they heard major reforms were on the way. In any case, he was always been better at spatial relations and I excelled in the verbal skills. We’re a tough team to stymie —- or so I thought. At the top of the first page, instructions printed in red gave the ground rules: “This information will be read by a computer. Please print as shown below. Stay within the boxes. Use capital letters only. Use black or blue ink.” Except for the initial disquieting thought that a machine would be reading my very personal information, the rest seemed clear and concise. Until I moved to the questions.
“On 03/01/96 will you be working as an employee or a self-employed person full-or part time?” That was really four questions in one…. and there were three boxes: Yes, No and Don’t Know. I checked the Yes box with a flourish and my pen went outside the box. Already I was in trouble. Will the computer void the rest of the form? Then I was asked my expected retirement date. Since I would be working part-time, did they mean full retirement or did part-time count? I realized the Don’t Know box that was below the Yes and No boxes for question number one really belonged with this question. Oops!
I forged ahead after putting the year 2000 or rather 00 since only two little boxes were available. Next, I encountered two questions about my employer and any group health insurance said employer provides. Since I was self-employed, I ignored these questions and all the related boxes. I left them blank and hoped the computer didn’t think I missed them. I had completed Part I and was beginning to feel very accomplished. Onward to Part II which appeared to be aimed at a particular cohort of the population. The first question, “Are you getting Black Lung benefits?” Whew! Nothing ordinary like lower back pain, hernia or carpal tunnel syndrome. This opening gambit was followed by questions that made more sense to most of us, dealing with medical services that could be related to on-the-job injuries.
Several more easy-fielder queries and I had arrived at Part III — “Information about your spouse.” At this point, I usually would hand my husband the form to complete. This time, I decided to master it all by myself. Again, the question about whether my spouse will be working full or part-time as of 03/01/96. Same two questions in one. Then the obvious, fill in his name in block letters in the little square boxes. Except that his legal name starts with capital B. Robert …. Another dilemma. There are 15 spaces for the first name and one for the middle initial. I became reckless and arbitrary. Take that, computer! Since I can’t fit his middle name into the one space available and the solitary B looks lonely in the 15 spaces, I printed B, skipped a space and printed Robert. I hoped the computer could figure this out. Probably, his first name would appear in all future mailings as Mr. Brobert…..
After completing all the questions, I signed the attached Part IV Certification sheet ( Privacy Act Statement) and mailed all this valuable and titillating information off. Then I realized what I had agreed to. In heavy black letters in Part IV, I had been duly warned, “Anyone who knowingly and willfully makes or causes to be made a false statement… for use in determining a right to payment under the Social Security Act is committing a crime punishable under federal law by fine, imprisonment or both.” If that computer in all its technological wisdom, decided that I had been less than candid in my answers and quite sloppy in filling in the boxes into the bargain, I could have been in big trouble with the Feds.
I am happy to report that did not happen. I received no follow-up letters in response to my completed questionnaire. After some weeks passed, I was notified that I qualified for Medicare benefits and received my magic identification number. Apparently, the Feds had other business on their agenda. Since then, I have been receiving my Medicare benefits when needed and my husband does not open his mail from them addressed to Mr. Brobert…. The clever computer must have figured out that he is Mr. B. Robert. How about that!