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Senior-based concern: Does Medicare need to be even more complex?

No one at any age likes to be taken by surprise in a manner that potentially -- and, too often, actually -- takes money from their wallet and seriously threatens their financial stability.

And, for obvious reasons, that especially applies to seniors who are living -- as many millions of people do -- on fixed incomes and must keep a careful eye on expenses and budgeting matters.

The Washington Post recently reported a bit of news that many prudent senior consumers might find flatly alarming, namely this: It is clearly becoming common practice in the health insurance industry for insurers to automatically enroll policyholders in their private and so-called "Medicare Advantage" plans that serve as substitutes for the actual federal Medicare program.

As regards that practice, the term "seamless conversion" often emerges, with insurers saying that the practice benefits seniors with active policies at 65 by simplifying the Medicare process and keeping important matters in house.

Here's a problem with that, as noted by some seniors: They can easily enough be unaware of the switch, given that notification typically comes as a mailing circular, with automatic enrollment resulting unless a policyholder opts out within a certain period.

Bottom line: Many people pay scant attention to the piles of mail they commonly receive that don't look significant or even relevant to them.

And here's another problem: Although an individual might think that he or she is adequately covered under traditional Medicare, private insurance Medicare coverage might actually be in force that results in coverage shortfalls. The Post reports the case of one woman who had no idea she was covered under a private plan. She had a surgery that traditional Medicare would have covered, but received a pricey bill from her insurer in the wake of the operation.

One federal legislator says that Medicare beneficiaries might be better served by introducing an "opt-in" requirement pursuant to which acceptance of a private plan in lieu of traditional Medicare will only result when a senior affirmatively approves the option.

One can easily see how severe debt challenges can arise from unexpected medical costs. Where seniors are concerned, it can be especially important that material financial information is adequately and timely disclosed in a manner that allows for thoughtful deliberation in advance of action that might otherwise precipitate an adverse outcome.

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