Most baby boomers, even those past retirement age, say that they don't know much about Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for seniors.
And their ignorance could end up costing them money.
In a survey conducted by the National Council on Aging and insurer UnitedHealthcare, just 46% of seniors said that they understand Medicare and how it works.
About a third said that the program either is confusing or they don't understand it well. Fully 16% said that they are at a complete loss when it comes to Medicare.
When asked about some standard Medicare issues, the majority of seniors don't have their facts straight.
Just one-third could identify that Medicare Part A is the hospital insurance component of the program, and just 23% responded that Medicare Part B is the part that covers doctor visits.
Forget about Part C. Most wouldn't even take a guess.
The passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the health care system reform law, ushers in some more twists on coverage, which boomers and seniors also are confused about, according to the survey.
One area where pre-retirees get into trouble is by not applying for Medicare on time.
The government recommends applying about three months before the 65th birthday, even if the applicant doesn't intend to use it for some time. Waiting too long can trigger a 10% premium penalty on Medicare Part B in some situations.
For those on Medicare already, few know that the passage of the health care system reform law changed the annual open-enrollment period for those who want to change their coverage options. In previous years, open enrollment was between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31, but it will open a month earlier this year and end Dec. 7, which could be a surprise to those who wait too long to elect to make a change.
The majority of those surveyed (63%) said they think that the deadline is unchanged this year.
Many on Medicare lose money by not shopping around.
Medicare Part C (typically called Medicare Advantage), Part D (prescription coverage) and so-called Medigap policies all are offered by private insurers that compete on price alone, said Howard Bedlin, vice president for public policy and advocacy at NCOA.
Because the terms of the policies are standardized, the only real difference between competing policies is the price, yet people still don't comparison-shop, which could save many of them money.
“I am hopeful that baby boomers coming into Medicare by the rate of 10,000 a day will be more comfortable using the Internet” to shop around, Mr. Bedlin said.