Exploring  Influences in Claiming Social Security and Medicare Coverage Choices


Over two weeks ago, the Washington, DC-based AARP unveiled its 23-page research study, “Social Security and Medicare Information Sources,” that sought to learn where older adults go for information about their Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare coverage and what influences their decisions related to these benefits, and what they wanted to have known when they first started receiving the benefit.

According to the new AARP study, released on Oct. 11, the researchers found that 4 in 10 beneficiaries (43 percent) started exploring their Social Security options, an earned benefit that millions depend on, less than a year before making their first claim.  And, thirty nine percent of the respondents claimed their Social Security benefits at age 62, the earliest age that one can be eligible to recent these benefits.   Twenty five percent of the respondents claimed their benefits at age 65, followed with 11 percent claiming their benefits at age 66.

Deciding When to Claim Social Security Benefits 

The researchers found that 73 percent of the beneficiaries surveyed waited within two years of when they ultimately claimed Social Security benefits before trying to decide when to claim. In fact, more than four in ten (43 percent) didn’t start trying to decide when to claim until less than one year before they ultimately claimed, they say.

The AARP survey findings noted that 75 percent of the respondents indicated that receiving the highest possible monthly check and getting Social Security as soon as possible were very or somewhat important factors in their decision to claim their benefits. When asked what they wish they had understood better about Social Security program when they decided to claim their benefits, just 36 percent identified a particular wish — that they had waited longer to claim.

Finally, the AARP survey respondents say that the Social Security Administration (or SSA.gov) is by far the most common source of information about Social Security benefits, consulted by 62 percent of the beneficiaries surveyed.

Reviewing Your Medicare Coverage Options

As to Medicare, when respondents were asked what they wish they had understood better about Medicare when they first enrolled, 33 percent of the respondents say they wish that they had a better understanding of costs.  Only 87 percent of the Medicare enrollees’ surveyed say they are aware of the Medicare open enrollment period with only 51 percent reviewing and comparing their coverage options at once a year.

The researchers found that most Medicare enrollees (76 percent) surveyed feel that they have enough information about their Medicare coverage options. And, 44 percent say that they are aware of free help getting information about Medicare through their state’s health insurance assistance program.  Finally, health insurance companies were found to be the most common source of information about Medicare coverage options, consulted by 44 percent of Medicare enrollees to learn about Medicare.

The researchers say the conflicting desire to get benefits as soon as possible and getting the highest amount suggests conflicting priorities when it comes to choosing their claiming age.  While some claimed at age 62 because of financial need, others wished that they had understood how their monthly benefits would increase if they waited to claim.   Education is needed to explain the effect of the claiming age and the benefits they receive.

Finally, the researchers say while most Medicare beneficiaries say they had enough info about their coverage option, the half that only half review their coverage options suggests that they are missing and opportunity to enhance their coverage. The findings also suggest that more publicity about free resources offered by state health insurance programs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and health insurance companies is needed.

For more details about this study, contact S. Kathi Brown of AARP Research at skbrown@aarp.org.

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