Of the two great entitlement programs for the elderly and disable, Medicare is subject to many more complaints than Social Security.
One reason is that people have to pay for much of Medicare's coverage. Some have to pay penalties on top of those costs. And Medicare is far more complicated than Social Security, mainly so individuals can choose what's best for their health needs.
Addressing one of the main complaints - that health care costs are outpacing fixed incomes - is a main goal of attempts to reform the U.S. health care and insurance system.
Another gripe - having to pay full price for brand name prescription drugs while in the infamous "doughnut hole" in Medicare's drug benefit - now is being addressed for the first time. Last week, federal officials and the pharmaceutical industry announced an agreement to pursue steep, need-based discounts on such drugs.
Sometimes, people are unpleasantly surprised by changes to their Medicare coverage because they have not read the Annual Notice of Change they are sent in October or November.
"The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services typically see a spike in complaints every January when the new benefit year for prescription drug coverage kicks in, with beneficiaries arguing that they didn't know they had to pay more, that they didn't know a medication they once took is no longer on their plan's formulary," said Jeffrey Hall, communications director for Medicare's New York regional office.
There are three keys to getting the best out of Medicare: 1) having a basic understanding of the program; 2) choosing coverage that balances cost and care; and 3) paying attention and adjusting as needed.