As my wife and I are both rounding third base at the end of next month and the insurance companies want our business when it comes to supplemental health care, we have a stack of this stuff six inches thick. Seriously.
You young folks can move on along here; probably by the time you get to retirement age, social security and medicare will be bankrupt or turned into some kind of howling beast you can't hurt with silver bullets or garlic; the rest of you, a simple lesson in how to wade through the reams of paper you'll be getting if you have a mail box.
Social Security, for which you have been paying your entire working life, is an elective thing. You can take it early and get a lesser payment. You can take it later and get a bigger stipend. You don't have to take it at all. There are assorted penalties if you keep working and also collecting your check early, but pretty much, after sixty-five, you are good to collect it. If you made really good money as a worker, you get more. If you were a hippie and didn't pay much into the system, you get less.
Good if you have some other kind of income, because you can't live on social security alone unless you have paid off everything and develop a taste for mac 'n' cheese and cheap dogfood. If you don't have some kind of IRA or SEP account and you are young, it would be a good idea to get one going now.
Medicare is your health insurance, which you will tend to need more as you age, and it doesn't kick in until you turn sixty-five. (Medicaid is something else, but we aren't going there.)
If you work for a big company now, chances are you have part of a group plan that gives you some coverage for your doctor's visits, meds, dental, your vision, and hospitalizations. If you don't have that and are uninsured, you are probably rooting for Obama's safety net to hold. It's not perfect, but it is way better than nothing.
Medicare, which you also paid for, having been cobbled together over the years, is a hodge-podge of this and that. Various parts of it are given letters, Parts A and B and C and D and so forth. Each one covers some things. The basic parts, A and B, you get bare-bones coverage. To that, you can add more policies to cover the gaps. (You may have heard the term "donut hole." This is a gap between two kinds of coverage for which you are responsible. Basically, medicare pays up to a point, then picks up again after another point, but the hole is yours.)
Medicare costs you something each month. In my income bracket, it's $99, and that will come out of your SS payment before you see it. (If you were a zillionaire, it costs more, but changes are if you are a zillionaire, you have people who take care of all this stuff.)
If you have private insurance without a group plan, it costs a fucking fortune. If you get laid off or retire early and lose your coverage, there are things like COBRA, but believe me, these are not cheap. If we had to pay for private health insurance, which we did for the last eighteen months, my entire social security check would not have been enough to cover that.
There are various kinds of supplements, ranging, like your car insurance, from low deductible to high, and the costs tend to reflect this. Scores of plans. Maybe hundreds.
How healthy you are determines which one you think you should get. If you don't get sick much, you pick this one. If you have a long list of meds and illnesses, you elect a different one.
The good thing is, you can change this every year, twixt October and December, so if your health changes, you can get a different plan.
Sicker you are, the more it costs, but it's still way cheaper than private insurance alone.
This is all way too complex for me to explain, and here's what you need to do if faced with this tsunami of "Pick me! Pick me!" Hie yourself to a broker who knows this stuff. It won't cost you anything, since zhe* gets paid by the companies. We found a guy via our clinic, which added to the pile of mail about all this by saying, "We know you are getting a lot of mail offering policies, and this is our guy, who can help."
What I never understood from all the junk mail was, if you are pretty good shape, you can get a supplement policy to your medicare that is free. Doesn't cost you anything.
Well, okay, it's not exactly free, TANSTAAFL and all, but the money doesn't come out of your pocket in a chunk, though you have already helped pay for it, and will continue to do so if you are still working and earning anything because of what Uncle deducts each check.
How can the insurance companies do this? The feds pay them X amount every month for every policy, and that alone is enough for them to make money if they can get enough people signed up. There is competition for this business, and that's good for the customer.
Free is a very good price, and the coverage and deductibles are a good deal when you compare this kind of policy to one that runs sixty or eighty bucks a month and still has deductibles anyhow.
More than you wanted to know, but remember the key part: Get professional help ...
* "Zhe" (s/he) is one of the indeterminate pronouns I came up with writing the new novels series, for a character whose sex is ambiguous at first look. Or second look ... "His" "him," or "her" become "hir." It's a little tricky to get used to writing and seeing, but it fills a need.