Hawai‘i’s Sage PLUS (SHIP) counselors are often asked, “What is Medicare, and how does it affect me?”

Medicare is the United State’s federal health insurance that is available to those 65 years and older, and to people at any age with certain disabilities.

You can choose to use the government’s Original/Traditional Medicare, or a commercial Medicare Health Plan or a Medicare Supplement (also known as “Medigap” insurance).

Sage PLUS is a Medicare Counseling Program, nationally known as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) and it is a volunteer-based program. Many of the volunteers started with the program to learn more about Medicare for their families and have been with us for more than 10 years. If you have specific questions about your circumstances, or you would like to volunteer, please call 1-888-875-9229 or visit www.hawaiiship.org.

Have you recently enrolled in Medicare and aren’t sure what to do next? Here are a few tips to give you a jump start on a healthy future:

Step 1: Sign up for the “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam.

Call your doctor and schedule your “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam today. It’s an easy way for you and your doctor to get an accurate benchmark of your health.

During the exam, you and your physician will review your medical and family history, assess current health conditions and prescriptions, and conduct health screenings to establish a baseline for care.

You will also have an opportunity to talk about short- and long-term goals to improve your health and overall well-being. For example, your physician will provide you with a plan of action that may include referrals for other services, including preventive services such as cancer screenings, flu shots, routine vaccines and diabetes tests. Many of these services are free to most Medicare beneficiaries as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

At the end of your appointment, be sure to schedule an annual “Wellness Exam” for the following year. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare now covers a yearly check-up. The “Welcome to Medicare” and annual “Wellness Exam” are great ways to assess changes in your health and catch any health issues early.

Step 2: Register at MyMedicare.gov

Register at www.MyMedicare.gov for easy access to your health information. This free, secure online service provides access to personalized information regarding your Medicare benefits and services. If you don’t have a computer, ask someone you trust, like a family member or the administrator at your local senior center, to help you sign-up and regularly review your information.

Step 3: Take advantage of all your Medicare resources.

Medicare offers a number of resources to help you get the most out of your benefits. If you are a new enrollee, check out the New to Medicare? section of www.medicare.gov.

Review your Medicare & You 2011 handbook; or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. If you need help in a language other than English or Spanish, say “Agent” at any time to talk to a customer service representative. More information is available at www.healthcare.gov, a new web portal from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ■ This information prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.