An ever-changing, complex program like Medicare can be difficult to navigate, and agents like Paul Smithson know that better than anyone.
 He’s set up at Walmart in Ardmore this week, enrolling people in Medicare, reviewing existing plans and answering people’s questions. He said the location has some advantages, especially in smaller cities like Ardmore.
“It’s sort of an island,” Smithson said. “It draws people from a lot of areas, and I’ve found that I really like the community.”
Walmart created Smithson’s program, but there are multiple other organizations locally and nationally that exist to help people navigate Medicare. Smithson, a retired school superintendent from Texas, works as an agent registering senior citizens for Medicare. He said that just as often, he spends his days answering questions without enrolling a single person.
“Before this job, I was like most Americans,” Smithson said. “All I knew about Medicare was that I’d be on it some day.”
He said he stumbled into the position when he was enrolling in insurance himself. He initially declined, but later took the job. He said he was able to help his own parents adjust their plans and save money.
“I found out that I really liked it,” Smithson said. “I found I could help people learn the ways of Medicare. A lot of people don’t know how it works.”
He spends two months at a time training to stay up to date on changes to Medicare as well as training other agents. Keeping himself in the know is half the job, as every insurance company has their own tests on top of national certifications.   
Smithson and his wife travel between Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, where Smithson sets up shop in Walmart locations. At the tail end of the annual enrollment period, which ends December 15, he’s at his busiest.
“There’s 11,000 people turing 65 every day in the US,” Smithson said. “The one thing 99 percent of us have in common is that when we turn 65, we will be on Medicare.”
For retired people on fixed incomes, knowing the system can make a huge difference. Smithson said someone who’s just turned 65 has more options than they might realize, but just six months later, some options close. Smithson explains different plans and how they interact, as well as the options for different income levels.
“You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t know how it works,” Smithson said.
Smithson said it’s important for Medicare recipients to have their plans reviewed annually to make sure they’re aware of any changes. As complex as the system can be, Smithson said people’s most pressing question, time and time again, is “What is going to happen with Medicare?”
“And all I say is, ‘I don’t know,’” Smithson said. “All I say is that people on Medicare, just like people on regular insurance, seem to be paying more out of their own pocket.”
For someone on a static income, the uncertainty is terrifying.
“People can deal with the hard facts if they’re given them,” Smithson said. “They may not like them, but at least they can plan and deal with it then.”
Smithson will be stationed in the Ardmore Walmart next Tuesday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. He’ll move to a Walmart location in Madill on Friday and Saturday.