Seeing the bigger picture is what makes Elizabeth Smith’s expertise so valuable not only to her clients but to community members as well. A senior advocate and Medicare insurance agent, Smith frequently hosts free “Medicare 101” online workshops through San Jacinto College’s Continuing and Professional Development (CPD) Community Engagement Center Learn@Home offerings. Nearing or beginning retirement is new territory, and Smith believes in educating her students and clients about choosing among Medicare plans and planning for the things they may not see coming down the road.

“We plan bar mitzvahs, confirmations, graduations, weddings, etc., but the one thing people don’t do is plan for growing older,” said Smith, who also chairs the Houston Methodist Patient Family Advocacy group and co-chairs San Jacinto College’s Senior Advisory Council. “As an advocate, I’ve seen seniors in crisis because they stopped planning. Now I help educate seniors on what their choices are.”

Smith’s “Medicare 101” hour-long Zoom webinars focus on the Medicare basics. Attendees learn about Medicare Part A, Part B, and the Part D prescription plans. Smith also discusses the Medicare Advantage Plans, supplement plans, deductibles, co-shares, co-pays, and other terms and information new Medicare members need to know.

She encourages seniors to think about their current health care situation but to plan the best they can for what that will look like 5 to 20 years from now. Ultimately, that’s where the greatest costs come into play.

“So many people choose their plan based on how they feel today and don’t think about health issues that could come up,” Smith said. “However, with my experience as a senior advocate, volunteering with Methodist Hospital and working with seniors outside the insurance industry, I can see a bigger picture. I always tell people let’s not make the decision based on today, but let’s look at what could happen when you’re 75 or 85 and make decisions based on that.” 

Smith also warns seniors to be cautious of unfamiliar companies calling or emailing asking for financial information or trying to sell Medicare insurance. Senior citizens are often victims of various scams, with false Medicare insurance being one of the largest.

“Do not buy something on the internet, over the phone, or through the mail,” she said. “When you turn 65, you will be amazed at the number of phone calls and mail pieces you’ll receive about Medicare plans, insurance options, etc. It’s always best to sit down and talk to an insurance agent that specifies in Medicare. Also make sure the agent is not just representing one or two companies. Make sure they broker with all the major companies. Otherwise, they’ll only provide you with those one or two options since that’s all they have to offer.”

In addition to her “Medicare 101” webinars, Smith also hosts “Aging with Dignity,” which covers final wishes, such as the kinds of legal documents to have in place prior to passing like wills and medical decisions. She also discusses how to document other important decisions, like what age to relinquish your car keys, whether to age at home or in an assisted living facility, how to handle guardianship, etc. 

Since these conversations and decisions can be hard, Smith puts a positive spin on things. 

“I try not to make it doom and gloom,” she said. “I tell them that we’re planning for the party of your life. If you don’t plan for it, you’re going to be in the ugliest dress and lipstick because that’s what your kids or family members will pick out for you because they won’t have a clue about what you want. So this gives you control of your destiny and how you’re going to live your life instead of not having any control. As we age, we lose our independence, and this allows you to keep it.”

Smith will also be adding two new webinars to her list: “Long-term Care” and “Health Care Nuts and Bolts for Those Under 65.” Her upcoming summer Zoom webinars include Aging with Dignity (May 18), Funeral Planning (June 22), and Health Care Nuts and Bolts for Those Under 65 (Aug. 31). 

For more information about “Medicare 101,” “Aging with Dignity,” and other free online workshops, visit

By Andrea Vasquez

Tips for choosing a Medicare Plan:

  • Don’t buy Medicare insurance online, over the phone, or through the mail.
  • Talk to an insurance agent who specifies in Medicare to help you choose the right plan.
  • Make sure the Medicare insurance agent brokers with many of the major insurance companies.
  • Choose a Medicare plan based on what your health care situation could be 10-15 years from now.