The looming deadline generally applies for enrollees in Medicare Part C, Part D or one of the Medicare supplemental options (Medigap).



If you only use Parts A & B, then don’t worry. While Medicare is guaranteed issue insurance, which means preexisting conditions cannot raise your premiums or exclude you, Medicare Advantage (Part C) and the Medicare supplements change every year.



Insurance companies can drop your current provider from their preferred provider network and the options available for drug coverage can change, too. A 2011 study found only 6 percent of enrollees were in the lowest cost plan.



Review plans covering the drugs you take. Do it before the deadline.



Like everything related to American health insurance, navigating Medicare often boggles the mind. As critical as retirement healthcare costs are, few financial professionals understand Medicare’s nuances.



I rely heavily on health insurance geeks. Before launching her financial planning career, Carolyn McClanahan worked as an emergency room physician. Follow her blog on Forbes.com. Locally, my Medicare expert is Barbara Rowan. Unfortunately for me, the interview was sandwiched around Auburn’s miracle win over my beloved Georgia Bulldogs.



In addition to being a Medicare savant, she’s a very gracious Auburn fan.  As a fiduciary if I’m not an expert I find one.  



Many of Barbara’s clients opt for Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C) since some Advantage plans have no out-of-pocket premiums. These plans often work best for people in good health.



You may want to start with an Advantage plan then switch if your health or medication changes. Again, do it before Dec. 7.



“You have to be your own advocate,” Barbara stressed. Since there will be deductibles and co-pays with Medicare Advantage always check with the call center on your Medicare Advantage card. You have to stay in your health insurance plan’s network to get full cost savings.



Pondering Medicare options is not necessarily a bad thing. Medicare limits out-of-pocket expenses and without it few people could swing retirement healthcare costs.



One trick Barbara reminded me was to use the government website. Yes there is one that works. Go to Medicare.gov, enter you drugs by name and dosage levels and you will see the least expensive plan. Barbara reiterated you must compare apples with apples. When factoring co-pays and deductibles, plans with the least out-of-pocket costs can be substantially higher. Medigap insurance premiums can run into thousands of dollars annually and can drain retirement savings rapidly.



Barbara noted people can be overwhelmed by choices available and recommended asking people already on Medicare who they use and how comfortable they are. Medicare is not a one-size-for-everyone program. Healthcare needs, individual budgets along with personal preferences, for better or worse, give Medicare enrollees the chance to design a plan suited to their needs. Barbara’s on my speed dial (585-1954).



Let’s dispel one Medicare myth.



Medicare is not government healthcare. Contrasted with our own Department of Veterans Affairs or Britain’s National Health Services, private providers deliver all health services under Medicare.  People pejoratively use “government healthcare” but scant few can pay healthcare expenses as they age. Trust me, without Medicare real estate in South Walton would take a hit.



Buz Livingston, CFP, has a Blue Mountain Beach based fee-only, hourly financial planning and investment management firm. For more information, visit www.livingstonfinancial.net or come by the new office at 2050 Scenic 30A, M1-Unit 230, Redfish Village.