Confucius once said, "May you live in interesting times."
As I sit in my office on Thursday, Sept. 25, writing this article, I think that we sure are living through an interesting and momentous time in our nation's financial history.
My last article was about the FDIC and other government protections on savings and investments. Little did I know the entire system was about to receive the seismic jolts that have woken up everyone to the problems that could affect Main Street as well as Wall Street.
Who knows where all this will end, and by the time you read this, nearly a week after it is written, the landscape could be far different than it is today.
The bottom line is to be careful out there. Make sure you understand your investments' potential, both positive and negative. What was rock solid one week might be road kill the next, run over by the frenzied panic that can affect any investment if sentiment turns against it.
But what I really am excited about once again is Medicare
All the plans details are available as of this morning on the government Web site www.Medicare.gov. As I write this, I do not have any idea how all the plans' benefits and premiums will be changing. I am planning on getting up before daylight to get a head start on the lengthy review process that we undertake each year. So, if you see me or call me today and I appear a little blurry eyed, that is the reason.
Although the information is available now, the actual period for changing or enrolling in a plan is Nov. 15-Dec. 31.
I recently visited with Marjorie Stewart in her new office located in Dr. Berry's former office on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Washington Street in Sequim. For those who do not know, Stewart is the SHIBA coordinator for both Clallam and Jefferson counties. SHIBA is the acronym for Statewide Health Insurance Benefit Advisors. These dedicated volunteers assist seniors in all kinds of ways regarding health insurance. The Medicare Part D enrollment period is a busy time of year for them. Stewart said, "The government expects 40 million people to check their coverage during a six-week period, with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's all in that period." A busy time indeed.
If there is one message Medicare, SHIBA and I would like to get out to people, it is that everyone on a Part D drug plan should carefully review the options each and every single year. This is especially important as some companies in prior years have changed a medication from one tier to a higher tier with much higher co-pays.
Each company will provide you with a formulary (drug list) of its covered drugs and the tier levels. Please take a few minutes to check that your medications are covered and at what price.
To review your coverage, go to the Medicare Web site, contact SHIBA at 452-3221 or call your local insurance agent.
Each day for the past two weeks, each company we represent has been sending e-mails outlining all the procedures we must follow in order to be compliant with new CMS (Medicare) rules.
Not only do we have to take a test for each plan, but they are making the tests harder to pass. I never thought I would have to do so much studying on an annual basis when I became an insurance agent 20-plus years ago.
Some companies (Humana) have provided free lunches during sales presentations; this now is forbidden. Only snacks may be served. I even have a list of what snacks are appropriate and how the snacks cannot be bundled to give the appearance of a meal. So, now, there truly is no free lunch.
We are given strict rules about what products can and can not be discussed during the meetings and sometimes we have to wait 48 hours before we can discuss another product.
CMS (Medicare) has tripled the number of secret shoppers to monitor sales presentations, along with requiring prior approval for anything we basically say or do. Do you think anyone secretly shopped for a adjustable rate loan?
With the tripling of secret shoppers, the creation of the Transportation Security Administration and huge increase of air marshals following the 2001 attacks, not to mention the federal oversight that will be created in the future following the Wall Street debacle, I am surprised this country has any unemployment at all. This might sound like a political statement, but it was not intended to be so. This overzealous oversight is in stark contrast to the lax oversight that the banking industry obviously was operating under.
The additional procedures and oversight are to ensure people on Medicare are not abused by unscrupulous salespeople. While I applaud such sentiment, I believe people need to use common sense and know with whom they are doing business. The local agent who shops at the grocery store with you, who you see at the gas station or perhaps eating at your favorite restaurant, will be less likely to try and sell you something that is not right for you versus the salesman who shows up from the big city, whom you may never see again. We live in interesting times; of this, there is no doubt.
Phil Castell is an independent insurance agent in Sequim and can be reached at 683-9284, or via e-mail at PhilCastell@msn.com.
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