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How to better optimize Medicare, Medigap and Social Security

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Medicare, Medigap and Social Security are laced with hundreds of mind-numbing rules and regulations.

So how can advisers help clients who are approaching retirement wade through this thicket and make the best choices?

Three savvy advisers who work with older clients on a regular basis shared their thoughts on approaching this task.

Dr. Carolyn McClanahan, a CFP and the president of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, says that Medicare and Social Security only intertwine directly when a client enrolls in Medicare and isn’t yet claiming Social Security, at which point they pay for their Medicare part B directly instead of having it deducted through their Social Security checks.

If Medicare B premium rates rise, those paying out of pocket will have to foot the cost of the increased premiums, she says.

However, a provision in the Social Security Act prevents those paying for Medicare B from their Social Security checks from having to pay increased rates if there isn’t a rise in the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment.

“This is a benefit to paying for Medicare through Social Security,” McClanahan says.

During open enrollment, she and her staff help clients make the best choices in the plans by analyzing their prescription usage and determining whether a Medicare Advantage plan is a better deal than traditional Medicare.

“Clients value the assistance with the complicated choices,” McClanahan says.

Stacy Bazylinski, a CFP and a senior vice president and wealth manager at Steward Partners Global Advisors in Andover, Massachusetts, recommends that advisers help clients map out Medicare and Social Security programs well before decision-making time.

The firm is part of Raymond James.

“We believe any financial plan should be specific to that client’s needs,” she says.

“Everyone has their own unique definition of living well. And it is our responsibility to get to know the client as well as we can in order to obtain the most accurate picture of what they would like their life to look like during retirement,” Bazylinski says.

“As part of our financial planning, we perform a Social Security optimization analysis where we use assumptions to illustrate what is the optimal planning strategy,” she says.

In discussing Medicare options with clients, the team often refers clients to a partner who specializes in Medicare planning and can help map out various scenarios.

Germi Cloud, an adviser at Cloud Financial in Huntsville, Alabama, starts out making sure that clients get enrolled properly during open enrollment periods to avoid penalties, which unfortunately are for life, he says.

During enrollment periods, Cloud reviews with clients any coverage changes, including possible doctor changes and prescription drug changes.

He also cautions advisers to review with clients the rules and regulations surrounding COBRA insurance.

“Most people think that since they have the COBRA, their open enrollment period has not started yet,” Cloud says.

“This is wrong,” he says. “Once you exit [the employer’s plan], your open enrollment period begins, even if you take out the COBRA coverage.”

Medicare and Social Security are complicated and ever-changing. Advisers should work closely with clients to help them make the best choices and avoid penalties.

These stories are part of a 30-30 series on Social Security.

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