Reuters Money

Some Medicare plans drop prices: time to shop is now

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A nurse holds up a vial of H1N1 flu vaccine prior to an inoculation at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania October 28, 2009. If you’re a senior on Medicare – or if you help out aging parents with their money matters  – it’s time to get ready to shop. The annual enrollment period for Medicare prescription drug and Advantage managed care plans is about to begin, and it’s one of the best opportunities of the year for seniors to save money.

The new healthcare reform law is reshaping certain parts of the Medicare marketplace, for the most part in ways that benefit seniors. Although the law gradually reduced subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a change that critics derided as “slashing” Medicare– the Advantage and prescription drug markets are doing just fine. The number of plan offerings for 2012 are stable and average prices are steady or falling slightly.

Re-shopping your plan annually makes sense, especially Medicare Part D drug plans. Insurance companies often change their offerings year-to-year in ways that can increase drug costs by thousands of dollars, or make it more difficult to get certain drugs. At the same time, your drug needs may have changed since the last plan selection period in ways that make a plan less beneficial for you.

And this year, it’s important to get started on that process earlier than usual—because the enrollment period is earlier this year. The 2010 health reform law moved up the annual enrollment period by several weeks, starting this year. Enrollment will be open from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7—a sensible move intended to get this time-consuming chore away from the busy holiday season.

Workers regret their health benefit choices: survey

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Within a few weeks, employees across the U.S. will start to see their healthcare benefit packages for 2012: They’ll find higher premium costs, more coverage restrictions and myriad choices on items like deductibles, flexible spending account contributions, vision and dental coverage and more. If this year is like others, almost half of those employees will make decisions they later regret.

That’s the findings of a new survey conducted by Harris Interactive and due to be released tomorrow as part of the Aflac WorkForces Report. Reuters received the findings early.

Eldercare: How to hire your kids to take care of you

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Long before the phrase “sandwich generation” took hold, seniors in declining health turned to children or other relatives for essential tasks such as cleaning, grocery shopping, doing laundry or driving to doctors’ appointments. Now, a growing number of families put a price on such devotion though caregiver contracts.

As the name implies, caregiver contracts outline in detail paid arrangements between a parent and child, relative or anyone else in the caregiving loop. Among other things, a formal agreement sets forth the length of time and rate of pay for caregiving services, and the tasks to be performed.

Medical tourism wins fans

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Paul Hambleton didn’t know what to do. He was uninsured, hurting, and facing a $30,000 bill to fix his torn-up knee.

So after researching his options, the owner of a valet-parking firm in Henderson, Texas, came up with an inspired solution. He got treated at a luxury facility, by doctors trained at top institutions, and enjoyed a sunny getaway at the same time, all at a fraction of the cost.

Family finances for a fairytale romance

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When the honeymoon’s over, the hard work begins. Talking about money isn’t romantic, but it’s a great ongoing topic that may ensure a long marriage.

While I don’t think Kate and Will will need any of my humble yeoman’s advice, discussing money issues on a regular basis is a good relationship builder. Here are five ways to steer clear of fiscal disharmony:

How to survive the “zombie economy”

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An actor dressed as a zombie walks on a street in downtown Belgrade October 26, 2010, as part of a promotional campaign for an upcoming U.S. TV series called "The Walking Dead". REUTERS/Marko DjuricaWhat does the threat of a zombie attack and a financial meltdown have in common? For starters, you have to act fast, remain calm and fight back. That’s the premise of the off-beat new book, “Zombie Economics: How To Slay Your Bills, Decapitate Debt, and Fight the Apocalypse of Financial Doom,” a tongue-in-cheek guide to financial survival for the type of people who like a good chuckle when they’re slogging through a crisis.

As the title suggests, Zombie Economics takes a “survival-at-all-costs” mantra to fresh heights, introducing each chapter with a breathless scene straight out of a horror flick,  except the bad guy isn’t going to eat your brains — the real enemy is bankruptcy, financial predators and debt.

Budget wars: The middle class loses big time

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President Barack Obama talks about the budget in the White House press briefing room in Washington, April 5, 2011.   REUTERS/Larry Downing Now that federal government shutdown has been averted, it’s a good time to examine what’s at stake for most of America in the crucial next round of budget talks.

Not doing anything to reduce the size of government debt will be catastrophic. Not much quibble there. But acting hastily and cutting the wrong things can be even more costly to social and economic welfare.

4 ways to add inflation protection to your retirement plan

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 man speaks on his mobile phone in the Canary Wharf financial district in London February 16, 2011.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregorThe consumer inflation rate hit an 18-month high in February, driven mainly by higher food and energy prices. But few economists think the longer-range inflation rate is heating up — there’s still too much slack in the labor and housing markets.

Over the long haul, inflation is a potential threat to retirement security, since a well-constructed plan looks out over a 25- to 30-year horizon. Yet inflation protection isn’t baked into nearly enough retirement plans, according to a new survey by the Society of Actuaries.

We’ve come a long way, baby — but we have far to go

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U.S. film director Quentin Tarantino and German actress Diane Kruger pose for photographers as they arrive at the British premiere of "Inglourious Basterds" at Leicester Square in London July 23, 2009.    REUTERS/Luke MacGregor   Lara Pingue is a Personal Finance producer for Reuters.com. The opinions expressed here are her own.

A coworker recently sent me a YouTube video of a 5-year-old girl declaring to the world her intention to get a job before she gets married. It’s a funny clip, filled with the kind of urgency and drama only a pre-teen girl can muster. But something about it made me uneasy: Isn’t getting a job before marriage a given? Since when is this decision worth broadcasting on the Internet?

Watch your tax deductions: Outliers get audited

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The Internal Revenue Service has some tried and true techniques for finding tax cheats.  Sometimes the agency auditors look at the lifestyles of taxpayers. If you’ve got an upscale Beverly Hills zip code and a really low income, you might be hiding money. Or, you might be between films — not every suspicious return is masking fraud.

The tax agency also looks at all of the reports it receives about you. It matches those 1099 forms and makes sure you’re declaring all the income it knows you are receiving.