More seniors (61%) are concerned about Medicare than about any other financial issue, according to a recent survey, topping even the 52% who worry about having enough money to enjoy retirement.

Further down the wall of worry are paying for long-term care (43%), paying for health care (41%), and outliving their money (38%), according to Allsup, a Belleville, Illinois-based provider of Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicare secondary payer compliance services.

 “I don’t think it’s a big surprise,” Mary Dale Walters, senior vice president at Allsup Medicare Advisor, said. “The anxiety about the future of Medicare is heightened by the current elections and the ongoing debate about the Affordable Care Act.”

According to Walters, most seniors rely on Medicare for their health care coverage.

“They may see ensuring Medicare’s future as critical in making sure they have enough money to enjoy retirement,” she said. “Many seniors have already cut back on certain spending beyond health care to cover unexpected health care costs. They may be concerned that if there are changes to Medicare, that could mean further cutting back on spending in other areas of their lives.”

Seniors’ interest in Medicare is peaking while open enrollment is under way, from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. During this period, people eligible for Medicare can choose among various plans for the coming year. Financial advisors can help clients during the Medicare annual enrollment period with needs assessment, Walters said.

For example, clients enrolled in  Medicare might be experiencing reduced coverage or increased out-of-pocket expenses as their health and medical needs change.

“Selecting appropriate coverage and actively managing costs (both premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses)assists with asset protection,” Walters said.

If seniors don’t make good choices now, she said, they could miss an opportunity to improve their current coverage by seeing that their Medicare plan is aligned with their needs and what they can afford.

“The best advice that a financial advisor can give about Medicare is not really about specific plans or policies,” Walters said. “It’s about the approach and is very similar to how the planner and client make investment decisions. First, assess personal health care needs and budget and how those might have changed from the previous year.”

Walters said it is vital to consider all of the costs associated with the plans; not just premiums, but changes in co-pays, deductibles, the donut hole and other out-of-pocket costs.

“Too many people simply look at new plans in comparison to their old Medicare plans,” she said. “Clients need to step back, assess their needs and look for a plan that meets current needs and anticipated needs. Health care and related costs are a significant concern to seniors, so it makes sense that they’re integrated into financial planning.” 

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