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I got my card in the mail a couple of weeks ago, with an effective date of December 1. I've been trying to figure out everything about drug plans and medigap plans, and coordinating with my private health insurance (which will end).

I'm one month ahead of you, with a Medicare start date of November 1. I consulted with an insurance agent who is very knowledgeable about Medicare matters. She spends about two hours with each new client explaining the system and I got a very good understanding of it as a result - and the information I needed to choose my plans. One thing I especially like about her is that she contacts all her Medicare clients every year to see if their policies remain a good fit. Policies change all the time and it may be necessary to jump plans during open enrollment to continue to get the most out of the system. In particular, any given Plan D might drop the drug you're taking while another Plan D adds it or continues to offer it. Having an agent cut through the red tape takes all the angst out of it.

Did you notice that once you laminate your Medicare card, it won't fit into a credit card slot in your wallet? Its size was probably determined by a government committee.

One interesting thing my agent told me: The area around Bend in Central Oregon is a popular retirement destination for Portlanders and others. She has several clients who retired there but have to make the 4½-hour drive back to Portland for medical appointments because they could not find doctors in Bend who accepted new Medicare patients.

My total premium cost will drop about 50% from what I pay now for private insurance. And I will have lower deductibles and copays. Although I don't take any prescription drugs, if I need any they will be covered, as opposed to my current $1000 drug deductible.

I'd like to thank all the taxpayers out there who are about to increase my travel budget by about $3800 per year.

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