Home smart home: Boost your home IQ with smart appliances

(BPT) – If you think a Jetsons-like home of the future is still a ways off, think again. Today’s smart home is here offering simple ways for consumers to operate their home, adding the ultimate in efficiency, convenience and enjoyment. It’s easier than you think to create a connected home that lets you operate devices throughout your kitchen, living room, laundry room and more — and you can do it all from the palm of your hand or with simple voice commands. In fact, some of your appliances might already be able to help you cook, clean and entertain in ways never thought possible.

Here are five things smart appliances can do to make your life easier right now:

1. Serve as your sous chef

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth, but one extra helper sure could make the food prep a lot easier. Consider the SmartThinQ app for LG appliances your sous chef and use it to tackle all those extra jobs that come with meal preparation.

It can preheat the oven at a designated time — perfect for when you’re sitting in traffic and need to have dinner ready in a pinch. Plus, it can download recipes and let you monitor the remaining cooking time from your phone — letting you enjoy time with your family without worrying about a burnt meal.

2. Help with housework

If you have a load of laundry in your LG TWINWash with SideKick, your phone can provide cycle status updates and alert you when the cycle is complete, helping to avoid forgotten laundry in your washer. Plus, you can even start or stop the cycle remotely when you’re out of the house.

3. Speed clean your home

Cleaning the oven may be one of the most mundane and dreaded tasks. Now with your smartphone you can easily start your oven’s EasyClean cycle from the palm of your hand, ensuring one of cleanup’s most difficult jobs is done while you’re off enjoying life’s other adventures.

You can also use the app to start your robotic vacuum on your way home from work for a quick refresh or when you forget the in-laws are coming over for dinner.

4. Help you entertain effortlessly

Hosting a party or even a casual group of guests heightens the need to clean, but let’s be honest, there’s always a chore or two around the house that you run out of time to tackle. Your smart home can help save the day. While tackling another chore, simply use your smartphone app to tell your refrigerator to make more ice to save you a trip to the store. Or turn on your air purifier to rid the house of cooking smells or seasonal allergy culprits. Likewise, a quick touch of your phone allows you to control air conditioners in your home to set your place to the perfect temperature or adjust the temperature as guests come and go.

5. Remember your preferences

Do you ever wish your appliances knew what you were thinking? The more you use your smart appliances, the smarter they get by remembering usage habits and data to better anticipate your needs.

Home smart home

Gone are the days of wondering if you left the oven on when you leave the house or constantly checking on the laundry. Chores may be a mainstay, but with new ways to control your home, you no longer have to tackle them all on your own. Each of the examples above presents an opportunity for you to get more from your house with the touch of a button. And for added convenience, many of the latest smart appliances can also be controlled from other devices, like Google Home or Amazon Alexa. So let your touch or your voice be heard and get the most out of your appliances as efficiently as possible. You’ll be glad you did.

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5 steps to making annual enrollment the most wonderful time of the year

(BPT) – It’s that time of year again. But before you plan your Thanksgiving menu or check off your gift list, it’s time to think about employee benefits.

VSP Vision Care surveyed employees about their attitudes around that special time of year when they must choose a benefits package and found that annual open enrollment is less popular than even tax season. While selecting your benefits may not exactly be a party, there’s no need for dread. They’re called benefits for a reason.

In spite of how important employer-sponsored benefits are, The 2015 Ninth Study of Employee Benefits: Today and Beyond from Prudential shows that people spend very little time considering their benefits. In fact, 32 percent spent just one to two hours on this important topic and 23 percent spent less than 30 minutes.

“The decisions we make during open enrollment can have an impact throughout the next year,” said James Gemus, senior vice president, head of product and business segments, group insurance for Prudential Financial. “These decisions deserve careful consideration and people owe it to themselves to consider every possible option. The research shows us that 55 percent of the time spent on benefit decisions was devoted to medical coverage. That’s certainly understandable, but they should be careful not to overlook other key benefits offered through their employer, like disability or life insurance.”

Make the most of this season’s open enrollment with these tips from Prudential:

1. Review all of your options. Employers and employees often look at medical, dental and vision as taking priority, and with good reason. However, don’t overlook other benefits, such as life and disability insurance, critical illness and accident insurance, which can complement these core offerings and are key to overall financial wellness. Seventy-one percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to the study Getting Paid in America. Disability insurance can help protect a portion of your income if you become too sick or injured to work and earn a paycheck. That’s important because 62 percent of bankruptcies are based on a medical event and 78 percent of those who experience medical bankruptcies had health insurance. Critical illness insurance can help reduce the amount of out-of-pocket costs associated with certain serious medical issues. Insurance is a great way to help protect yourself financially from unexpected risks, so explore all of your options.

2. Take advantage of cost and convenience. Purchasing benefits like life or disability insurance through your employer can simplify things for you in two ways: First, you often pay less for them than had you purchased them on your own because you’re taking advantage of group rates; and second, you pay for these benefits through payroll deduction, which is not only simple, but also reduces your gross income, which may help lower your taxes.

3. Make the most of financial wellness programs: In a recent Prudential survey only 22 percent of individuals described themselves as feeling financially secure. Sixty-three percent said that employee satisfaction with benefits is important for their company’s success and employees are increasingly looking to those benefit offerings as a basis for financial security. So as more workers rely on their workplace as a primary source of insurance and savings — 35 percent of workers as of 2015 up from 30 percent in 2013 — employers are trying to ensure that every employee gets the most from the benefits they have. As an employee, don’t forgo this opportunity, ask questions both of your company and your coworkers to learn more about all of your options. It’s your benefits package but it only benefits you if you use it.

4. Look for tools to help make decisions. Often, employers will provide websites where you can not only enroll, but also offer tools like calculators and videos that can help you make sense of your benefits. This means getting the help you need in understanding your financial protection needs and selecting the best options to meet them. So take the time to explore them. It’s time well spent.

5. Ask for help. With all the options out there, it’s easy to feel confused. Speak with your employer’s benefits experts or HR resources. You can also speak to a financial professional and learn more about how to select the coverage that will fit your needs. You may be amazed at the good information that’s available.

The Prudential Insurance Company of America Newark, NJ

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A New Kind of Life Insurance for Those Living with Diabetes

(BPT) – For people living with diabetes, the condition is a part of their everyday life and one that impacts many of their decisions, from balancing what they eat to taking care of their health. One area that might not be top of mind for people living with diabetes is life insurance. That’s because many people with diabetes believe they won’t be able to get life insurance if they have the condition.

Research shows that nearly 50 percent of people with diabetes are worried they will not qualify for a life insurance policy and another 45 percent assume it’s too expensive, according to a recent survey commissioned by John Hancock.1 And it’s even higher among younger people, with 68 percent of people ages 25-34 worried they won’t qualify.

Dispelling the common myth

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes.2 This equates to roughly 30 million people. In addition, another 33.9 percent (84 million) has pre-diabetes. While people with diabetes recognize the many benefits life insurance can offer — like providing for your family, covering final expenses, and offering peace of mind — there’s a lot of confusion about the topic and a concern that having diabetes will bar them from getting life insurance.

In reality, more than 90 percent of all the people with diabetes who sought life insurance in the past 18 months qualified with John Hancock. In addition, 88 percent of those applicants received a standard or better premium quote.

A new kind of life insurance

If you are living with diabetes and you haven’t thought about life insurance recently, it’s worth taking a look. John Hancock life insurance with Vitality rewards customers for the smarter choices they make every day to improve their health — exercising regularly, eating well and visiting the doctor — things many people, including those with diabetes, are already encouraged to do. Policyholders can earn valuable rewards, including an Apple Watch® Series 3 for $25, plus tax, by exercising regularly,3 $600 in annual savings on healthy food purchases,4 and savings of up to 15 percent on their annual life insurance premiums. It doesn’t require completely changing your habits overnight — small, healthy choices can make a big difference over time.

Getting your questions answered

If you have diabetes and you are without a life insurance policy, you probably have questions. The good news is you’re not alone. Only one third of those with diabetes report they consider themselves knowledgeable about life insurance. The most common questions among those who don’t include:

* How much life insurance will I need?

* Will I need a medical exam to get life insurance?

* Can I afford a life insurance policy?

To help you find the answers to these questions, you can speak with one of John Hancock’s Coverage Coaches at 844-235-3002, or visit www.JohnHancockInsurance.com/ADA. Life insurance is an important way to help protect your loved ones, and now your policy can do more by rewarding you for healthy living.

1. This nationwide survey was conducted online by Qualtrics on behalf of John Hancock.

2. CDC. National Diabetes Statistical Report, 2107. CDC. National Diabetes Statistical Report, 2107.https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf

3. You can order Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) for an initial payment of $25 plus tax and over the next two years, monthly payments are based on the number of workouts completed. Upgrade fees apply if you choose Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular), certain bands and case materials. A Retail Installment Agreement with the Vitality Group will need to be signed electronically at checkout. Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) requires an iPhone 5s or later with iOS 11 or later. Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) requires an iPhone 6 or later with iOS 11 or later.

Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) and iPhone service provider must be the same. Cellular is not available with all service providers. Roaming is not available outside your carrier network coverage area. Wireless service plan required for cellular service. Contact your service provider for more details. Check www.apple.com/watch/cellular for participating wireless carriers and eligibility.

Apple is not a participant in or sponsor of this promotion. Apple Watch program is not available in New York.

4. HealthyFood savings are based on qualifying purchases and may vary based on the terms of the John Hancock Vitality program.

Insurance policies and/or associated riders and features may not be available in all states.

Vitality is the provider of the John Hancock Vitality Program in connection with policies issued by John Hancock. John Hancock Vitality Program rewards and discounts are only available to the person insured under the eligible life insurance policy. Rewards and discounts are subject to change and are not guaranteed to remain the same for the life of the policy.

Premium savings are in comparison to the same John Hancock policy without the Vitality program. Annual premium savings will vary based upon policy type, the terms of the policy, and the level of the insured’s participation in the John Hancock Vitality Program.

Insurance products are issued by John Hancock Life Insurance Company (U.S.A.), Boston, MA 02210 (not licensed in New York) and John Hancock Life Insurance Company of New York, Valhalla, NY MLINY101717101

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Looking for a Medicare Part D plan? Consider these 3 things

(BPT) – Many people are surprised to find out that Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs. For help with the cost of your medications, you can choose a standalone Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription coverage, but navigating your options can be complicated.

With Medicare Open Enrollment running from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 — the annual window when you can make changes to your Medicare coverage — now is a good time to learn about how to pick a plan that can best suit your needs.

Kent Monical, senior vice president for Part D at UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, recommends you consider these three things when choosing a plan.

1. Your drugs

Prescription drug plans can vary significantly. Each Part D plan has a list of drugs, called a formulary, which shows the drugs it covers.

“When considering a Part D plan, be sure your medications are covered,” Monical said. “Even if you don’t expect to change plans, it’s important to make sure your drugs will still be covered next year, as plans can change from year to year.”

2. Your pharmacy

Most Part D plans have preferred pharmacy networks. People can typically get their drugs for a lower copay when they visit preferred pharmacies.

“Make sure the plan offers access to pharmacies that are convenient for you,” Monical said. “Some plans also have mail-order pharmacy benefits, and you can get prescriptions delivered to your home for a lower cost than purchasing from a retail location.”

3. Your total costs

“A low monthly premium plan doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the lowest-cost plan,” said Monical. “You should also understand the other out-of-pocket costs, including the annual deductible and drug copays.”

Plans sort drugs into several tiers, with generic or lower-tier drugs generally costing less than drugs on higher tiers. Talk to your doctor about whether a lower-tier drug might be suitable for you, which could help you save money.

The bottom line

Medicare Open Enrollment is a great time to make sure you have the right prescription drug coverage for your health and budget needs. Monical concludes, “Exploring your Part D options now could help you save money in 2018.”

For more helpful open enrollment information, visit UHCOpenEnrollment.com.

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Don’t get hacked! Time to get serious about password safety

(BPT) – We all know hiding your house key under the doormat is a terrible idea, but we do it anyway because it’s a convenient backup. When it comes to safeguarding passwords, especially in a family setting, people often choose convenience over safety.

As families manage their digital information and online accounts, many end up opting for that less secure key-under-the-doormat solution. People are already sharing passwords, and their methods of sharing are not always the best. Some 41 percent of adults with online accounts admit to sharing passwords with friends and family, according to an Americans and Cybersecurity survey by Pew Research Center. Yet, 90.8 percent of respondents say they know that having strong passwords helps them better protect their families.

Consider the number of security breaches that continue to make national news:

* In 2016, we learned the Yahoo data breach compromised 1 billion accounts.

* In that same month, we learned 167 million email addresses and passwords were stolen from LinkedIn.

* In September 2017, a security breach at Equifax was reported, exposing Social Security numbers and other personal data of 143 million users, which is nearly half the U.S. population.

Now more than ever, it’s clear how important it is to protect our personal information online. According to a Verizon 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, 81 percent of data breaches involve weak, reused or stolen credentials. That’s significantly higher than the 63 percent it was in 2016.

“If you were to dig into the reasons behind these repeated, overly simple, shared passwords, it’s actually pretty understandable as to how this happens,” according to LastPass Senior Director of Product, Steve Schult. “The average person has some 200-plus logins. If you were to give each its own strong, unique password, that’s way too many for one person to keep track of and remember, let alone all the other family members that might also use some of those accounts.”

But there’s no need to trade security for the convenience of digital access. With a password manager designed for individual or family use, you can create those strong passwords for all the accounts you and your family use, and store them within a secure vault that’s accessed by a single master password only you know. These digital lockboxes protect your information under multiple layers of security, making it impossible for digital thieves to hack and access.

If you’re debating whether to make the switch to a digital password manager, here’s a few ways it can improve your family’s online security and help stop the struggle with passwords.

Create rock-solid passwords: Most password managers offer a secure password generator that allows you to set and create a long, strong and unique password for every online account. You can create a password up to 100 characters long, including numbers and symbols. Another way to do it is by using the “passphrase” approach, meaning string together words that create a phrase. Be sure to steer clear of birthdays, anniversaries, street names and other specific personal details that can be found through a simple social media search.

Secure more than just passwords: There’s an endless number of passwords and sensitive information you can store in your password manager, including banking logins, passport and license numbers, shopping accounts, email and social media passwords and more. By storing all of this information in your secure vault, you’ll always have access to the information whenever and wherever you may need it.

Safely share passwords with family members: One benefit of a password manager that’s designed for family use is that it lets you safely and conveniently store passwords and valuable documents in folders for flexible sharing with others in the family. LastPass Families includes unlimited shared folders, which means you can create multiple folders and store an endless number of passwords and share with those in your family. For example, you could put your banking account password into one folder and share access with your spouse, have another folder for your favorite streaming services and securely share access with the whole family. All the while, you can keep your personal accounts private.

Use it as a teaching moment: Have a talk with your kids about how passwords are the keys to our digital lives, and how good password habits help protect everything from personal details to finances. Show them how to build a good password, and how tools like a password manager can create a safe way to access and share accounts. It’s an important life skill that will help them protect themselves for years to come.

Plan for the digital afterlife: When there’s a death or serious emergency, it turns out that state and federal laws, along with service agreements, can block your family from getting access to your online accounts. With a password manager that allows emergency access, family members can get into your password vault and have access to whatever they need.

If you’re interested in learning more about LastPass or LastPass Families, visit LastPass.com.

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Picking a health insurance plan? Prepare for the unexpected

(BPT) – As many Americans know, fall is the season when we must select our health benefits for the upcoming year. Choosing a health plan can be a daunting task, but selecting the right coverage protects you and your family’s general health needs and can prepare you for an unexpected medical crisis. While no one plans on receiving a blood cancer diagnosis, for example, an estimated 173,000 Americans were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2017. As there are no means of preventing or early screening for most blood cancers, a diagnosis can often appear without warning. Well-planned health insurance coverage can make an important difference in how patients can fare in fighting the disease.

This year’s open enrollment season, which runs approximately from October to December, is your opportunity to consider your health benefits and plan ahead. With the cost of care for major health events and severe illnesses increasing every year, you will want to select a health plan that ensures you and your family are prepared in the case of a health emergency. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) offers three tips to consider when selecting your 2018 health plan.

Compare physician and hospital networks: Be diligent when choosing a plan. While it is important to compare plan prices, including co-payments, deductibles and premiums, it is equally important that your primary care doctor and any specialists you visit are part of the plan’s network. Not all plans cover every doctor, hospital or comprehensive cancer center near you, so review the plan’s network list carefully. You also can call your doctors and hospitals to ask if they are in the plan’s network. If your spouse or children are on your plan, you will need to consider their physicians as well.

Prepare for the unexpected: No one expects to receive a serious diagnosis like blood cancer, but it helps to be prepared. The cost of cancer care is rising at an alarming rate and these costs include more than drugs and doctor visits. From diagnostic tests to hospitalizations to special home health equipment, there are many hidden costs to having a serious illness. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Russell Research on behalf of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society found that 84 percent of adults are not sure how they would cover all medical costs if they were diagnosed with cancer. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you have the coverage you’ll need at an affordable cost.

Pay close attention to the numbers: As you evaluate your coverage options — whether through an employer, Medicare, spouse or your parents — it’s important to estimate your health care costs for the following year carefully. Understand what your deductible and co-pays will be and take stock of where coinsurance will be required; review your health bills from the previous year to guide your choice, but make sure you are covered for unexpected health issues as well.

If you purchase health insurance from the federal or state marketplace, the plans you are offered will depend on your location and income. It is very important to make sure your personal information is accurate and up-to-date on the federal website, HealthCare.gov, or on your state’s website. Depending on your income, you could qualify to save on your insurance through advance premium tax credits. In fact, 8 out of 10 people who purchase insurance through the marketplace are eligible for lower premiums. Open enrollment in the marketplace will run this year from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

If you or a family member had or has cancer, or are at risk for cancer, there is a checklist available at www.cancerinsurancechecklist.org that can help you choose the right plan when shopping on the health insurance marketplace. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also provides free information and resources about health insurance coverage for people living with cancer at www.lls.org.

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Paving the way to college: 4 things parents need to know

(BPT) – Senior year: It’s a time to finish college applications, solidify friendships and look forward to the freedom and the responsibility that come once that final bell rings. A lot of feelings surface during that final year, especially for parents. While your son or daughter might be overjoyed to finally fly the coop and live independently, you’ll probably be dealing with your own mix of emotions, and you’ll want to be sure they’re ready to begin college in the fall.

For families with a child headed to college, senior year is best thought of as a transition year. Plan ahead to make sure your family stays on track.

To help you and your child with a successful transition, here’s the essential list of landmarks on the road that will take your child from a senior in high school to a freshman in college.

1. Apply yourself in the fall

The journey to college begins early, and by the fall of senior year in high school, your child should be in full transition mode. They should be finishing campus visits and finalizing the list of colleges where they want to apply. Make sure they’ve spoken with admission counselors, thoroughly researched schools they’re interested in and have everything they need to complete their college applications.

Keep tabs on important deadlines and stay organized to avoid missing any critical due dates. For example, will they want to apply early decision or early action? If so, make sure you have weighed how this could impact your financial plan for college.

2. Focus on financial aid from the start

For many parents, one of the biggest anxieties around college is the cost. Don’t forget that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on Oct. 1, and some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you submit the form as soon as it’s available.

Because everyone has different needs, figuring out how to finance your child’s education requires some research.

At College Ave Student Loans, you can find private loan options for parents and students. Even if you’re not ready to take a loan out yet, parents and students can try out the fast and easy pre-qualification tools to find out if their credit pre-qualifies for a loan, and what interest rates they could expect, all without impacting their credit scores. Calculators are also available to help you explore your options and see how you can customize the loan payments to fit your budget.

3. Spring time is decision time

Early in the spring, your child will start to receive their first acceptance letters. Once they’ve heard from all of the schools where they applied, they’ll have a big decision to make.

They need to do more than just decide which school to attend; they’ll also need to send in a deposit, complete their housing form and accept financial aid packages.

A crucial step in this process is comparing award letters from the colleges where your child has been accepted. In reading these letters, pay close attention to how schools list the total costs. For instance, some schools will subtract the awarded loan amount from the total cost of attendance, while others will not. This could make the net cost of some schools appear less than others when in reality they are not, so take your time reading the documents.

4. Tie up everything in the summer

Before they head to campus, you and your children should create a budget to keep tabs on college bills. This will help you to stay on track financially and set the right expectations about how they need to manage their money.

You can help your soon-to-be freshman by working with them to outline a monthly budget that will take into account expected and unexpected expenses. Take a look at their financial aid packages and any income they might be earning and block out the monthly mandatory expenses. Then decide how much money they can spend on things like entertainment.

If you find that scholarships, grants and federal aid don’t cover everything, private loans could be one solution for some college-bound students.

For parents and students, senior year is an exciting period. Knowing what steps to take and staying ahead of financial matters with useful tools like the ones at College Ave Student Loans can help make the transition easier for everyone.

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Find Medicare Confusing? Start Here

(BPT) – Navigating Medicare can be challenging. In fact, according to a 2017 UnitedHealthcare survey, nearly 40 percent of Medicare beneficiaries find the program confusing. Learning the basics can help you cut through the confusion and make an informed decision about which coverage option may be the right fit for you.

Here’s a quick guide to five important Medicare terms to help prepare for the upcoming open enrollment period. What is open enrollment, you ask? Well, read on.

1. Open Enrollment Period

If you are already enrolled in Medicare and want to make changes to your health plan, you can do so during the annual open enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. For most people, this is the one opportunity each year to make changes to your Medicare coverage.

Changes made during this year’s open enrollment period take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

2. Original Medicare

Original Medicare is made up of Part A and Part B and is offered by the federal government. Simply put, Part A helps cover services such as inpatient care at a hospital or a skilled nursing facility. Part B helps cover doctor’s office visits and outpatient physical and occupational therapy services.

According to Dr. Efrem Castillo, Chief Medical Officer for UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, “Original Medicare generally covers 80 percent of health care costs, leaving you responsible for paying the remaining 20 percent. It also does not have an out-of-pocket maximum, meaning that if you have unexpected health care costs, you could end up with a hefty bill.”

Original Medicare does not cover things like prescription drugs, long-term care, hearing aids and the exams needed for fitting them, or routine dental or vision care.

3. Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare Part C, are offered by private insurance companies. Medicare Advantage plans combine Medicare Parts A and B into one plan (which means you only need to carry one card), and can offer additional benefits such as vision, hearing, dental and even gym memberships. Most plans also provide prescription drug coverage.

In addition to the all-in-one coverage, Medicare Advantage plans also have an annual out-of-pocket maximum, making it easier for you to estimate your health care costs, even when facing an unforeseen health event.

4. Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap)

A Medicare Supplement policy is also known as Medigap and is offered by private companies. It can help pay for some things not covered by Original Medicare, such as copays, coinsurance and deductibles. Medigap plans typically have a higher monthly premium but little or no out-of-pocket costs when you access care. However, Medigap plans don’t cover prescription drugs, so you would need to enroll in a separate Part D plan.

5. Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D helps cover prescription drugs. Castillo explains, “You have two options for prescription drug coverage. Either enroll in a standalone Part D plan, or you can get drug coverage through most Medicare Advantage plans.” Make sure that the plan you select covers the prescription medications you need.

To learn more, visit UHCOpenEnrollment.com.

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