Saturday, October 31, 2020

Medicare Annual Election Period - Avoid Making Mistakes!

For the past few years, this blog has benefited from the wisdom of our Medicare expert, Danielle Kunkle Roberts.  She is the founder of Boomer Benefits and her company provides Medicare assistance to senior citizens in nearly every state.  Her contact information is always available in the side bar of this blog.  This month, she has written a helpful post which explains the most common mistakes people make during the Medicare Annual Election Period.

 If you are concerned about avoiding other potential Medicare mistakes, you will also want to read her new book "10 Costly Medicare Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make." (Ad)  It is full of excellent tips which everyone should know about before applying for Medicare.

Mistakes to Avoid During the AEP

by Danielle Kunkle Roberts

Medicare has several different enrollment periods. Some happen only once in your life, while others happen annually. The Annual Election Period (AEP), also called the Fall Open Enrollment Period, occurs every year from October 15th until December 7th.

The Annual Election Period (AEP) is for people who are already enrolled in Medicare, so if you are new to Medicare, the AEP will not pertain to you. During the AEP, you can enroll in, change, or drop a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan. The AEP does not apply to Medigap (Medicare Supplement) plans, however. You can apply for Medigap at any time, but if you are outside your Medigap Open Enrollment Period, you might have to pass a medical underwriting before a new company will accept you. 

Knowing exactly what the AEP is designed for and how to prepare for it will help you avoid these mistakes.

Mistake:  Missing your Annual Notice of Change

Every year, Part D and Medicare Advantage plans must send out an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) letter to their beneficiaries. If you have a Medicare Part D plan or Medicare Advantage plan, you should receive your ANOC by September 30th.

Your Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) will either be mailed or emailed to you, depending on your preference. This notice will explain all the changes made to the plan for the following year, such as premium and formulary changes. Some insurers send letters with instructions for viewing your plan changes online. If your insurer is one of those, the notice you receive may not actually contain changes to your plan.

It’s important to review your Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) every year before the Annual Election Period (AEP) is over. If you ignore your ANOC and stick with your current plan, you may be surprised to discover on January 1st that your plan dropped one of your daily medications from the formulary or canceled a benefit you relied on.

The Annual Election Period is generally the only time you can change Part D plans each year, so if you’re unhappy with your current plan, make sure you explore your options and make the switch during the AEP.

On the other hand, if you are enrolled in Medicare Advantage, you have a second chance to change your coverage during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (January 1st – March 31st).

Mistake:  Dropping your Medicare Advantage plan before getting approved for your Medigap plan

If you decide to switch to Original Medicare and Medigap during the Annual Election Period, make sure you are approved for a Medigap plan before you drop your Medicare Advantage plan. Unless you have Medigap guaranteed issue rights, you may be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

Outside your Medigap Open Enrollment Period, it may take a few weeks for the insurer to approve your application. This is especially true if the company wants to review your medical records.

Wait until you get your approval letter and effective date to drop your other coverage. Otherwise, you could find yourself past the Annual Election Period with no opportunity to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan until the following year.

Mistake:  Not using the Medicare Plan Finder Tool to shop Part D plans

Medicare created an online Plan Finder Tool several years ago that has become a one-stop-shop for Part D plans. It is the go-to place to compare all Part D plans offered in your ZIP code. The Plan Finder makes it easy to compare multiple Part D plans at one time.

At Boomer Benefits, we recommend that our Medigap clients use this tool during the AEP to shop for Part D plans. Since most Medicare enrollees have access to dozens of different Part D plans, the Plan Finder is really the easiest way to compare premiums and formularies. 

Remember, all of our Medigap clients have access to our client service team for help with issues related to Part D, even if your plan is with a company we do not represent. This is a completely free service for our Medigap clients. 

You will also have access to an annual Part D video which explains how to use the Medicare Plan Finder Tool to make sure you find the most cost-effective plans in your area every year.

Mistake:  Not enrolling in a new Model Part D plan as an insulin-dependent beneficiary

Starting January 1, 2021, there is a new program called the Part D Senior Savings Model. The 2020 AEP is the first time you can enroll in one of the new Model Part D plans. Enrolling in a Senior Savings Model Part D plan will cap your insulin copayments at $35 or lower.

If you take insulin and it’s covered by Part D, not Part B, be sure to enroll in a new Senior Savings Model Part D plan during this year’s AEP. Doing so will cap your insulin spending at no more than $420 for 2021.


For many Medicare beneficiaries, the Annual Election Period (AEP) is a stressful time of year. But if you know the purpose of the AEP and how to prepare for it, you’ll glide right through and get the coverage you need.

If you are shopping for Medicare Advantage plans, Boomer Benefits can help you find the most cost-effective plan in your area. You can also give us a call at (855) 732-9055 if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, but would like to switch to a Medigap plan. You can learn more at

Be sure to check out Boomer Benefits co-founder Danielle Kunkle Roberts’ new book, "10 Costly Medicare Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make." (Ad) This best-selling book discusses ten other mistakes it is all too easy to make throughout your Medicare journey.

Are you interested in learning more about Medicare, Social Security, common medical problems, financial planning, where to live in retirement and more?  Use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

When to Move to Assisted Living - Are You Ready?

When should you make the move to an assisted living retirement community?  Like most people, you have probably lived independently and comfortably your entire life.  However, eventually you may start to realize that you are no longer able to do an optimal job of caring for yourself.  You probably do not need to be in a skilled nursing facility.  You just want life to be easier, and maybe have a little assistance once in a while. 

It can be hard to acknowledge that you need to move to assisted living, and many people have them confused with nursing homes.  However, you may not have visited one of the delightful assisted living communities currently available in your area.  In most cases, residents live in their own private apartments, with their personal furniture and possessions.  They have both privacy and lovely common areas to enjoy. Typically, there are a wide variety of activities, fitness facilities, art studios, classes, and entertainment.  In most cases, the residents are given a choice of a broad selection of foods to choose from at each meal. Special diets are often available for those with specific medical needs, such as diabetics, or people who have problems with gluten or food allergies.

How can you decide if you are ready for assisted living?  The truth is that you can move into one of these communities whenever you wish.  You do not need to be sick, injured or have any particular health issue to justify moving to one.  It is not unusual for a healthy spouse to move into one with a spouse who has a chronic health condition. Many single people make the decision as they get older because they want to age in comfort and safety.  Even during the Covid-19 epidemic, people have successively transitioned into assisted living communities. Some communities even promote the fact that they have managed to maintain a "bubble" with few or no cases of Covid-19 among their residents or employees.

If you decide to wait to move into one, how will you know the time has come? You should consider making the move if you answer "yes" to even one of the questions below.  You should seriously begin the process of choosing an assisted living community if you answer "yes" to several of these questions, especially if you wish to make the choice of a community yourself, rather than wait until an adult child makes the choice for you. What questions do you need to ask yourself to determine that assisted living is right for you?

When Should You Move to Assisted Living?

1. Have you fallen recently?

It is easy to dismiss a fall as simply being an "accident."  After all, even as young adults, we all trip over things occasionally.  However, have you fallen more than once in the past year or two?  Did it happen because you were dizzy, experienced a sudden drop in blood pressure, had neuropathy, or lost your balance? Did you have trouble getting up after it happened?  Were you badly injured, severely bruised, or experienced pain for more than a day?  Even if you have not actually fallen, did you only manage to prevent a fall because you were able to grab onto a chair or counter at the last minute? 

Falls are a leading cause of death and serious injury in the elderly. If you have lost your balance, misjudged a step, or fallen for other reasons, and you live alone, it could be time to move to a safer location where someone will check on you regularly.  Until then, you may want to purchase a medical alert device (Ad) and get a service to go with it, so you can contact someone quickly if you fall and have trouble getting up on your own.  Some of these medical devices include automatic fall detection, so the service provider can get help for you, even if you are unconscious.

2. Are you having difficulty recovering from illnesses and injuries?

If you seem to be chronically ill, or have trouble healing from an injury or illness, your immune system may be telling you that it can no longer respond aggressively to your health issues. You could be approaching a time when you will need more medical attention in the future. It is far better to move into the assisted living community of your choice before you become too ill to move.  If you are almost at that point already, because of your illnesses or an injury, you should seek help in moving.  Many assisted living communities can refer you to someone who will help you choose the items you want to take with you, arrange the packing and moving, dispose of the items you no longer need, and make sure you are successfully relocated.

3. Do you ever forget to take your medications?

It is very important that you take your prescriptions correctly and on-time.  At first, a medicine organizer may help you keep your prescriptions straight.  However, if you find that you are still forgetting to take them, or taking them twice in the same day, it could be time to move to a facility where they can help track your medications and make sure you are taking them correctly.  In addition, they will notice if there might be drug interactions which your doctor may have overlooked, or if you seem to be having a bad reaction to a medication.  It can be important to have an independent person observe the effect your medication is having on you.

4. Do you have problems with any daily living activities?

Are you having trouble preparing your own meals and cleaning up afterwards?  Is it overwhelming to do your laundry, take a shower, or wash your hair?  Moving to assisted living will give you a well-deserved break.  They will provide you with meals, often served restaurant style, and they can also help with housework, laundry, showering, and personal grooming. It can make life much easier for you.

5. Are you eating properly?

Are you relying on takeout or frozen meals? Has your weight changed significantly in the last year or less? Weight change can either mean you have a serious medical problem, or it could mean you are not eating properly.  When my grandmother moved into assisted living, she was amazed at the number of liquids they provided at every meal, including a glass of water, milk or juice, and coffee or tea.  It is common for senior citizens to become dehydrated and not realize it.  Whether you have been overeating unhealthy foods, or under-eating the healthy foods your body needs to sustain itself, an assisted living community can help you find the right balance.

6. How is your personal hygiene?

Are you letting yourself go?  Do you spend the day in your pajamas, frequently re-wear the same clothing, or skip bathing and washing your hair?  This could be a sign that you would benefit from assisted living, where you will regularly see other people and have a reason to get dressed and look nice.  If dressing and bathing have become physically difficult for you, the community will also have assistants who can help you.  Many of them also have an on-site hairdresser.

7. Are you having mobility problems?

Are you having trouble walking or using the stairs in your home?  A physical therapist could help you regain some strength, and it is possible you may be able to remodel your current home to make it more accessible. However, if you are having difficulty getting out of bed, walking around your home, or standing for any length of time, it may be advisable to move to assisted living before your mobility problems become worse.  Even if you ultimately end up using a walker or require a wheelchair, assisted living communities are designed to make it easier for you to get around while using these mobility devices.

8. How is your driving?

If you have had some auto accidents, fender benders, or tickets, it could be time to stop driving.  You could rely on taxis, Uber or public transportation, or you could move to assisted living where they will drive you to doctor appointments and periodic shopping trips.  They will also provide transportation for outings to local places of interest.  It could be time to relax and leave the driving to someone else!

9. Has it become too hard for you to maintain your home?

Has it become difficult for you to keep up with your home?  Do the flower beds need weeding, the grass mowing, or the walls painting?  Are there plumbing or electrical problems you are ignoring because it is so difficult for you to deal with them?  Are you starting to feel like a hoarder?  Do you frequently lose things in your home, because of the chaos?  Life will be much easier for you in assisted living where you will no longer be responsible for maintenance.

10. Are you able to care for your pets?

If you own a pet, you do not want to neglect them.  It is not fair to the animal if you sometimes forget to feed them or fail to change the cat's litter box.  Is it becoming too hard for you to walk your dog, or take your pet to the vet? There are assisted living facilities which allow pets.  This move could benefit both you and your beloved animal.

11.  Do you get lost easily?

Getting lost or having difficulty following directions could be an early sign of dementia.  It could also be dangerous for you, especially if you having trouble finding your way back home.  If you find yourself getting confused when you go somewhere, do not ignore this symptom.  You should immediately talk to your doctor and seek out an assisted living facility which provides memory care, in the event your confusion becomes worse.

13. Have you noticed that you become angry more easily?

Anger, impatience and aggressive behavior can be early signs of impending dementia.  They could also be signs of depression or loneliness.  You should discuss these symptoms with your personal physician.  They may want to put you on an antidepressant.  Moving to assisted living could also benefit you.  You will be in a less stressful living situation, and they can monitor you for continuing symptoms of depression or dementia.

14. Have you become isolated or withdrawn?

Be honest with yourself.  Have you become less social than you were a few years ago?  Even during Covid-19, there are ways to interact with other people online, and reach out to your friends.  You should do some self-reflection about whether or not you have adapted.  Are you reaching out to other people, participating in social activities, staying in contact with friends, or continuing to pursue hobbies you always enjoyed?  If you have noticed a change, you should talk to your doctor about the situation.  Assisted living could help you reconnect with people and activities you enjoyed in the past.  

15. Are you ignoring your bills or your mail?

You bills are likely to be much simpler when you live in assisted living.  You can arrange to have your monthly fees and any other bills, such as insurance premiums, automatically withdrawn from a bank account and, at the same time, have your Social Security, pension and any other sources of income automatically deposited.  While you or a family member should regularly check your account to make sure the money is being deposited and withdrawn correctly, you will have few, if any, bills you need to handle directly.  This will also reduce your stress. 

16. Are you happy?

As people age, it is not unusual for some of them to become unhappy, lonely, or resentful towards their family members and friends who may seem to have forgotten them.  You cannot change the behavior of other people.  However, you can put yourself in a better living situation where you will be surrounded by new people who care about you, check on you, socialize with you, and participate in activities with you. Even if you are having absolutely no problem caring for yourself right now, the right assisted living community can improve the quality of your life immensely. 

Remember that you can move into assisted living for absolutely no reason, other than the desire to put yourself in a safe, secure situation because you are aging and becoming more frail. Most of them have independent living apartments or cottages where you live, until you actually need more assistance. Perfectly healthy people often live in assisted living communities because they have an ill spouse, or because they want to know they will be prepared for the future.  However, if you answered "yes" to one or more of the questions above, you should seriously consider moving into assisted living sooner, rather than later.  A good quality community will be able to recommend an agency or helper who can make the transition easier.  Check with state agencies to make sure you find a community which is safe and has had few problems or complaints.

The ideas for some of the above questions came from an article in Consumer Affairs.  You can find more information about finding an assisted living facility for a parent or other loved one at:

Are you interested in learning more about where to live in retirement, Social Security, Medicare, commone medical problems, financial planning, and more?  Use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Stay Connected if You Live Alone - It Could Save Your Life

The retirement community where I live contains over 12,000 condominiums, and only one person lives in approximately half of them.  As a result, we occasionally hear about people who have died alone, and their death was not discovered for a day or longer.  In a few instances, people have gone missing, but no one realized it until days had passed and a friend or neighbor checked on them.
In addition to these risks, living alone has been shown to decrease your lifespan, as well as the quality of the final years of your life, often because the person becomes isolated and fails to reach out and contact other people. Loneliness is a dementia risk.  People who live alone often have a poorer diet and are less likely to maintain their personal hygiene. They may be slower to get to a hospital if they are showing signs of a heart attack or stroke. They rarely recognize their own dementia symptoms.  It is dangerous for many reasons.  
I recently heard about a woman who fell in her home and it was days before anyone found her. She was dehydrated and extremely weak before she was discovered, but she did survive. Doctors said that she would probably have died if she had laid there much longer.  Being alone too much puts your life at risk.
Loneliness is even more important during situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic.  Many senior citizens, unable to visit with friends, neighbors, and family, have become more isolated than ever before.  If they have a dangerous preexisting condition, such as diabetes, asthma or chronic kidney disease, they are usually taking extreme precautions to avoid seeing other people.  This could protect them from Covid-19, but put them at risk in other ways. 
If you are one of the millions of retirees who live alone, how can you stay connected to other people?  How can make sure that someone is looking out for you?  How can you maintain your relationships and build new ones?

Check in with someone every day - In the past, it was recommended that someone should call the elderly members of their family every day.  However, at a time when the younger generations are often overwhelmed with their jobs and children, making phone calls to an aging parent day-after-day, year-after-year, can become an overwhelming task.  Today, there are other ways to make sure everyone in your family is doing OK.  
If you are living alone, ask a friend, neighbor or relative to connect with you briefly every day.  The two of you could quickly touch base in one of these ways:
Send each other a quick daily text message in the morning, and wait for a response.  It can be as simple as saying, "I'm up this morning."  They could respond with an easy "thumbs up." 

Some people make a point of opening their blinds in the morning and closing them in the evening.  This allows concerned neighbors to know they are are alive and well.  Such a simple action, especially when you know a neighbor is watching out for you, can be life saving.
You could also post something daily on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  It could be a picture you took during a morning walk, a photo of a cake you baked, or your opinion about something interesting.  It is an easy way to let everyone in your circle of friends know you are alive, active online, and functioning mentally.  Because these posts go out to many of your friends and family, a number of family members and friends can be reassured at the same time that you are OK.  This is especially helpful if you have been ill.
If you are going to be out-of-touch and off-line for a while, let everyone know privately, so your family and friends do not worry.  You will want to do this discreetly, or to a limited number of people, so you do not return to a burglarized home. You could create a small "close friend's group" on Facebook, and only a small group of people will see your message. You can also create a small text message group, which will allow you to notify a few friends at once. It is important you do something like this if you are traveling, spending time in the hospital, or otherwise unlikely to be online, so your close friends do not worry about you. 
If you are hospitalized in an emergency, be sure to ask a friend or relative to let others know, or ask someone to subtly mention it online, and tag you, so it appears on your Facebook news feed. They could say something vague, but reassuring, such as "Helen will be off-line for a few days, but she is doing fine." Or, ask someone in your text group to send a message to the others. Otherwise, a caring friend may send the police to do a wellness check at your home!
Get a medical alert device - You have seen the ads with the person on the floor saying, "I fell and I can't get up!"  This is more common than you may realize. One in four people over the age of 65 falls every year.  Anyone over the age of 70 who lives alone should consider getting a medical alert device. (Ad)  Many assisted living facilities require their residents to wear a medical alert device at all times.  You can purchase your own at a very low cost, with a small monthly service fee.  Then, if you are having a medical emergency either at home or while out of the house, you can simply push a button on a necklace, bracelet or key chain and an operator will answer. There are a variety of medical alert devices (Ad) available, and you will want to check out your options. When you activate the device and contact the service in an emergency, the operator will ask you over the device's speaker whether you want an ambulance, the police, or need them to call a designated friend, relative or neighbor.  They will then place the appropriate call and get you the help you need. In many cases, the operator will stay on the line until they are sure you have been helped. These devices can reassure your family that you are never unable to get assistance the minute you need it.  It could save your life. 

Make an effort to see people
- It can feel so comfy, cozy and safe in your own home, you may avoid getting out and seeing people.  This is especially true today when it is so easy to have everything from your groceries to your clothing delivered directly to your door.  Why leave your home when it can be tiring and feel unsafe?  However, it is absolutely essential that nearly everyone makes an effort to get out and see others, when they can, and feel safe doing so.  It can be as simple as waving to a neighbor and chatting from 10 or 15 feet away.  You may also want to find a friend that you feel safe seeing, such as a neighbor who also lives alone.  Perhaps you can take a walk together, or sit outside and have a cocktail in the evening.  It is nice to know that someone would immediately notice if you did not show up for a planned walk or chat.
Having conversations with other people is an essential part of avoiding dementia.  When you are with other people, you pick up on non-verbal communications, such as facial expressions. You also never know what the other person will say, which means you have to be ready to respond quickly to new information.  Interacting with other people is the very best type of brain stimulation.  Even if you have to maintain a safe distance and wear face masks, it is important to occasionally interact with other people in-person.  At the very least, during the pandemic you should regularly interact using Zoom, Facetime, or similar sites.

Get involved in your community - This can mean taking classes, volunteering, attending a place of worship, or joining clubs.  The advantage of these activities is that they will keep you busy, keep your mind active, and help you build a group of people who care about you and who will worry if you stop showing up.  You will make friends with people who have similar interests.  You will learn to care about them and watch out for any unexpected changes in their lives.  This is the basis for seniors helping seniors.  During the Covid-19 pandemic, many charities and political organizations offer ways to help them virtually by making phone calls, doing fund-raising, writing postcards, sending text messages or promoting them in other ways.
Being active in the community is especially important for people who do not have adult children or other close relatives who are watching out for them.  You need to find your own group of friends, neighbors, club members, church members and others who will watch out for you. 
If you are not able to go to in-person meetings, you can find groups that have Zoom meetings through Meet-up.  They even offer meetings in foreign languages, if you want to practice your Spanish, French, German or another language.  You can also sign up for fun discussion groups through a local community college. One couple I know takes a "Film as Literature" class through an Emeritus program offered for senior citizens by a local community college. They watch Netflix movies, and then participate in a weekly Zoom discussion meeting, where they talk about the movie.  Whatever interests you, you should be able to find an online class or discussion group which will be fun and interesting for you.

Local senior centers will reopen after the quarantine ends - Although you may not be able to visit them during the pandemic, eventually senior centers will reopen again. They are located across the United States.  They offer wellness programs, exercise classes, useful information, assistance with common problems, and other services.  Some of them even offer low-cost daily lunches, which are a wonderful way to get to know other people in your area.  They also offer social events and field trips to local places of interest.  It is a fun way to find friends who are interested in attending plays, museums and concerts. You could also volunteer at the senior center, which can be a lot of fun.  The more effort you put into spending time there, the more benefit will get out of your local senior center.

Host a social event in your home, once people begin to get together again. - If you want to get to know your neighbors or club members better, there is no better way to do this than to hold a social event in your home.  I have hosted annual block parties at every home where I have lived since my husband and I were in our 20s.  As a result, I still stay in touch with old neighbors from places where I have not lived in decades.  I have never regretted hosting these occasional events. Depending on what is easiest, you can invite a group over for morning coffee, lunch, dinner or evening cocktails.  A potluck dinner is fine, if you do not want to provide all the food, or if you know that some of your guests have allergies or may prefer different types of food from what you plan to serve.  You do not have to do it often, but try to entertain a small group at least once or twice a year.  You will get to know your neighbors better at an informal social event.  A few of them will reciprocate by inviting you to their social events. You will go from being acquaintances to becoming friends.  This actually keeps you safer, because people are more likely to look after neighbors they know and consider friends.

Stay in touch with people - Perhaps the most important thing you can get out of the above activities is building a large support group of people.  However, they will quickly fade away if you do not stay in touch.  It is not enough to attend a concert with a friend and then never see that person again.  You have to nurture these relationships. You have to take the lead.  Do not wait for someone else to do it. Do more than your "fair share" in the relationship. 
Send out holiday cards with a little update about what has been going on in your life.  Buy birthday cards and cards for other celebrations at the dollar store, and send them out when appropriate.  Ask people to go out for coffee with you, especially before or after a meeting, or whenever you want to discuss the plans for a volunteer event.  In other words, do not wait for people to contact you.  Reach out to them and do it as often as possible to maintain that relationship.  Show an interest in their lives, their celebrations, their worries.  Ask about their children, grandchildren and pets. If you do all that, you will have friends for life, you will stay mentally alert, and you may even live longer!

Share contact information with several friends - If your nearest family member lives in another state, it is wise to share their contact information with several of your friends and/or neighbors. Then, if something should happen to you, your friends and neighbors will know who to contact.  Nothing can be more frustrating than to realize that a friend of yours has had an accident or serious medical event, and you do not know how to contact their adult children, siblings or other relatives.  It is thoughtful to share this information with a small circle of friends.  You should also let your out-of-town relatives know about the friends who have their contact information and would contact them in an emergency.  Then, if they receive a call from a stranger, they will know that you gave them the information.  
The most important thing you can learn from this is that you are never too old to make new friends, get involved in new activities, and nurture your relationships.  In fact, it is important that you do these things your entire life.

If you are interested in learning more about financial planning for retirement, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare, common medical issues as you age, and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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