Five Advantages of Using an Independent Medigap Broker

Independent Medigap brokerThere are many advantages to using an independent Medigap broker. These may not be readily apparent to someone who does not fully understand how the back end of the insurance “business” works, but these advantages are significant and they can help you save even more.

First of all, let’s establish that there are two basic ways to sign up for a Medigap plan. Unlike Part D, you cannot sign up for a Medigap plan directly through Medicare or on Medicare’s website. The two ways to sign up for a Medigap are directly through an insurance company or through an independent agent who represents that company (among others). Signing up directly through the company is certainly an option, and either way, you’ll receive the same rate, same benefits, same claims processing, etc. However, here are five advantages of using an independent Medigap broker that may make that option more advantageous for you.

1. The independent broker is just that, independent, so they can assist in compiling and comparing all options in a centralized place. While this seems like it would be easy for a consumer to do on their own, anyone that has attempted it can tell you, it is a tiresome task. First, all rates are not published online – some may be, but there are questions about whether the website is up to date and whether all options are reflected. What an independent broker can do is compile and present all options in a centralized place.

2. An independent broker can also provide virtually unlimited and unbiased expertise from their dealings with the various Medigap plans. For us, we represent 30+ companies in 40+ states, so we have clients with many different companies. We have seen how stable companies rates have been over time, what problems/issues clients have had and which companies have maintained a strong position in the marketplace.

3. Once you have the rates and information, an independent broker assists by answering questions that you have about how the plans work and what they cover. Again, this is information that can be obtained by thorough reading of Medicare’s materials, but anyone who has done it can tell you, that again, that is not an easy task.

4. After you have understood the plans and chosen one, an independent broker can provide service after the sale. This can take many forms, but the certainty is that, because agents are compensated on an ongoing basis, it is to their advantage to consistently “service” you and your policy. Many other brokers, including us, also offer added services for clients. For example, we offer annual Part D plan reviews, Medicare informational newsletters, and periodic rate snapshots of Medigap rates.

5. The fifth advantage of using an independent Medigap broker is one many people do not realize… You are already paying for a broker, whether you use one or not – it doesn’t cost you anything to use one – so why not capitalize on your premium dollars and use a broker’s expertise. In other words, companies build in the broker’s pay into their premiums, so all policyholders “pay” agents as part of their premiums.

Whether it is us or someone else, it is unquestionable that using an independent broker has many advantages and facilitates and more informed decision. Signing up directly through an insurance company is an option, but by doing so, you would not have access to the unbiased comparative functions offered by an independent broker. Additionally, in most cases, you would be dealing with someone who is not as qualified/experienced specifically in this market. And, lastly, the likelihood that you would deal with the same person over time is not nearly as high (higher turnover and usually you’re calling an 800 to a call room somewhere for service/questions).

If you have questions about this or how using an independent Medigap broker works, please contact us at 877.506.3378 or on our website.

How to Make the Right Medigap Choice

logo-collage-smallChoosing the right Medigap plan can be a time-consuming and overwhelming process if you allow it to be. While there is a lot of information out there and a lot of people and companies vying for your “attention”, choosing a Medigap policy does not have to be difficult. Follow this three-step guide to narrowing the choices, reducing the clutter and selecting the plan that is right for you.

  1. Understand the plans. First of all, you must have an understanding of the plans – what they cover, how they work and what is important in the decision-making process. The first thing to know is that the plans are Federally-standardized. That is, all companies provide the same coverage plans – a Plan F with one company is the same as a Plan F with another company. Additionally, the plans all work the same way. Claims are automated (paid electronically without involvement from the patient), and they are done through the Medicare “crossover” system. Lastly, all plans can be used at any doctor or hospital that takes Medicare, so that means that you will still be able to use it if you use services from Internationalherniacare, in other words, as long as a physician takes your primary coverage (Medicare), they will take your Medigap plan regardless of what Medigap company sold you the plan.In summary, and the main thing to understand when it comes to Medigap plans, is that there are no differences to compare as far as coverage, reliability, how the plan works, where you can use it, etc. The two factors to compare when it comes to Medigap are price (first and foremost) and company rating/reputation. The Federal standardization of plans has made the other variables non-existent or irrelevant.
  2. Compare the rates. Once you understand “what” to compare, it is time to actual do the comparing. There are a couple of ways to do this. The “old-fashioned” way is to get the phone numbers of all companies offering Medigap plans in your area and call them and ask their rates. Some companies will give you this information over the phone; some will require that an agent come to your house to meet with you prior to giving you the information. For most people, this way of doing it is not appealing. However, it is an option.The other way of going about it – which I believe most people would find preferable – is to use an independent agent, or broker, to compare the plans. An independent agent does not work specifically for one particular insurance company, so they are not going to try to “sell” you on their company. Instead, they can give you unbiased information of what company’s offer competitively priced plans in your area. Additionally, they can provide other information such as company rating, past rate stability and reputations, which may help you narrow down the choices and make an informed decision.Keep in mind that the main thing to compare when it comes to Medigap (Medicare Supplement) plans is the rates, as plan coverage is completely standardized by the Federal government. A good independent agent can provide a full breakdown of the companies that offer companies in your zip code, as well as what the rates would be for someone at your age.
  3. Choose wisely. Once you have the information that pertains to premium rates and company rating/reputation, you can easily narrow the choices to which reputable companies are competitively priced for your area. While many people know about Plan F, which is the most common plan, it is not always the most wise choice. It is the most comprehensive but also the most expensive. Plan G is an alternative that typically would provide a savings when compared to Plan F – under Plan G, you have to pay a $147/year deductible but that’s the only difference between ‘F’ and ‘G’ and the premium savings is often $300+/year resulting in a significant net savings.Once you choose a plan, it is easy to enroll, particularly if you are in an “open enrollment” period (i.e. turning 65 or just going on Medicare). Simply complete an application, which the independent agent can facilitate either online or by phone, then the application will be processed by the insurance company. You’ll receive an insurance card and policy in the mail.
    While signing up for a Medigap plan is an overwhelming charge for many people, it does not have to be. The standardization of Medigap plans and the proliferation of information available online has made comparing and choosing a Medigap plan much easier than choosing most other types of insurance.If you would like a listing of the companies/rates in your area or have other questions, you can contact us online or call 877.506.3378.

Three Reasons the Name of Your Medigap Company Is Not Important

One of the most common thoughts, and understandably so, for many people “shopping” seniors looking at computer
for a Medigap plan is what company or companies have I heard the most about. This leads to people looking, primarily, at the companies that do the most marketing or the company that a neighbor or family member has. While this can lead to some good results – personal testimonials are often a great predictor of future performance – it can also lead to some “tunnel vision” and a lack of understanding of how the plans actually work and what factors should truly go into your decision-making process.

Put simply, the name of your company – even the rating of the company – is not ultimately very important when it comes to choosing a Medigap policy. This does not hold true with other types of insurance, where there are more variables and less standardization. But for Medigap insurance, the name of the company is virtually irrelevant. Here is why:

  1. First of all, the plans are Federally-standardized. This means that the coverage with one company is the same as the coverage with another company. For example, a Plan F with one company is the same as a Plan F with another. This means that price is, or should be, the primary differentiating comparison factor.
  2. Claim payments are paid through the Medicare “crossover” system. This is the same system used by all Medigap companies – it links your “original” Medicare Parts A and B up with your Medigap and insures that claims are paid on the same time schedule and in the same amount regardless of who your Medigap company is.
  3. You can use any doctor or hospital that takes Medicare regardless of which company you have. Different plans are not more or less widely accepted. As long as your doctor takes Medicare, he/she is required to take any of the standardized Medigap plans. Note that doctors offices, and particularly those that work in the insurance/billing offices, are not always well-versed on the different types of plans. And, some companies offer both Medigap and Medicare replacement plans like Medicare Advantage. Very often, someone in the billing department will say that they do not “accept” a certain Medigap plan, when in reality, they don’t have a choice as all claims are paid through the Medicare “crossover” (see point #2 above) and they are not filing specifically to the individual companies anyway.

It is important not to make a decision on a Medigap plan simply because you’ve heard the plan pays well or someone else is “happy with it”. Frankly, everyone is (or atleast should be) happy with their Medigap plan’s claim-paying performance because it is the very same from company to company. It is prudent to have an understanding of the above three points and compare Medigap plans on what really matters – price – before selecting a plan based on imagined or superficial differences. Otherwise, you could, like many others, end up paying “extra” every month for the exact same products that works the exact same way.

If you have questions about this or want to further discuss, you can contact me online or call 877.506.3378.

CIGNA Medicare Supplements – A New Option for Medigap Plans

CIGNA Medicare Supplements are a new option on the Medigap
plan landscape. Currently, CIGNA’s plans, sold CIGNA Medicare Supplementsunder the name American Retirement Life Insurance Company (ARLIC), are approved for sale in 39 states. Where they are offered, they have been a well-priced, stable alternative to some of the existing options in the Medigap sphere. Some people avoided any complications on their retirement plan and got help from Self-Directed IRA – Quest IRA.

Medigap plans are Federally-standardized. That is, the coverage is the same regardless of which company sells you the plan. To see the standardized plans chart, visit this link. For example, a Plan F with CIGNA (ARLIC) would be the same as a Plan F through AARP, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mutual of Omaha, Aetna or any of the other companies that offer Medigap plans. In addition to coverage being standardized, claim payments are also uniform from one company to the next. Claims are processed through the Medicare “crossover” system, meaning that the provider and Medicare handle claim payments electronically and on a set-by-Medicare timetable that doesn’t vary from one company to the next. Lastly, doctor acceptance of Medigap plans is not a factor, as doctors that take Medicare are required to accept the standardized Medigap plans, regardless of which company sold you the plan.

With all this in mind, it is crucial to look at premium rates and company rating when comparing Medigap plans. These are the two primary factors, and really, the only things that will vary from one company to the next. CIGNA Medigap plans have an ‘A’ A.M. Best rating and have consistently been priced competitively in the areas in which they are offered.

In most of their markets, CIGNA offers Plans F, G and N. While Plan F is the most comprehensive and common plan, Plan G is sometimes a better “deal”. The only difference between ‘G’ and ‘F’ is the coverage of the Medicare Part B deductible ($147/year for 2013). Otherwise, the two plans are identical. Often, the premium savings on Plan G more than offsets that deductible amount.

One major obstacle to many people changing plans is the simple misunderstanding about when changes can be made, a good article about it is written here at kratomcrazy.com. As we’ve addressed previously, this misconception, which is perpetuated by the annual enrollment period (the only time that you can change Part D coverage but has nothing to do with Medigap plans), causes many people to feel “locked in” to their plans for the year even if that plan has mid-year rate increases as many companies do. On the contrary, you can change Medigap plans at any time, and when your rates go up, particularly if it is a significant increases, it is advisable to at least compare what else is available to you.

Medicare-Supplement.US is an independent agency that provides Medigap comparisons by email. These comparisons can include CIGNA, where available, as well as other competitive companies in your marketplace. To request a Medicare supplement comparison and Medigap quotes, simply fill out this form. If you prefer to speak to someone directly and by phone, you can reach us at 877.506.3378.

Forethought Medicare Supplement Plan Quotes – A Great Option

Forethought is not as “household” of a name as some of the other companies in the Medicare Supplement sphere. However, it is a highly rated company, has been in business for 25+ years, and their Medicare Supplement plans are often very competitively priced when compared to other options.

As you may already know, Medigap plans (another name for Medicare Supplements) are Federally-standardized. This means that all companies are required to offer the same coverage plans. A Plan F with one company, for example, is the exact same as a Plan F with another company. Because of this plan standardization, it is essential to compare plans on the primary basis of price. And, price can vary considerably.

Forethought typically offers Plans F, G and N, which are the three most commonly held plans. Plan F is the most comprehensive plan – it pays everything that Medicare A & B do not cover at the doctor or hospital. Plan G is secondary to Plan F – it pays everything that Medicare doesn’t cover with the exception of the Medicare Part B deductible. For 2013, this deductible is $147/year. Forethought often has the most competitively priced Plan G in areas where their plans are offered. Lastly, they also offer Plan N. Plan N is a good option for people in relatively good health. It is the same as ‘F’ at the hospital (Part A) but it does not cover the Medicare Part B deductible. Also, after the deductible is met, you have an up to $20 co-pay for doctor visits.

Forethought offers Medicare Supplements in many states and is always expanding their offerings. Here are a few states in which they are competitively priced currently – in these states, they are one of the, if not the very, lowest priced option on Plan F, G, and/or N. The states are: KY, SC, IN, OH, VA, AZ, TX, NJ, and OK.

If you are going on Medicare, it is highly advisable that you do a full comparison of the available options. The last thing that you want to do is choose a plan that is $140/month, when you can get equal coverage for $100/month. The differences in premium can be that large sometimes. Even if Forethought is not the company that has the lowest price in your area, it is wise to find out who is. The best way to do this is through an independent brokerage or agency. Whether it is us or someone else, we recommend that this is the first step you take when comparing Medicare Supplement plans.

If you have any questions about this information or would like to get specific quotes for Forethought Medicare Supplement (and other companies’ plans) for your age and zip code, please contact us by phone at 877.506.3378 or on our website at Medicare-Supplement.US.

New Insurance Companies in the Medicare Marketplace

Medicare Supplement market is always changing. Companies change rates frequently, and sometimes, the companies themselves change. That has been the case even more so recently, as several “big name” insurance companies have entered the Medigap insurance sphere. Below, we’ve mentioned a few of these for reference and your future exploration. Note that not all companies do business in each state, so you would always need to check with your Medicare insurance agent to see what is available in your situation.

AFLAC – The “duck” has re-entered the Medicare marketplace, and they are competitively priced in many states, including GA, AZ, TX and NC to name a few. They are ‘A+’ rated by AM Best.

Central States Indemnity (owned by Berkshire Hathaway) – Central States Indemnity offers plans in many states now. They have made a name for themselves quickly in this space, among agents and clients, due to moderate rate increases. It is a good option in a good number of states, and they also now offer Plan G in many states. They are rated ‘A+’ by AM Best.

Combined Insurance – Combined Insurance is an older insurance company that has been around for a while. They are a reputable company with competitive rates in many states. They are rated ‘A’ by AM Best.

CIGNA – CIGNA is one of the largest insurance companies in the country. They recently purchased Great American Senior Benefits and its subsidiaries. They recently came out with a plan through one of those subsidiaries, which looks to be a competitive option for new turning-65 customers and those already on a plan with a different company.

This list just names a few. There are, of course, lots of options when it comes to Medicare insurance. However, some states have more options than others. As always, it is important to compare both the premiums of the plans offered and the company financial strength ratings. Since coverage, claim payments, and doctor acceptance are the same among plans, those are the factors that are more important to consider.

If you have any questions or want to get some quotes from the companies that are offered in your zip code, please contact us by phone (877.506.3378) or online at Medicare-Supplement.US quotes.

Medigap Providers – Who Is the Best One?

There are literally hundreds of companies that provide Medigap insurance nationwide. Different companies work different parts of the country so there are not that many options in each state. But on average, each state will have 30-40 companies offering Medigap plans. So, when you are comparing these diverse and divergent options, what information do you need to know? What company is the very best Medigap provider?

  • First of all, you should understand the standardization of plans. There are 10 standardized plans – see Medigap coverage chart – each plan covers a different number of the Medicare “gaps”. But most importantly, the benefits are the same from company to company. That is, a Plan F with one company is the exact same as a Plan F with another company.
  • Next, you should understand that not all companies offer all of the plans. Of the 10 plans, most companies only offer 2-4 of the plans for sell in each place. This is partly because many of the plans do not have a large market share or interest from consumers. The top three plans have approximately 70% of the market share of all plans sold.
  • The companies are rated by the independent insurance company rating source, AM Best. These ratings go from ‘A+’ through ‘F’. Any company that is rated ‘B+’ or higher is considered to be very good/stable. The ratings are more of an indication of the size (financial size) of the company than anything. AM Best does not rate customer service, etc. of the companies.
  • The rates can vary greatly from one company to another. Although the coverage is the same, and the claim payments, doctor acceptance, etc. is the same as well, the rates can be as much as 75% higher with one company as compared to another (for the same coverage!).

So, who, then, is the best Medigap provider? Well, that really depends in large part on the rates for your specific situation, as well your specific plan needs (Plan F – the most comprehensive plan – or Plan N – a lower level, lower premium plan?).

The bottom line is this – with Medigap plans, due to the standardization of coverage, plan acceptance and claim payments, there is not one company that is categorically better than another.

If you switch from one company to another, you will not notice any differences, other than the name on your card and the explanation of benefits you receive in the mail after a claim is paid. NOTE: Do not make the frequent mistake of thinking that you have a Medicare Supplement when you have a Medicare Advantage plan. Advantage plans replace Medicare – they do not supplement it. And, these plans are obviously not standardized at all.

If you have questions, contact us online or call 877.506.3378.

Qualifying for a Medigap Plan – When and How Do Medigap Companies Use Underwriting?

Qualifying for a Medigap plan is extremely easy to do when you are in a valid open enrollment (When Is the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?) or guaranteed issue period. During these time periods, there is no underwriting, no pre-existing condition restrictions or exclusions, and there is not a possibility of a company turning you down for coverage based on your health. However, when you are NOT in one of these enrollment periods, you do have to qualify medically by answering medical questions on the application. So what does that mean for you?

First of all, do not be intimidated by this. Although you do have to go through underwriting and many people have heard horror stories about medical underwriting and having to pay higher rates based on pre-existing conditions, this is not usually the case with Medigap plans. In almost all cases, Medigap plans are accept/decline applications, meaning that everyone pays the same rate. And, if you go through underwriting, you are either approved or declined based on your health.

The 2nd point to understand is that the underwriting varies greatly from company to company. Some companies use very limited underwriting, accepting nearly everyone who applies and is not currently in the hospital. Other companies are more stringent on underwriting. Obviously, it stands to reason that the more stringent a company is on underwriting, the more likely they are to be rate-stable over time (i.e. on average, if a company has healthier insureds, they will have fewer, or smaller, rate increases). Some of the major things that the more stringent companies ask about on Medigap applications are: insulin-dependent diabetes, cancer (usually last 2 or 5 years), heart attack/stroke (last 2 or 5 years), dementia/alzheimer’s, recent hospitalizations (number and frequency varies by company). This is certainly just a partial list – the things that companies ask about varies greatly and their “lookback” period can vary a good bit.

If you do have some pre-existing conditions and are comparing Medigap plans, it is highly advisable to use a broker who is familiar with the various underwriting practices of the different companies. This will allow you to compare the plans and have the experience and knowledge of a broker who can advise you on which companies would be your best options for getting approved.

Keep in mind, too, that when you are applying for an underwritten Medigap plan (this means when you are applying outside of an open enrollment or guaranteed issue period), you should allow a month for the underwriting process to be complete. It usually does not take nearly this long, but it can. So you want to allow enough time. Also, make sure you do not cancel your current coverage until you have confirmation from the agent or the company that the new plan is approved.

If you have a unique health situation or a question about whether you would qualify for a Medigap plan, please contact us online or call us at 877.506.3378.

Who Sells Medicare Supplement Plans in ….?

Medicare Supplement plans are Federally-standardized plans that are sold by private insurance companies designed to fill in the “gaps” in traditional Medicare. These plans provide the same standardized coverage, from company to company. Here is the standardized coverage chart: Coverage chart. Although the coverage is the same with every company and in every state (with the exception of a couple of states), the companies that sell the plans in each state can vary greatly.

There are a couple of significant reasons that this varies from state to state. First of all, different companies target different geographic areas or operate only in certain areas of the country. This means that, whereas they may have plans for sale in each of the Midwestern states, they may not do plans at all in the Southeast. This occurs frequently. Second of all, all companies must be approved by the state departments of insurance before they can offer plans in a particular state. Sometimes, this can take some time or be held up for a variety of significant and insignificant reasons.

So, how do you find out who sells Medicare Supplement plans in your state? First and foremost, you should be able to obtain a list from the state department of insurance. Some of the states have this information online; however, it should be taken with a grain of salt. In our experience, possibly due to neglect or time constraints or the constantly-changing nature of insurance, this information is often out of date. Medicare also maintains a database of the companies that offer Medicare Supplements by zip code at www.medicare.gov. Again, this information can be very outdated or outright incorrect, but it is another resource.

If you are comparing plans to select a possible plan option for enrollment, I would highly recommend getting a list of available companies, with rates, company ratings, etc. from an independent agent, or broker. A broker is someone who sells Medicare Supplement plans to consumers as a representative of many different insurance companies. They can typically help you compare the histories of companies, as well as current rates for the companies that operate in your area.

This is a highly advisable way of comparing plans, simply because you can compare all of the options in a centralized, unbiased place. If you would like this information from us, you can reach us at 877.506.3378 or online at: Medicare-Supplement.US.