Medicare Annual Election Period Ends – Medigap Enrollment Still Open

The Medicare annual election period ended December 7. This is the time of year that you can change Medicare Part D plans or Medicare Advantage plans, if you are on one of those plans in place of traditional Medicare.Although the AEP is over, you can still make any changes you want to make to your Medigap coverage. Medigap plans do not have an annual enrollment period – you can change plans at any time for any reason, contrary to popular misconception.

If you are on a Medicare Advantage plan, you are locked in to that plan for the year now, unless you disenroll during the short Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP), which runs January 1 through February 14. If you do choose to disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan during this period, you can do so and return to “regular” Medicare A & B and pick up a Medigap plan to fill in the ‘gaps’ in Medicare.

For those on Medigap plans already, it is advisable to compare your Medigap plan to other options on an annual or bi-annual basis. With Medigap plans, rates change annually in many cases. While coverage does not change from year to year, it can make sense to “shop” your rate to make sure you are still getting a good deal.

Fortunately, this is very easy to do when it comes to Medigap plans, as the plans are Federally-standardized. In other words, if you have a Plan F now, you can “shop” other Plan F’s on the basis of rate, with the security that the coverage itself is going to be the same. Additionally, the plans all work in the same way – i.e. you can use them anywhere that takes Medicare, and claims are processed automatically through the Medicare “crossover” system.

If you have not compared your Medigap rates against other options in the last year or more, it is advisable to do so now. Also, if you have a Plan F, now is the time to consider Plan G. Plan G is a better “deal” in almost all cases and will provide annual savings and more rate stability.

If you have questions or want to compare your current rate against what is available, you can request a comparison on our Medicare-Supplement.US website or call us at 877.506.3378.

Top Five Misconceptions about Medicare and Medigap

medicare mythsMedicare can be complex – there are “parts” and “plans”, changes and updates, ins and outs that only the most experienced or devoted person could follow and understand. Moreover, there is a great deal of misinformation out there about Medicare and Medicare supplement plans, particularly this time of year as we approach the end of year annual election period. As an independent Medicare insurance and Medigap agency, we hear these misconceptions over and over. It is an uphill battle to fight against the misinformation and misunderstandings regarding Medicare and Medigap plans. But in a small way, this article may help shed some light on the top five misconceptions about Medicare.

1. “When I turn 65, I’ll get Medicare for free.”
Unfortunately, this one is not true in most cases. There is a premium associated with Medicare Part B (currently $104.90/month) that is typically paid as a deduction from your social security check. If you are not receiving Social Security, you can also pay this quarterly by receiving a bill. This amount can be higher or lower based on your income. Find out how much you will pay for Medicare Part B.

2. “The end of year enrollment period applies to Medicare supplement, or Medigap, plans.”This misconception is very prevalent this time of year, as we approach October 15, which is the start of the annual election period. Many people mistakenly believe that this end-of-the-year period also applies to Medicare Supplement, or Medigap, plans. However, that is not the case. The end-of-the-year period only applies to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. You can actually change Medigap plans at any time but do have to qualify medically (in most states) when you do so.

3. “Medicare Advantage plans are a type of Medicare supplement.”Medicare Advantage plans are completely independent of and different from Medicare supplement plans. On the contrary, they take the place of Medicare A & B, whereas supplement plans (also called Medigap) “supplement” Medicare. If you opt on to a Medicare Advantage plan, which is a privatized version of Medicare, instead of Medicare itself, you can go back to having Medicare during the annual election period, but to get a Medicare supplement, you generally would have to qualify medically.

4. “Medicare does not cover any preventive care.”This one was more true in the past than it is now. Medicare does now provide coverage for a good bit of preventive care (much of this is relatively new). Here is a breakdown we did previously of some of the more common preventive care that Medicare does cover. Most importantly, Medicare does cover a “welcome to Medicare” physical when you turn 65 and also an annual wellness check-up.

5. “I need to find out if my doctor takes this Medigap plan (or the related misconception of, “I am going to ask my doctor which Medigap plans pay him faster or more”)This misconception is easily understood, when you consider that it is rooted in (for most people) years of worrying if their insurance is paying their claims in full or quickly enough. However, these concerns do not carry over to “over-65” insurance, at least if you are talking about Medicare and a Medigap plan. For Medigap plan, claims are paid through the Medicare “crossover” system. And, they are paid in the same amount on the same time schedule, regardless of which company you have for your Medigap carrier. Additionally, Medigap plans do not have networks – if a doctor takes Medicare, they are required to take the standardized Medigap plans.

While there is a lot to decipher and understand related to Medicare and Medigap plans, it is crucial to your health and financial well-being to do so. If you have any questions about this information or wish to further discuss Medicare and Medigap plans, you can contact us online or call us at 877.506.3378.

Medicare Supplement Plan N – A Lower Cost Alternative

Medicare Supplement Plan N is a relatively newer choice among the 10 Federally-standardized Medigap plans. Many people are unfamiliar with what it covers and how it works because it was added to the portfolio of Medigap plans in June 2010. However, despite it’s “newness” as an option, it is growing in popularity and may be a viable option for some people.

Plan N comes in at a lower premium than more common plans, such as Plan F and Plan G. Plan F has the majority of the market share, around 50% according to recent studies. Plan N, typically, is priced about $30-50 (depending on zip code) lower per month than ‘F’.

Coverage-wise, Plan N provides almost identical coverage to ‘F’ at the hospital/inpatient (Medicare Part A). The differences are found under Medicare Part B coverage – Part B is outpatient or doctor’s office coverage.

First of all, Plan N does not cover the Medicare Part B deductible, which currently is $147/year. After that deductible is met, you are responsible for an up to $20 doctor’s office co-pay (can be 20% if that amount is less) and a $50 ER co-pay. Lastly, Plan N does not cover the “Medicare Part B Excess charges”. Because this is terminology that most people are not familiar with, it scares many people away from this plan. “Excess charges”, though, are when a doctor does not accept the Medicare fee schedule as payment in full. They are permitted to charge up to 15% above that – these are called “Excess charges”. By recent studies, this occurs in 2-3% of instances nationally. And, there are some states (PA and OH in particular) that have prohibited the charging of “excess charges”. Because it is rare and limited to 15% of Part B charges, which are generally smaller than Part A charges anyway, the loss of this benefit on ‘N’ (as compared to plans that cover it) is not that significant, in my experience.

So, is Plan N the right choice for you? This depends on several factors. First of all, what is your current health like? Are you going to the doctor many times a year? Or, are you only going 3-4 (or less) times on average?

Also, do you have any known, upcoming surgeries or procedures which will require rehab or multiple follow-up visits? This can be a major deciding factor, as you would pay the up to $20 co-pay each visit, regardless of whether it is for the same type of visit.

For many people, particularly those in good health or those who do not go to the doctor often, the savings on Plan N can be significant enough to warrant looking at this option instead of Plan F. Much of what you will hear from insurance companies themselves and people you know who have it is certainly advocating Plan F. And, that is a great option. But if you can save $400/year in exchange for paying the $147 deductible and $20 a couple of times, it just makes sense to consider Plan N as an option.

On the flipside, most analysts agree that the Plan N model will be the way of the future for Medigap plans, because it incorporates cost-sharing. That can be a factor in favor of Plan F, because frankly, this type of “full coverage” that Plan F offers may not be around forever. But if you purchase a plan now, it is “guaranteed renewable” and cannot be cancelled (unless you don’t pay the premium).

If you have questions about Plan N or how it works, please feel free to contact us on our website – http://medicare-supplement.us or call us at 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.

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. 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.

2014 Medigap Plans

2014 Medigap plans will be the same, coverage-wise, as 2013 Medigap plans. With Medigap, coverage is Federally-standardized and all plans go by the Medigap coverage chart. This has been changed in recent years – effective June 1, 2010 – but since that point there have been no changes to the coverage chart. The Federal government – CMS, really – is the one that sets forth this chart and determines what Medigap plans will cover. Although the prices for the plans from different companies can vary considerably, this ensures that the coverage is the same for “like” plans. In other words, a Plan F with one company is the same as a Plan F with another.

So, although the coverage on the 2014 Medigap plans is the same as the 2013 plans, there are other factors to consider. First of all, many people mistakenly think that there is an annual enrollment period for Medigap plans – this is not the case. The annual enrollment period that runs October 15-December 7 is actually for the Part D Rx plans and the Medicare Advantage plans, which take the place of Medicare. For Medigap plans, you can sign up for, leave, or change plans at any time of the year.

As far as companies and rates go, there are always changes going on with Medigap. Over the past year or two, there have been several new companies to enter the marketplace, including CIGNA, AFLAC, Stonebridge Life, and Central States Indemnity, that have very competitive rates in many states and are striving to become market leaders due to price competitiveness and financial stability.

Just like there is not an annual enrollment period for the plans, Medigap rates do not change with the calendar year necessarily. So while your Medigap company may change rates 1/1/14, it is more common that your plan will change rates on your policy anniversary date.

Moving into 2014, it looks like the aforementioned companies, as well as some old “stand-bys”, such as Mutual of Omaha, AARP/United Healthcare, Aetna, etc will continue to be prominent players in the national Medigap market. The rates, of course, depend on what state you are in, your age, gender, and sometimes, other factors. So, it is important, if you are comparing plans, to get an accurate depiction of what is available in your area and what the actual rates would be.

Medicare-Supplement.US is a leading, independent Medigap brokerage that works with 35+ companies in 39 states. If you want a comparison for your specific situation, contact us online or call us at 877.506.3378.

 

Switching Medicare Supplements – Can You Do It Mid-Year and Other Important Facts

Switching Medicare Supplement plans can be a good idea. Just like any type of insurance, rates are going to go up over time, and if you have had your Medicare Supplement plan for more than a year or two, chances are good that you can switch to another company and reduce your costs for equal coverage. So, what do you need to know about switching plans?

  1. First and foremost, know that you can switch plans mid-year, or any time really. There are no enrollment periods for Medicare Supplement plans – also called Medigap. This is not to be confused with Medicare Advantage plans, which are privatized plans that take the place of Medicare, or Medicare Part D, which is the Rx coverage that goes with Medicare. On Medicare Supplements, you can change plans at any time and it is very easy to do, particularly if you are in relatively good health.
  2. When you change plans, know that the coverage is standardized. All companies go by the standardized plans chart – Medigap chart. So, a Plan F with one company is the same as a Plan F with another. This makes comparing options easy to do – it is function of price and company rating/reputation.
  3. Whenever possible, use an independent agency to make your comparisons and provide you with additional information that you cannot get from the companies themselves. An independent agency has no significant incentive to “push” you go to with one company over another. You can compare plans in an unbiased way and get additional information, such as a long-term stability, company ratings, underwriting specifics, etc. So, whether it is us (Medicare-Supplement.us) or someone else, using an independent agency is always a good idea.
  4. Make sure you do not cancel your current plan until your new one is approved. Sure, this is pretty much common sense, but we see it done incorrectly every day. Here is the process for changing Medicare Supplement plans:
    • Compare plans
    • Choose a plan
    • Apply for the new plan with a future effective date (usually a month or so in advance)
    • Once the new plan is approved, cancel the “old” plan, effective that same future date

    This ensures that there is no gap or overlap in coverage.

Overall, changing Medicare Supplement plans can seem intimidating or overwhelming to many. This is what causes many people to stay on their overpriced plans and pay the “extra” amount those plans charge for the same coverage. In reality, it is advisable to compare plans on an annual or bi-annual basis, and if a savings is found, to easily make one and keep your medical costs as low as possible while maintaining the same level of coverage.

Garrett Ball is the Owner and President of Secure Medicare Solutions, Inc., which administers Medicare-Supplement.US. SMS is a leading, independent Medicare insurance brokerage, specializing in Medicare Supplement insurance. For more information or to get a Medigap comparison, you can visit us online.

Secure Medicare Solutions June 2013 Agency News

Secure Medicare Solutions has had a great start to 2013 with many new, happy clients and lots of competitively priced plans. There have been several new companies to come into the Medigap marketplace, including CIGNA and AFLAC (two big names now offered in some states), which we’ve added to our portfolio. Also, we’ve been able to help many spouses of current clients move onto Medicare with ease and confidence.

Spouse Turning 65?

If your spouse is turning 65 soon, make sure you contact us 2-3 months in advance of their birthday. Some companies offer a husband-wife discount that would apply to your policy, as well as your spouse’s policy (assuming you are with the same company). This is certainly worth taking advantage of and can mean hundreds of dollars of savings in a year.

Term-Life-Comparison.com – A New Venture

Secure Medicare Solutions, Inc. has a new venture that we are working on – http://term-life-comparison.com. This site is designed to serve those looking for term life insurance quotes or information. It is a work in progress.

On the site, a consumer can compare term life insurance quotes all online without having to speak to, or meet with, an agent. And, if they so choose, they can even sign up for a plan online. If you are in the market for life insurance, visit the site and see what you think. You can compare multiple options in one place so you can choose the plan that is the most competitively priced for the option you are looking for.

If you have any questions or want to speak to us, give me a call at 877.506.3378 or email me.