The Partnership to Protect Medigap – Help Preserve Medigap Plans

Medigap plans protect you against financial catastrophe – why not take some small actions to help protect Medigap plans, with the goal being to preserve Medigap plans’ existence in current form for yourselves and future Medicare-eligible individuals. There has been discussion off and on over the last 2-3 years about reforming Medigap plans. These discussions have ranged from eliminating first-dollar coverage (i.e. Plan F) to overhauling the plans completely to creating a Medicare deductible that cannot be insured against. While none of these plans became a part of PPACA (“Obamacare”) and none have been enacted, it is still important to be apprised of the fact that they have been discussed and likely will be discussed again soon.

Visit the PPM (Partnership to Protect Medigap) web site.

Visit the PPM (Partnership to Protect Medigap) web site.

First of all, to reiterate, nothing HAS changed with Medigap plans and the way they work as a result of PPACA

(“Obamacare”). On the contrary, Medicare Advantage plans were affected considerably, with reductions in funding and new regulations/restrictions. For Medigap plans, there were discussions that included changes to these plans, specifically the Kerry-Stark bill which would have forced Medigap plans to abide by the Medical Loss Ratios that the PPACA included for “under 65” plans. This would have made it difficult for most Medigap companies to compete and, most analysts agree, would have had a detrimental effect on Medigap rates. This and other ideas got pushed to the “backburner” during the PPACA talks and health care reform went forward without including them.

Now, however, is not the time for people who care about having the ability to purchase Medigap plans to fall silent and relax. The Partnership to Protect Medigap is one organization that is non-partisan and works to protect the Medigap plans that so many rely on. You can find out more here: Partnership to Protect Medigap. On their site, you can find out more about protecting Medigap plans and their viability into the future, as well as get information on contacting your Congressional representative and other ways to be involved in these efforts.

Medigap plans provide many benefits for those on Medicare, supplementing Medicare’s sometimes-insufficient coverage and “capping” (or eliminating, in the cases of Plan F) the total out-of-pocket expenses someone would have, regardless of the amount of care needed. Additionally, they provide the security of automated billing (i.e. no paperwork) and flexibility (can go to any doctor that takes Medicare). An independent American Viewpoint independent study found that over 90% of seniors were satisfied with their Medigap coverage. This is one of, if not the, highest among various insurance niches. For these reasons and more, those who have vested interest in Medigap should make the minimal efforts required to protect the future viability of these plans.

If you have questions about this or want to discuss in more detail, contact me 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.

How Are Medigap Plans Affected by Obamacare?

healthcare.gov websiteThis is one of the most frequently asked questions that we receive from clients and people that we talk to on a daily basis about Medicare and Medigap insurance. So, how are Medigap plans affected by “Obamacare”?

The answer is a short and easy one – simply, they are not directly affected, or impacted, by the PPACA, or “Obamacare”, legislation, due to the fact that the plans are supplemental in nature and not “full-blown” medical plans. As such, Medigap plans are not subject to the requirements and restrictions on individual plans for people under age 65.

For people that have a Medigap plan, Medicare is, of course, still the primary coverage. Medicare covers, in general, 80% of the total, overall medical costs after doctor’s office (Part B) and hospital (Part A) deductibles. The Medigap plans step in to pay the Medicare deductibles (in most cases, depending on which Medigap plan you have) and the 20% after Medicare pays. The way this works – and the type of coverage that Medigap plans provide – has not been changed or impacted by the passage of the “Obamacare” legislation.

On the contrary, Medigap plans have historically been one of the more stable types of insurance since they became standardized in 1992. The actual plan designs have changed a couple of times since then, the last change occurring June 1, 2010; however, the way that the plan works and the overall outline of what they do has not changed.

Additionally, because of the standardization of plans (i.e. one company offers the same coverage plans as another, although rates may differ), the plans are relatively easy to understand, not nearly as complex as “under-65” individual insurance plans, and can be easily compared to one another.

Overall, many analysts project that “Obamacare” will cause some strain on the financial health of insurance companies that have elected to continue to offer individual plans. This may cause some trickle-down to the portions of those companies that do Medigap insurance. However, this is uncertain at best, and for now, Medigap plans look like a safe bet to remain the same post-“Obamacare” as they were before the law was enacted.

If you have any questions about this or would like to compare Medigap plans for your area, please call us at 877.506.3378 or visit our website at http://medicare-supplement.us.

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.

Effects of “Obamacare” on Medicare & Medicare Supplements

“Obamacare”, or the PPACA, was signed into law in March 2010. Many of its provisions have been slowly becoming integrated into our health care system. And, in 2014, many of the individual health provisions take effect. For people on Medicare, many are wondering how “Obamacare” will affect them. As a Medicare Supplement brokerage, this is a question we receive almost daily.

If you have Medicare, regardless of what type of supplement coverage you also have (if any), you will be affected by the PPACA. First of all, there have been some relatively significant changes to how the “donut hole” is administered on Part D (Rx coverage). If you have not “felt” these changes yet, it is because they are being rolled out little-by-little over the next few years, culminating in 2020.

On Medicare itself, although there were many significant changes discussed, the coverage on Parts A and B (hospital and doctor’s office, respectively) were not overhauled or changed in prolific ways. Some things were changed, however. These include more preventive care being covered (i.e. wellness checks) and more protection against fraud and abuse of the system.

Now, as you no doubt know, this legislation did not come without a price tag. Some of the PPACA was paid for through reductions in funding to privatized Medicare plans called Medicare Advantage. These plans, although they still exist, may experience reduced funding and thereby not be able to deliver benefits that are as “rich” as they have been in the past.

For Medicare Supplement policyholders, the changes are non-existent to your current policy. Nothing changes about your plan or coverage. The PPACA did not even change the standardized plans chart, although this was a part of some of the discussions and may happen in the future. Medicare Supplements remain one of the few relatively stable things about the current state of affairs in our healthcare system.

If you have questions about this or how your coverage has been, or will be, affected, feel free to contact us online or call 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.

May 2013 Medigap Plan Report

Contrary to popular misconception, there is no such thing as an annual enrollment period for Medigap plans. In reality, you can change, or sign up for, a Medigap plan at any time of the year. There are no restrictions on when you can sign up for this type of plan.

The rates for Medigap plans can change during the year also, and many companies do change rates mid-year. Because of that, it is important to stay “on top” of your rates and compare rates when your rate changes or if you feel like you are paying too much. In almost all cases, if you have been on a plan more than a year, you can obtain the same coverage for a lower price through a different company.

May is as good a time as any to sign up for, or change, your Medigap plan. There are several newer companies that have become major players in the Medigap market in recent months. Some of the “old” names are still prominent – i.e. AARP/United Healthcare and Mutual of Omaha. But also, new companies like Central States Indemnity, Forethought, AFLAC, and Cigna Supplemental Benefits are competitively priced in many states and making a name for themselves in the Medicare marketplace.

Keep in mind that, with Medigap plans, the coverage, claim payments and doctor acceptance are the same with all of the companies. So there is no variation from one company’s plan to another, although the rates can vary greatly.

Overall, in the last three to five years, rates have certainly trended upward in most states. However, in recent months, with the influx of new companies offering lower, more competitive rates, rates may have actually come down in quite a few markets.

Plan F continues to be the most prominent plan, holding 40+% of the market share. However, people are purchasing Plans G and N at increasing amounts, as the Medicare-eligible population becomes more educated on the differences in the plans and how the benefit differences line up with the premium differences. For many people, particularly those in good health, Plans G and N actually make more sense than the more common Plan F.

If you have specific questions or want to get quotes that are customized for your age and zip code, you can contact us online at Medicare-Supplement.US or toll-free at 877.506.3378.