Medicare Annual Election Period is Almost Here

We are approaching the annual election period for Medicare plans. This period runs from October 15-December 7 this year. Plan changes made during this period will take effect on 1/1/15 and will be in place for the following calendar year of 2015.

Contrary to popular misconception, this period has nothing to do with Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans. It only applies to Medicare Part D and Medicare replacement plans like Medicare Advantage. If you have a Medigap plan, you do not have to do anything to renew your plan – it will continue automatically and is “guaranteed renewable”. This type of plan does not change annually like Medicare Advantage plans do.

However, if you do have a Medigap plan, it may be a good time to review your coverage to ensure that you have the plan that is most advantageous to you. Medigap plans are Federally-standardized, so every company provides the exact same coverage plans. It is highly likely, if you have had your plan for more than a year or two, that you are paying above market price for your Medigap premium. If you want to reevaluate your plan and compare it to what is available in your zip code, you can contact us here to get a comparison via email.

If you are on a Medigap plan with prescription drug coverage (Part D), it is also a good idea to reevaluate your Part D plan. Part D is offered on an annual contract, so these plans do change each year. Sometimes, the changes can be very significant. Also, many times, your prescription medication needs change, so it is a good idea to stay apprised of the options on Part D on an annual or bi-annual basis.

You can do this Part D comparison on Medicare’s website at http://medicare.gov. If you are one of our clients, please contact me directly as we provide this comparison as a free service for you.

If you have questions about this Medicare annual election period, please feel free to contact us at 877.506.3378 or online at Secure Medicare Solutions.

Medigap Pricing Methods – Attained-Age, Issue-Age and Community-Rated

Medigap pricing methods can be categorized in one of three ways (as found on page 17 of the Choosing a Medigap policy booklet) – attained-age rated, issue-age rated, and community-rated. These differences are often discussed by insurance companies and agents, so it is important to understand what the terms mean, and more importantly, what they may mean to your Medigap rates in the future after you choose a plan.

Attained-age Medigap rates are based on your current age (i.e the age you have “attained”) and rates typically would go up as you get older based on your age or when you reach a birthday. Plans that are rated in this way will typically have lower rates initially when you sign up for a plan and will represent some savings (often significant savings) on the front end.

Issue-age Medigap rates are based on your age at the time that the policy is issued. Rates will be lower if you buy when you are younger. Premiums still go up over time, but it is just not based on your age. Instead, premium increases are based on inflation, claims experience and other factors.

Community-rated Medigap rates are based on the “community” (a certain geographic area) and are typically the same for everyone within that “community”, regardless of age. Just like issue-age rated plans, premiums still go up over time, just not based on your age. Instead, they go up for inflation and claims experience of everyone within that “community”.

So, what do Medigap pricing methods mean to you? First of all, a few facts about the different rating methodologies and things to keep in mind.

  • All Medigap rates are going to go up periodically. Most (regardless of Medigap pricing method) go up each year.
  • In some states, the vast majority of plans are attained-age rated, with only 1-2 exceptions to that.
  • In other states (for example, Georgia Medigap plans), the state restricts the companies to offer plans rates only with certain rating methodologies (i.e. no attained age in GA).
  • It is important to also consider the savings on attained-age plans. For example, if you can save $1000+ a year for the first 10 years of an attained-age plan, even if the rate eventually surpasses an issue-age plan, your already-pocketed savings on the front end are so significant, that may not matter.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, keep in mind that you can always change Medigap plans at any time and for any reason. In some states (for example: CA, OR, NY), this is a “guaranteed issue” right with no underwriting. In other states, you may have to answer general medical questions to be eligible to change. But in most cases, you can change plans to a lower-priced plan if your rate has gone up significantly.

Overall, it is advisable to have the assistance of an independent broker who can give you information about both current rates and typical future rates (i.e. history of rate stability) so you can make an informed choice on which company/plan is going to be best for you, both in the short term and into the future.

If you have questions about this information or Medigap pricing methods in general, you can contact us at 877.506.3378 or contact us online.

Medicare and Medigap Trends – Five Things to Keep Your Eye On

going on medicareLike many things, insurance is always changing. This has been particularly true over the last few years, and we believe it will continue to be the case into the future. As such, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on some trends that affect Medicare and Medigap insurance. We’ve listed five Medigap trends here that are pertinent for people on Medicare.

  1. Doctor acceptance of new Medicare patients. Some people have been concerned about this for years, and we have heard reports of doctors not seeing Medicare patients in certain geographic areas. Overall, I don’t think this will become a prohibitive problem. But nevertheless, if it occurs in large numbers, it could create quite a “bottleneck” effect for Medicare patients at doctor’s offices that do accept Medicare patients.
  2. Reduction in number of choices in Medicare Advantage plans. This is a trend that is certainly already under way. In many counties, there were 20/30 + plan choices in past years. Those numbers have been greatly reduced, and there are now some counties that have just a couple of companies offering plans. This is due, at least in part, to government regulations that have made it more difficult to make money in and participate in this market. Overall, I think its clear that lack of competition will be a bad thing for the overall appearance of these plans.
  3. Growth of “newer” Medigap plans – a move away from Plan F. This, too, is a Medigap trend that has already begun in earnest. Plan F, which is the most comprehensive Medigap plan, still has the majority of the market share in Medigap plans. However, with the onset of the 2010 re-standardization of plans, there are new offerings, some of which may appeal to different people and have a lower premium. One of the plans that appears to have caught on the most is Plan N, which is a lower level of coverage that still offers comprehensive Part A coverage but does have some out of pocket costs under Part B charges.
  4. The Online Movement. Because you’re reading this online, we’ll assume this comes as no surprise to you. As the next generation of “age-ins” turns 65, the likelihood will continue to increase that they are computer-savvy and more and more comparing and shopping for Medigap and Medicare plans will be done online. Companies will continue to endeavor to meet this demand by making more and more information available online. This and other Medigap trends will certainly have an impact on how companies “market” to the new generation of turning-65ers.
  5. New Medigap Companies Entering the Marketplace. We have seen several companies that are new to the Medicare market enter the fray over the last couple of years, trying to capture the large influx of Baby Boomers aging into Medicare. This includes companies like CIGNA, AFLAC and others, who have either begun or expanded their Medicare plan offerings recently. This will likely continue, with companies that have not offered Medigap plans beginning to do so.

Overall, it is a good idea to stay apprised of any changes to Medicare and Medigap insurance. Certainly, all of them will not affect you, and some may not come to fruition, but being aware of them allows you to be prepared if or when they do.

As always, if you have any questions or want to discuss further, you can contact us at 877.506.3378 or online.

Whole Life Insurance – Do You Need It?

Whole life insurance is insurance to provide lifetime protection and a guaranteed death benefit.whole life insurance
Many people understand the need for life insurance, in general, but may not understand the different types of life insurance that are available. So, what is whole life insurance, sometimes called “final expense” insurance for people for people over 65, and is this something you need?

First of all, let’s talk about the advantages of whole life insurance. Most importantly, it provides a guaranteed death benefit for your named beneficiaries. In the case of someone over 65, this is typically designed to cover end-of-life expenses. The death benefit does not go down over time or change. Also, an advantage of whole life insurance is that premiums are level – they do not go up over time as most types of insurance do. Lastly, whole life insurance does not expire at a certain time – it is, as the name suggests, designed to cover you for your whole life with a set death benefit amount to your beneficiaries.

When you purchase whole life insurance, you choose the amount of death benefit. This typically ranges from $5,000 to $40,000 or $50,000. Different companies have different price ranges and different rates. So, it is important to compare plans – ideally, through an independent agent that can pull together rates from a variety of companies at different benefit levels so that you can compare in an unbiased way.

The amount of death benefit that is ideal for you depends on your financial situation, existing insurance, and needs. It is a good idea to use a life insurance calculator to see how much life insurance is needed. One such tool can be found here: Life insurance calculator. This can help you get an idea of how much insurance is needed in your situation so that you can adequately prepare and protect your spouse and/or children with a guaranteed benefit.

Whole life insurance is available in most situations, regardless of your health, so that is not usually a prohibiting factor. It is, generally speaking, less expensive if you are in relatively good health, however. So it is wise to compare and choose a whole life insurance plan while you are healthy, as opposed to when you do have significant pre-existing conditions.

Even if you already have some life insurance, it is possible that you could benefit from having a separate policy to cover end-of-life expenses. Often, term life insurance is purchased with the idea in mind of covering larger expenses, such as mortgage or similar debts, or to provide an inheritance to beneficiaries, whereas whole life insurance is typically more targeted on actual end-of-life expenses.

Secure Medicare Solutions offers whole life insurance through 30+ companies that provide these type of plans, and we can help you compare plans to choose a level and rate that you are comfortable with. If you are interested in getting some quotes, you can contact us online at: Whole Life Insurance Quotes or by email.

 

Medicare Supplement Rates – Why You Should Review Plans Periodically

Medicare supplement rates go up over time, just like rates with other types of insurance. Most companies increase rates each year on your policy george bush looking guyanniversary date, while others do it annually with the calendar year. Others may have less frequent but larger increases. Regardless of when or by how much companies increase rates, the common thread is there – Medicare supplement rates go up over time. There is, unfortunately, no way around this. So, what can you do about it?

Well, first of all, it is important to understand that Medicare Supplement plans (also called Medigap plans) are completely standardized. The plans are the same regardless of which company sells the plan to you. In other words, if you have a Plan F, you can easily compare other Plan F option rates (from other companies) with the assurance that you are comparing “apples to apples”. This actually makes Medicare supplement rates the easiest to “shop” and compare.

Today, I spoke with a lady that was paying $210/month for her Medigap Plan F. For her age and zip code, the Plan F rates actually start at $148/month. She has had her plan for only 3 years, but she is paying almost $800 a year too much for her insurance, when she could easily get equivalent coverage and “pocket” the savings. Moreover, if she switched to Plan G (Find out why someone would/should do this), she could increase her net savings by another couple hundred dollars a year, all without sacrificing on coverage, claim payments, etc due to the standardization of plans.

Situations like the above story are an everyday occurrence. So many people – especially the Medicare market, frankly – prefer the “set it and forget it” method for insurance. However, this is a big mistake, particularly with a standardized insurance product with high price variability like Medicare Supplement plans.

So, what are the steps in comparing/reviewing rates to see if you can save money? Well, first of all, you should know what you have. Know what plan you have and what you are paying. You should be able to get this information by looking on your insurance card or policy and your bank statement. Next, contact an independent agent or broker that can help you compare plans in an unbiased way and provide you with a full comparison of the available options. We do that (Medigap quotes from SMS) but any agent that does business like us would be able to provide this information.

Next, you can review the quotes and make your decision (if there is a savings to be had, which there likely will be if you have had your plan for a year or more) based on price and, to a lesser extent, company rating/reputation. All you have to do is apply for a new plan with a future effective date (without cancelling your old plan). Then, once it is approved, you can cancel your old plan effective the same date that the new one will start and that’s it! You are all set and can “pocket” the savings.

If you have questions about this or how the process works, you can call us at 877.506.3378 or contact us online.

Best Medicare Supplement Plan – The Right Plan For You

The best Medicare Supplement plan is the one that is right for you. There is certainly a lot of information available regarding Medicare and Medicare Supplement plans. And, a great deal of it comes to your mailbox when you are turning 65 or going on Medicare. You may hear a company or a friend or family member tout one plan as the “best one”. While getting feedback from others can be useful, it is a good idea to be cautious when it comes to choosing a Medigap plan that is being advertised or touted as the best Medicare supplement plan.

Since Medicare Supplement plans are standardized, coverage is the same on all Medigap plans. Additionally, all plan pay claims the same way – through the Medicare “crossover” system. And lastly, you can use any Medicare Supplement plan at any doctor/hospital that takes Medicare – there are no networks. Because these three aspects of the plans are standardized, comparing the plans is a function primarily of the premium rates and the company rating/reputation.

The best Medicare supplement plan is, you could say, the one that has the lowest rates for your age, gender and zip code that is sold in your state. There are typically 30-40 companies that sell Medicare Supplement plans in each state. Not all of the companies that sell the plans offer all 10 of the standardized plans. Some only offer 3-4 of the plans. And, rates can vary widely, so it is crucial to find the best Medicare supplement plan for you by comparing the rates.

Some of the “big name” companies that sell plans in this market are: AARP (United Healthcare), Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mutual of Omaha, Aetna, CIGNA, Central States Indemnity, Stonebridge, and Forethought. While not all of these companies offer plans in every state and not all of them are competitively priced in every state, they are all ‘A’ rated or higher (by AM Best) and are generally good options when it comes to finding the best Medicare Supplement plan for you.

The only way to get an unbiased and complete look at the Medigap rates for your area is to use an independent agent (broker), who can provide this information for you so that you can compare in a centralized and unbiased place. If you have any questions about this information or wish to get a comparison to find the best Medicare Supplement plan for you, you can contact us at 877.506.3378 or online at: Send me information on the best Medicare supplement plans for me.

 

Medigap Plans – The Three Most Common Mistakes People Make

medigap plansMedigap plans are plans that fill in the gaps in Medicare Parts A & B. The plans are Federally-standardized and the way they work is relatively straight-forward, especially as compared to other types of insurance. However, it is important to make wise decisions when it comes to choosing and having a Medigap plan. There are three potentially critical mistakes that we often see when it comes to Medigap insurance.

  1. The first mistake, and this one is the most common, is neglecting to get a plan during your “open enrollment” period when you first turn 65 or go on Medicare for the first time. This mistake has its foundations in two common misconceptions – that you can get a plan any year during an annual open enrollment period or that you don’t have to “qualify” medically to get a plan. Both of these are inaccurate.First of all, your open enrollment is the 6 month period that coincides with when you sign up for Medicare Part B or turn 65. There is not an annual open enrollment period for Medigap plans, contrary to popular misconception. The annual open enrollment period that you hear referenced in advertising is the “annual election period” and it is for changing your Medicare Part D plan (or Medicare Advantage plan).The second misconception is that you do not have to qualify for a plan. I’ve heard many people say, especially since “Obamacare” passed, that they did not think that you had to qualify for insurance now. Unfortunately, that is not the case for supplemental types of insurance, like Medigap.So if you do not sign up for a plan when you are first eligible – many people think they are in good health now and will just wait until they “need” a plan – that can be a major mistake in regards to your future eligibility.
  2. The second significant mistake that we see made as far as Medicare supplement insurance is the way Medigap plans are chosen. Many people do not take the time to understand the standardization of plans and simply choose a plan because they have heard of it, it sounds good or a neighbor or family member has it.The reality is that over 90% of people are happy with their Medigap plans. The plans are very easy to use – they are standardized, pay claims automatically through the Medicare “crossover” system, and often cover everything that Medicare does not cover (Plan F). So, what’s not to like?However, just because your friend or neighbor is “happy”, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the best plan. In fact, if they’ve had it for more than a year or two, they are probably paying too much for it. Rates often change annually and they can vary widely (have seen them range from $90/month to $300/month for the EXACT same coverage). Insurance companies “bank” on people keeping the same plan with Medigap plans, because of the overwhelming satisfaction people have with how their plan pays claims. However, it pays to understand the standardization both initially and later when you wish to re-evaluate – this way, you can compare based on price and company reputation (the two factors that matter) and make a wise and informed choice.
  3. The last of the three common mistakes people make with Medigap plans is the “set it and forget it” mistake, which is somewhat referenced in the paragraphs above. Medigap plans have rates that are consistently changing. There are new companies that enter the marketplace, market factors cause rate changes, and generally, rates just change over time and as you get older. The last thing you should do is make your one open enrollment decision and then never re-evaluate your plan and other options.
    What we generally recommend is comparing plans every two years. This way, you can find out how your plan compares rate-wise to other, equivalent-coverage options. If you can save money on another “like” plan and are in relatively good health, you can simply change to the new plan with a future effective. Then, once approved, you can cancel your old plan effective that same date. Keeping an eye on your rate to ensure you are not paying to much is definitely a wise thing to do when it comes to Medigap plans.

If you have any questions about this information or anything else regarding Medigap plans, you can contact us online at Secure Medicare Solutions or call us at 877.506.3378.