Why Should You Use an Independent Broker to Choose a Medigap Plan

There are several options for comparing and enrolling in a Medigap plan. First, you can contact each company that offers plans in your area to compare plans and rates. Although this is certainly an option, it is one that would be incredibly time-consuming. The alternative is using an independent broker – an independent broker allows you the opportunity to compare multiple options in a centralized place, get unbiased feedback about the various plan options and make an informed choice.

Often, people end up choosing a plan that is higher in price than other options, without understanding the standardization of plans which mandates that all companies offer the same coverage and work the same way. This can lead to paying more for the exact same thing. An independent broker’s job is to help you compare the options to pick a plan that is competitively-priced for the coverage level you want.

If you have questions about this or want to look at the options in your area, please contact us online or call us at 877.506.3378.

Medigap Rates Online – Can You Get Them and How?

A common question is whether you can get Medigap rates online. Many people are surprised to learn that it is not as easy as you think it should be. In general, you can get some Medigap rates online; however, you don’t always get complete or accurate information. This article explains why and gives you options for obtaining a Medigap comparison.

First of all, as a preface, while you may not get complete or accurate Medigap rates online, you certainly can easily get a complete, unbiased Medigap comparison by email. As far as getting a listing on a website of all plans available to you, with rates customized to your age, gender, zip code, situation, etc., it’s not that easy.

There are three main factors that make it difficult to get Medigap rates online. First, some companies do not allow their rates to be published online by agents. This greatly inhibits your ability to get an accurate picture of the plans available in your area. Second, some Medigap companies only deal with “captive” agents that only represent/sell plans for that one company. “Captive” agents wouldn’t be able to give you rates for other companies besides their company, while independent brokers wouldn’t have rates for “captive”-agent companies. Lastly, companies have different rates for each zip code and age and are changing rates all the time, making Medigap rates online possibly unreliable/out of date.

So, with the unavailability and unreliability of Medigap rates online, what are the other options? The good news for the Medigap consumer is that you don’t have to have a pushy agent come to your house or spend hours on the phone with companies or insurance agents. The easiest way to get Medigap rates online is via email. You can easily get rates delivered directly to your inbox that are both customized to your age, gender, zip code, situation, as well as accurate, reliable and prompt.

Secure Medicare Solutions can provide that service – Medigap rates by email. The important thing here is to make sure you are requesting the information from an independent broker/agent. This way, you can compare all options in a centralized place. There are likely other companies that will provide similar information as well, but most or all require a phone number and address as well in order to contact you with phone calls, mail, etc. Particularly if you are someone turning 65 or ‘shopping’ for a Medigap plan, the last thing you want to do is give someone ELSE permission to call you endlessly. Getting Medigap rates by email solves that problem – gather the information, read at your leisure, compare plans and make a sound, unbiased decision.

If you have questions about this process or want to speak with someone directly, you can contact us using the form here or by phone at 877.506.3378.

The Future of Medigap Plan F

The future of Medigap Plan F was recently called into question with the recent passage of the “doc fix” bill, H.R. 2 – the Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act. The headline-stealer of this legislation was the stabilization of physician payments through the repeal of the sustainable growth rate model for Medicare payments to physicians. However, one of the lesser-known provisions could impact future Medicare beneficiaries who purchase Medigap insurance.

Specifically, the bill sets forth surcharges for Medicare beneficiaries that choose to purchase either Medigap Plan F or Medigap Plan C, the two Medigap plans that cover the Medicare Part B (doctor/outpatient) deductible. This deductible currently stands at $147/year, but it is projected to increase to $185/year in 2020 and $217/year in 2023. The idea is that these surcharges offset the higher “use rate” on Medicare from people that have Medigap Plan F. Although this has not necessarily been proven to be the case, the idea is that Medigap Plan F policyholders have no “skin in the game” since it doesn’t cost them anything to see a doctor.

Now, it is important to note that the bill specifies “future” beneficiaries (starting in 2020) as the ones who would be subject to the surcharges on Plan F and C premiums. So, at least on the surface, current Plan F or C policyholders would not be affected. However, a deeper look may foretell some consequences on existing policyholders.

To explain, the surcharges will likely greatly reduce the number of new policyholders into those two plans. Once it is understood that the choice to enroll in Plan F or Plan C equals surcharges on top of premium charges, many beneficiaries will pick a different plan. Hypothetically, this would cause upward pressure on Medigap Plan F and C rates, as there would be fewer new policyholders on those plans. So, long term, the outlook for price stability on those plans is not as great as it would be on other plans.

To editorialize a little here, the “overuse” of Medicare by people on Plan F has not been proven. And, although it does make sense in a vacuum, people that have Plan G, for example, have very little “skin in the game” either ($147/year). So, there is not that big of a difference. Also, since the Federal Government has very limited oversight over the Medigap plans – they are to supplement the Federal program, Medicare – it is hard to see how they should be involved in deciding how people choose to cover their “gaps” in Medicare.

All said though, the bill has become law and unless something changes between now and 2020, there will likely be a lot fewer people choosing Medigap Plans F and C at that point. We’ll stay on top of this and other developments, moving forward, and keep you apprised on how they may affect current Medicare beneficiaries.

Medicare Cards Will No Longer Use Social Security Numbers

Medicare cards will no longer use Social Security numbers as required medicare cardsby a measure in the big Medicare bill signed by President Obama last week. Since its inception, Medicare has used beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers as a part of the Medicare claim number, which is displayed on the red, white and blue Medicare card.

Medicare has four years to implement this large change for new Medicare beneficiaries that sign up for Medicare. Medicare has four additional years to replace existing Medicare beneficiaries cards with a new randomly-generated Medicare claim number. This means that, according to the new bill, Medicare has eight years to fully implement this change.

This change is a result of the increasing incidence of identity theft and need to provide protection for beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers. Most other health insurance companies and programs have long since abandoned the practice of using Social Security numbers as the identifying marker on ID cards, including Medicare Advantage plans (privatized Medicare plans).

The change will, of course, be very costly to implement, and Congress has provided $320 million over four years to implement. This money will come from Medicare trust funds which are financed with payroll taxes and other beneficiary premiums.

Currently, over 4,500 people a day sign up for Medicare, and it is expected that 18 million more people are expected to qualify for Medicare in the next decade. Many new Medicare beneficiaries have been shocked, in today’s climate of identity theft, to find that their Social Security numbers are prominently displayed on their Medicare cards, so this will be a welcome change.

Secure Medicare Solutions client, Larry Williamson, said of the change, “I think it’s high time Medicare caught up with most other organizations that have ceased using Social Security numbers as ID numbers. Medicare cards are cards that you have to have in your wallet, and using the Social Security number just opens you up for the possibility of theft or abuse.”

The plan right now is for Medicare to begin using randomly-generated Medicare claim numbers, which will still be displayed on beneficiaries’ Medicare cards but will not provide the same vulnerability to hackers and thieves.

Garrett Ball owns Secure Medicare Solutions, which is an independent Medicare insurance agency. If you have questions about this change or want additional information, you can contact us here.

 

Senate Passes Medicare Doc Fix Bill, Sends to President Obama

There is big Medicare-related news out of Washington today, as the Senate passed medicare doc fix
the so-called “Medicare doc fix” bill late last night by a resounding 92-8 majority. This bill was recently labeled as the MICRA – Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act. President Obama has already said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk. So, what exactly does this mean for you, the Medicare beneficiary?

Let’s start from the beginning. First and foremost, this bill is in response to the April 1 expiration of the sustainable growth rate for physician payments. When this expired, a 21% cut went into effect for doctor reimbursement rates for Medicare patients. CMS – the government organization that administers Medicare – announced that it would essentially “hold” claims for 14 days until this bill could be passed and signed. Medicare patients should see no effects from this – or really, even know that it is going on behind the scenes – but it is interesting to know nonetheless.

Even more interesting and important is what is actually in the bill itself. Here is a bullet-point summary of what the bill entails (bolded sections of particular importance to Medigap policyholders):

  • The bill repeals the sustainable growth rate of physician payments that had been in effect since 1997 – this is the so-called Medicare doc fix.
  • It replaces that with a .5% increase for physician payments each year for the next five years.
  • The bill created financial incentives for doctors to bill for quality care (“quality care” not defined at this point but will likely follow recent CMS directives).
  • The bill provides 7.2 million over two years for Community Health Centers.
  • It extends funding for nearly two dozen other programs – including federal abstinence programs and extra payments for rural hospitals.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will receive $5 billion for two years.
  • It increases the Medicare Part B and Part D income-related adjustments for premiums for high-earners.
  • In 2020, it requires Medicare Supplement policyholders to pay for the Medicare Part B deductible (currently $147/year) themselves. This eliminates “first dollar coverage”. And, this also means that the Medicare Supplement plan offerings (Medigap coverage chart) would also have to be revamped at some point to account for these changes. Plans F and C would likely be eliminated for new policyholders starting in 2020. If the past is any indication, current Medigap policyholders will be “grandfathered in” and allowed to keep their plans even if it includes first-dollar coverage. However, at that point (2020) or maybe before, there would likely be a considerable amount of rate pressure on people in first-dollar coverage plans, as there would be no “new” policyholders coming into those plans.
  • The overall cost of the bill is approximately $210 billion, with two-thirds of that being added to the Federal deficit and the remaining $70 billion in cost being split between Medicare recipients and providers.
  • Lastly, a previously scheduled hospital payment increase of 3.2 percent – scheduled for 2018 – will be delayed and spread over 6 years.

So, how will this, particularly the change in Medigap design, impact you? In 2010, the Medigap plans were revamped to include several new plans and remove several duplicate plan designs. When that happened, policyholders that had one of the “old” plans were allowed to keep their plan. It is very likely this would be the case with this plan design change as well; however, that will be something to keep an eye on. Obviously, the 2020 start date of this requirement gives plenty of time – even at Government pace – to revamp the coverage chart and implement the changes.

Also, the “doc fix”, which “permanently” replaces the sustainable growth rate should provide some stability to providers who accept Medicare patients and payments. This elimination of payment amount uncertainty is always, ultimately, a good thing for Medicare recipients. It is expected the President Obama will sign the bill into law within the next couple of days.

Garrett Ball is the owner of Secure Medicare Solutions, an independent Medicare insurance brokerage. If you have any questions about this or want additional information about current Medigap plans, please contact SMS at 877.506.3378 or online.

Apply for Mutual of Omaha Medigap Online

Mutual of Omaha, one of the leaders in the Medicare marketplace, has made it even apply for mutual of omaha medigap online
easier to research Medicare Supplement options and get a quote online. In the past, you would have to spend hours on the phone or in person meeting with agents to discuss Medicare Supplement options. However, that’s not the case any more.

You can now research online, get quotes, and when you’re ready, even apply for a Medicare Supplement online at: http://ApplyForMedSupp.com/NZK949. This site enables you to compare the plan benefits, see quotes and make an informed decision. This is now available in 8 states with more states being added weekly.

The statistics show that people aging into Medicare increasingly want the flexibility of “shopping” for Medigap online. Doing it this way allows you to understand the plans on your own time, but it still gives you the flexibility and resource of consulting with a licensed agent if you have any questions along the way.

Medicare Supplement plans are Federally-standardized, so each company offers the same coverage options. The differentiating factors are price and company reputation. Mutual of Omaha is one of the leaders in this market, remaining one of the most competitively priced options, and they have an ‘A+’ AM Best rating.

If you have questions about this or want to speak to someone directly, you can call us at 877.506.3378.

Household Discounts for Medigap Plans

Medigap companies are always looking for a competitive “edge” in the market place.household discount for medigap plans
One of the most recent trends is the inclusion of the household discount that most companies now offer. Although these discounts range from 5% to 12%, they can have a significant impact on which company is right for you.

The biggest change, in recent months, has been the inclusion of the discount for people who share a household with another adult, regardless of whether that other adult has the same insurance policy. In other words, you can qualify for the discount (with many companies), just based on being married or living with another adult. In year’s past, you would have had to both sign up for the same insurance company/plan. Now, that is not the case with many companies.

Some of the companies that offer some form of household discounts now include Mutual of Omaha, Aetna, Medico and Equitable to name a few. These discounts range from 5% to 12%, depending on the company and where you live.

As you may already know, Medicare Supplement plans are Federally-standardized. So for example, a Plan F with one company is the same as a Plan F with another company. Price and company reputation are the only differentiating factors between companies, so it is important to compare based on premium.

If you have not compared your Medicare Supplement coverage lately, it is a good time to do so. Not only is there the new revamped calculation of the household discount available through many companies, but there are also several newer, very competitively priced companies in the Medicare Supplement market. Several of these are large companies that have “repriced” their plans, while others are well-established companies that have ventured into the large and expanding Medicare market.

If you have questions about this or would like a quick quote via email, you can call us at 877.506.3378 or request information at Medigap quotes.

Last Chance – Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP)

Medicare Advantage Disenrollment PeriodThe Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period is the last chance for those in a Medicare Advantage plan to get out of their plan. This period runs from January 1 through February 14 of each year. During this time period, you can get out of a Medicare advantage plan and return to original Medicare. If you do not take any action of February 14, you are locked into your Medicare advantage plan for the remainder of the calendar year.

If you have a Medicare advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage, you can also pick up a stand-alone part D plan upon returning to original Medicare. In addition, at the same time, during this Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period, you can also add a Medigap/Medicare supplement plan at the same time.

This can be an important time for those who are in a Medicare Advantage plan and did not realize the changes that their plan was making for 2015. It is also useful for those who have ongoing medical concerns that may make being in a more comprehensive plan advantageous. Lastly, it can be useful for someone who’s doctor either no longer takes Medicare advantage plans or does not take your particular plan. It is, in essence, a last chance to get out of your current plan for this year.

Medicare advantage plans do change each year. So, it is important to stay apprised of those changes and how they may affect you. Medigap/Medicare supplement plans do not change coverage-wise on a year by year basis. Additionally, these plans do not have networks and are, in general, more flexible across state lines.

To view the coverage chart that shows what Medigap plans cover, you can see it here.

To get more information on the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period, or find out whether it makes sense for you to make changes during it, you can contact us at 877. 506. 3378 or via email.

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.