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.

2010 Medicare Changes – New Deductibles, Premium Increases Affect Everyone on Medicare

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) recently announced the 2010 Medicare changes, which will have some affect on all Medicare beneficiaries. Despite the fact that there is no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security for 2010 (for the first time in 20+ years), there are some significant changes to Medicare deductibles, plan premiums, etc that you should be familiar with.

  1. New Medicare Deductibles
    This is the area that affects the largest number of Medicare beneficiaries. The Medicare Part A deductible is increasing from $1060 (2009) to $1100 (2010), and the Medicare Part B deductible is increasing from $135 (2009) to $155 (2010). For those that have Medigap policies, which cover these deductibles, you will not have increased out of pocket costs at the doctor or hospital, obviously. However, if you do not have a Medigap plan to fill in these Medicare deductibles, you will pay these higher amounts beginning in January 2010.
  2. Part B premium increase
    In many cases, the Medicare Part B premium is NOT increasing for 2010. If you currently are paying the standard Part B premium (in most cases, deducted from your SSI check) of $96.40, your premium will likely stay the same.
    However, if you are new Medicare Part B enrollee (as of 1/1/2010) OR if you have an income over $85,000 (individual) or $170,000 (married couple), you will likely pay a higher amount. For those new to Medicare Part B, the new standard premium is $110.50, which is a 15% increase from the 2009 Part B premium.
  3. Changes to Medicare Supplement plans
    The Medicare Supplement (Medigap) changes do not actually take effect until June 1, 2010; however, when they do, they will provide some new options and mark the end to some old options. Some plans, such as Plan J, will not be available to NEW applicants, whereas two new plans, M and N, will begin (Medicare Supplement Plans M and N). For a full outline of the new standardized plan chart, visit Medicare Supplements chart.
  4. Changes to Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage plans)
    As you have probably already seen, if you are on a Medicare Advantage plan currently, the MA plans have changed a good bit for 2010. In most cases, premiums have gone up and there have been some reduction in benefits with some plans. Additionally, some of the major players in the MA marketplace have pulled out of the MA market. This is plan-specific and does not apply to all plans, but it makes it more important than ever to know what you have and know what else is available in your county.
  5. Changes to Medicare Part D
    The Medicare Part D premiums have changed, in nearly all cases, for 2010. In doing so, the plan that was good for you in 2009, may not be as good for you in 2010. Again, this is plan-specific, and the only way to get an accurate picture of how this affects you individually is to do an analysis of your current plan against other options.

Overall, the changes to Medicare for 2010 will be disconcerting to some, causing an increase in out of pocket costs. However, for those with a Medigap plan and who stay on top of their Part D coverage to ensure they have the best possible plan for their unique situation, the impact of these changes can be minimized.

For a full analysis of options available to you, visit Medicare Insurance Quotes.

South Carolina Medicare Part D Enrollment Period Fast Approaching

Medicare Part D is easily the most confusing and troublesome part of Medicare. From the varying co-pays to the “donut hole” to the way that plans can change their formularies in the middle of the year, it can be very frustrating.

One of the frustrating aspects of the program for many seniors is the once-a-year enrollment period (Nov. 15-Dec. 31). This is the only time of year (unless you are aging in to Medicare or in a special enrollment period) that you can sign up for a new plan or drop an old plan. This short period of time, coupled with the fact that it falls around the holidays, can make this a hectic time for seniors wishing to re-evaluate your Medicare Part D drug coverage.

Secure Medicare Solutions has developed a solution to this dilemma to ease the pain and headache of comparing, selecting and enrolling in a Medicare Part D drug plan.

The Medicare web site (http://www.medicare.gov) offers a way to compare all of the plans in your zip code based on your specific medications. While it would be nearly impossible to get all of the formularies from the companies and do this yourself, the web site synthesizes all of the information in one place so you can have a ready reference of what your co-pays would be with specifc plans (based on your current medications).

If you are reading this and you are an existing customer (Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage) of Secure Medicare Solutions, we perform this analysis for you at no charge. This is a once-a-year service to you. Please either email Garrett directly with your medications or contact us on the Medicare Insurance Quotes form, putting “Part D” in the “Comments” box. You will need to also send your medications and dosages so that we can perform the analysis for you.

If you are NOT a current customer of Secure Medicare Solutions, but you would like to take advantage of this offer, we can help. Please contact us the same way as was listed above – on the Medicare Insurance Quotes form, putting “Part D” in the “Comments” box. We will be happy to help you re-evaluate your current coverage and the 2010 plans once they are released (usually October/early November).

Health Care Reform – How Will It Affect Medicare?

Even if you wanted to, you cannot escape the talk of health care reform these days. It is everywhere in printed, online and television media. As a leading, independent resource for Medicare and Medicare insurance news, Secure Medicare Solutions has closely examined both sides of how the proposed bill will affect those on Medicare. Our goal is to give you an unbiased look at how some of the proposed changes will affect you and your Medicare and/or Medicare insurance.  

Proposed Reform: Better Pricing for Part D Drugs
How it Affects You: This is a proposed change to assist in regulating the pharmaceutical industry and controlling drug prices. Medicare Part D aims to do this by negotiating better overall prices for Part D drugs, which should, over time, reduce the Part D premiums and co-pays that Medicare-eligible individuals have to pay. Some headway has been made on this already, with the pharmaceutical industry agreeing to a 50% cut for those that reach the dreaded “donut hole” (details for this are still pending).

Proposed Reform: Reduce Medicare Payments to Private Insurers (Medicare Advantage)
How it Affects You: If you have been paying much attention to the health care debate, you have heard the Medicare Advantage program mentioned numerous times. The projected change is to base the payments to these private insurers on an average of the plans’ bids, rather than the system now which is a standardized government-set amount. For those on Medicare Advantage, this reduced funding will, most likely, lead to an increase in premium and/or reduced benefits. For everyone on Medicare, it should lead to the ability to reduce the Medicare Part B premium.

Proposed Reform: Link Payments to Hospitals to Hospital Performance
How it Affects You: The idea to link hospital payments for Medicare patients to hospital performance has been around for a while, and it is a major part of the proposed health care reform. It’s intention is to increase overall hospital efficiency and give hospitals an economic incentive to “do right” by the patient. Some feel that this will lead to greater efficiency at hospitals, while others believe it will lead to greater dishonesty and fraud within the system. If it is a part of any legislation that is passed, we’ll find out for sure!

Proposed Reform: Standardization of Payments to Skilled Nursing Facilities/Long-term Care Facilities
How it Affects You: This provision of proposed legislation is intended to cut waste in the current Medicare system by measuring actual costs to come up with a more uniform system for reimbursing these facilities through Medicare. It remains to be seen if this will affect the quality of care received if in one of these facilities; however, the overall goal is to reduce waste in this part of the system and reduce the cost of Medicare to all Medicare-eligible individuals.

Proposed Reform: Reduce/Regulate Fraud, Waste and Abuse in the Medicare System
How it Affects You: This is the proposed reform that most everyone can agree upon. There have been many ideas tossed around as to how to do this. One of the primary ways that this is projected to be accomplished is higher scrutiny of health care providers and hospitals. Additional pre-payment reviews will be implemented, particularly on doctors/hospitals that order a significant amount of high-risk or high-cost procedures. Over time, this is intended to reduce the cost of Medicare (Part B premium, etc) to the individual.

Regardless of which side of the debate you come down on, it is obviously important to keep an eye on how it will all play out and how it will affect you. At Secure Medicare Solutions, we will do our part to keep you updated on any changes. You can always get updated information and follow along with us at Secure Medicare Solutions: An informative Medicare Insurance and Medicare Supplement Blog.

South Carolina Medicare Supplements — When is Open Enrollment?

I get asked this question all the time: “I have a Medicare Supplement. When does that open enrollment period start again?” When you have employer-sponsored insurance, as many people do during their working lives, you get accustomed to having a certain period of the year in which you can make changes. Plus, you are inundated with the Medicare Advantage and Part D (prescription drug) advertising, phone calls and mailings trumpeting the onset of the annual open enrollment period.

Overlooked in all of this is the fact that, for South Carolina Medicare Supplement plans, there is no certain open enrollment period. You can change Medicare supplement plans at any time, as long as you can qualify medically.

However, Medicare Advantage plans and Part D prescription drug coverage plans, do have an annual enrollment period, which runs from Nov 15-Dec. 31 of each calendar year. Then, Medicare Advantage plans have an additional enrollment period (with some stipulations) from Jan. 1-Mar. 31.

If you have a Medicare Supplement, though, don’t be confused. The best time to re-evaluate your coverage and save money is during the middle of the year when no one else is doing it!