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.

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.

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.

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.