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.

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.

Medicare Supplement Enrollment Continues to Grow

Medicare supplement enrollment continues to grow,
according to marketplacemedicare supplement enrollment data released in 2014 by Mark Farrah Associates. The study found an increase in number of Medicare supplement policies from 10.2 million to 10.5 from 2012 to 2013,  an overall increase of 3.8%. These figures also represent a notable growth in new policies. This entails policies that are issued in the last three years, and this growth is measured at 1.3% from 2012 to 2013.

Most project these study results are a result of two distinct trends in the Medicare marketplace. One, they represent the increasing numbers of Medicare eligible individuals as Baby Boomers turn 65 at a clip of 11,000 per day. Secondly, most suspect these numbers reflect a move away from other coverage types, both by choice and necessity, as there are fewer Medicare advantage plan options and more employers are reducing or eliminating coverage for retirees. Overall, the last five years have seen an overall growth in the Medicare market of over 11% in number of issued policies.

The study also found that Plan F was purchased by 52% of people purchasing Medigap plans, a large number when you consider that plan F is not always the best “deal”. These numbers, I believe, also are affected by the fact that several of the larger Medigap insurers “push” plan F as their primary option. Plan G and Plan N did also grow, according to the study, in number of Medigap enrollees. Early evidence suggests that, once 2014 data is available, we will see a leveling off of Plan F enrollments and an uptick in enrollments in Plans G and N.

So, how does all this information affect you? One, it is important to know what the marketplace looks like if you are a participant in the marketplace (i.e. a Medigap policyholder). Also, it gives you an idea of how your choices compare to what the market as a whole is doing.

If you have questions at any time about your plan, your options, or anything else regarding Medicare, please do not hesitate to contact me at 877. 506. 3378 or on our website.

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.

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.