Learning Center > A Guide to Medicare Supplement

A Guide to Medicare Supplement

It’s no secret that there are plenty of Medicare choices out there for you. But getting lost in the alphabet soup of Medicare plans can be overwhelming. After all, there are 11 different Medicare plans: A, B, C, D, High Deductible Plans F and G, K, L, M, and N.

It might be tempting to follow the advice of a family member or friend of which Medicare plan is best for you. You may even think, “If that plan works for them, it’ll work for me, too,” which is not always the case.

The truth is: Every person has different healthcare needs. So if you’re wondering how to pick the right plan for you but don’t know where to start, you’re not alone.

It’s key to understand the different Medicare parts, what they cover, and how to get the most affordable price on the plan that’s right for you. Let’s start by breaking down the Medicare plan options into digestible terms.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is health insurance for:

  • People who are 65 or older.
  • People under 65 years old who are disabled and have been receiving Social Security Disability benefits for at least 24 months.
  • People suffering from End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Medicare Part A

Medicare part A provides coverage for inpatient and hospital care.

Medicare Part B

Provides coverage for doctors and outpatient services.

Medicare Advantage Plans (Medicare Part C)

Typically covers Parts A, B and D with one bundled insurance policy for all Medicare coverage.

Prescription Drug Plans (Medicare Part D)

Provides coverage for the cost of your medications.

Medicare Plans A-N (Medicare Supplement or Medigap)

Coverage varies by plan benefits, but these plans help cover benefits that Medicare Part A and Part B don’t cover. Plans C, E, F, H, I, and J are no longer sold to new enrollees.

How does Medicare work?

Many people automatically get Original Medicare - also known as Part A and Part B - especially if they’re receiving Social Security retirement benefits when becoming eligible for Medicare coverage.

You will have the option to enroll in Medicare Part A, Part B, or both when you join Medicare. But you might be in a situation where you have other health insurance besides Medicare, like a plan through your employer, so you can delay your enrollment in Part B without being penalized.

But even if you enroll in both Part A and Part B, it’s important to know that Original Medicare does not cover everything. That said, it’s recommended to learn the various Medicare parts and Medicare Supplement plan options that can help cover what Original Medicare doesn't.

The good news is you can add on to your Original Medicare coverage in two different ways:

Many people choose to have both options, but be sure to always evaluate your specific healthcare needs and budget before making your choice.

What is Medicare Advantage?

Medicare Advantage plans are offered by a private health insurance company that works with Medicare to provide your Part A and Part B benefits. These bundled plans also typically include Medicare Part D (prescription drugs coverage).

Some Medicare Advantange plans offer extra coverage for dental, vision and hearing services. But each Medicare Advantage plan can charge different out-of-pocket costs.

What is a Medigap plan?

Medicare Supplement plans (also known as Medigap) help cover gaps in insurance that Medicare doesn't cover. So if you want coverage that might pay for all or part of certain Medicare out-of-pocket expenses, then you may want to explore Medigap plans. In layman's terms, a Medicare Supplement plan is additional health insurance coverage used to supplement a more comprehensive plan.

While there are different Medicare Supplement plans, each one usually covers at least 50% of your Part B coinsurance. It’s also worth noting that each standardized plan also covers hospital costs and expenses up to 365 days after your Medicare coverage has ended.

How do Medicare Supplement plans work?

Medicare coverage has many holes in it. Original Medicare often pays a bulk of your medical expenses, but not all of them in instances where you become very ill or seriously injured. This is where Medicare supplement plans (Medigap plans) come into play: These plans may offer protection from steep out-of-pocket medical costs that result from numerous doctor or hospital visits.

Think about it: You’ve worked hard for too long, so you don’t want your hard-earned nest egg diminished by unexpected major medical expenses like costly hospital stays.

So, you may want to consider buying a Medicare supplement insurance plan to supplement your Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B coverage particularly if:

  • You’re likely to have numerous hospital stays during a year
  • You have regular doctor visits and/or medical services
  • You frequently travel outside the U.S. and want insurance coverage for emergency medical care overseas, which Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B may not provide. Note: Some Medicare supplement plans provide international travel coverage.

How do I choose the best Medicare supplement plan for me?

Medicare supplement plans are sold through private insurance companies in the U.S. These plans are designed to help you cover the leftover costs after Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) benefits are applied.

In all U.S. states except Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin, Medicare supplement plans are available in 11 standardized benefits packages and vary based on the amount of expenses they cover. In most cases, the more expense the supplement plan will pick up, the higher the premium will be.

Here are steps to choose the right plan for you:

#1: Analyze your options.

Start by looking up Medicare quotes online, comparing things like plan costs, features, benefits and credibility of the private insurance company.

Medigap plans come in standardized benefit packages: You can use all of them anywhere a provider accepts Medicare payments. So the good news is that you don’t have to pull out a spreadsheet to compare networks, deductibles, and copays.

Plan M and Plan N are good cost-sharing plans with cheaper premiums, making them more appealing to healthier retirees. And while all Medicare supplemental insurance plans offer basic benefits, some offer extra benefits, like Silver Sneakers.

The reputation of an insurance company is also important choosing a Medicare Supplement policy. Two or more insurance companies may have the same premiums and pricing, but you may be more inclined to go with the company that has the higher consumer rating.

#2: Understand pricing.

When you're age 65, you might purchase a Medicare policy that seems relatively inexpensive at the time, but it might come with a bigger price tag later on in life. That said, you don’t have to automatically jump on the supplemental plan with the lowest price because that plan might face a price hike as the years pass.

Although Medicare Supplement plans are standardized, premiums can vary considerably for the same plan. For example, the amount you pay can depend on your gender, age, where you live, tobacco usage, and overall health.

Most insurance companies in the U.S. can use several different methods to set their Medicare supplement plan prices. They're typically calculated in three different ways:

  • Community-rated: The same premium amount is charged to everyone, regardless of age.
  • Issue-age rated: The premium amount depends on your age when you purchase the policy but will never go up specifically based on your age.
  • Attained-age rated: The premium amount starts lower for younger-aged buyers at purchase, but it goes up as you get older.

#3: Know your healthcare needs.

Knowing your own health history as well as your current and future health care needs is key in choosing the right supplemental plan. Ask yourself the following:

Do I have pre-existing conditions?

In all states, you have a right to purchase a Medicare supplement policy for six months starting on the first day of the month you’re at least 65 years old and enrolled in Medicare Part B.

Your insurance company isn’t allowed to turn you down during this grace period, or charge you a higher amount because you have a pre-existing medical condition. This is known as "guaranteed issue."

But after that, you’re only entitled to guaranteed issue in such instances as your retiree group Medicare plan has shut down, your Medicare Advantage plan has shut down, or you moved out of the service area.

A few states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, have specific rules that let their residents switch supplement plans regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Do I need prescription drugs or other types of coverage?

Medicare supplement plans don’t cover prescription drugs, so you’ll have to consider purchasing a separate Part D drug plan.

Keep in mind that supplemental plans also don’t cover hearing aids, vision care, dental care, or long-term care.

How do I buy a Medicare supplement policy?

You can often find Medicare supplemental plans and their costs online or through an agent. Just be sure to carefully review the policy before applying.

You can then pay for your supplement policy by check, bank draft, or money order.

When should I start shopping for Medicare?

The best time to start shopping for Medicare is 90 days before you turn 65, so your plan will be effective the month you turn 65.

During this period, insurance companies can’t deny coverage or charge you higher premium amounts regardless of your health. In other words, they can’t do any of the following:

  • Charge you a higher premium for a supplemental policy than they charge people with no health issues
  • Refuse to sell you any supplemental insurance policy it offers
  • Make you wait for insurance coverage to start

If you purchase or change Medicare supplement plans outside of the open enrollment period and your guaranteed issue, you might be turned down or may be charged more depending on your health status.

Be sure to review all of your options even if you have an existing Medicare supplement plan: You may be able to save money with the same insurance plan by switching to a different insurer.

You can submit your application for supplemental insurance as early as six months before the first of the month in which you turn 65, which has two main advantages:

  • Many insurance companies determine your premium rates based on the signature date. Signing early will ensure that you get the best rate while avoiding any risk of rate hikes that may occur between your start date and your signature date.
  • You’ll likely feel much more comfortable and relaxed when the process is complete, and you’ll have your insurance policy and ID cards in hand by the start date.

Wait times

Under federal law, Medicare Supplement insurers may impose a waiting period for up to six months to cover services related to pre-existing conditions. However, if the applicant had at least six months of prior continuous major medical coverage, there is no waiting period.

Get help with your Medicare plan

Though we just covered a variety of options, you don't have to go it alone.

Why spend your free time doing hours of research on Medicare plans? Try our easy plan comparison tool get Medicare quotes or call 800-620-4519 to get help from one of our licensed Medicare agents.

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What you should read next

Retirement should be a time of joy and freedom, but too often these years can unfortunately be tainted by battles with chronic illnesses. And one of the most common is cardiovascular disease (CVD), often called heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. That’s why February marks American Heart Month - a way to bring awareness to heart disease and help spread tips on heart disease prevention. And to help celebrate American Heart Month, we’ll review some of the facts about cardiovascular disease, along with tips to combat it. Then we’ll dive into how your Medicare coverage can help you prevent, treat or manage cardiovascular diseases. What Is Heart Disease? Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease CVD is a broad term for several different medical conditions. But generally speaking, heart disease is an illness that affects the heart or circulatory system. The illnesses that fall under the heart disease category include: Coronary artery disease (CAD) Heart rhythm problems Congenital heart disease Infections of the heart tissue Heart valve disease Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Many of the biggest risk factors of cardiovascular disease are lifestyle related. And while there’s a general assumption that these factors are the sole cause, many people are actually born with heart disease. It can be congenital and hereditary. But those with lifestyle risk factors have control over heart disease prevention. The main risk factors and causes of heart disease include: Obesity High cholesterol Diabetes Smoking High blood pressure And these causes of heart disease can be directly tied to such behaviors as: Poor diet Poor physical activity Too much alcohol Tobacco use Genetics or heredity Simply put, the lifestyle habits (good or bad) that we form are what lead to the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Genetics and heredity may then play a role in whether or not we actually develop heart disease. 4 Tips To Prevent Cardiovascular Disease CVD As we mentioned above, the fact that so many of the risk factors for CVD are lifestyle related can be a silver lining, meaning we can make smart choices and avoid unhealthy behaviors to protect our hearts. Now let’s walk through some healthy habits to maintain good heart health. #1. Stop Smoking Quitting smoking is almost universally hailed as the biggest step to reduce your risk of heart disease. Smoking is considered the most easily avoidable lifestyle factor that leads to cardiovascular disease. So if you currently smoke, make an attempt to stop now. Quitting smoking will also save you money, making this heart disease prevention tip a no-brainer. #2. Eat Healthy Diet also plays a big role in the health of your heart. A poor diet multiplies and compounds risk factors, but a smart, healthy diet can reduce your risks and get your heart in great shape. You should always speak with your doctor about nutrition and heart healthy diet options. But generally speaking a heart healthy diet may include: Fruits and vegetables Whole grains Low-fat dairy products Skinless poultry and fish Nuts and legumes In addition to eating these nutritious foods, another suggested tip is to limit your saturated fat, sodium, and sugar intake. This type of diet fits into the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan. #3. Stay Active There’s no getting around the fact that an active lifestyle is a healthy one. But you don’t have to jump right in and overdo it. In fact, gentle but steady exercises can be great way to help prevent heart disease, including: Walking 30 minutes per day Cycling Swimming The main point is to pick an activity that you enjoy. So if you have a scenic path, beach, or lake nearby, consider talking walks or riding your bike there. You should also have a backup plan for poor weather or to keep safe and healthy during COVID-19. Research home workout apps or programs on platforms like YouTube or you Smart TV. But just remember: If you over-commit to exercise and activity, you may fall off the wagon completely. Instead, start small, and add time and distance gradually. If you make it a firm part of your routine, you’ll stick to it. Again, always be sure to consult your doctor before developing an exercise or activity regimen for heart health. #4. Stay Informed About Your Cardiovascular Disease CVD Risks One of the most important heart disease prevention tips is to stay proactive and empowered about your own personal health. This is especially true if you have a family history or genetic predisposition. Here are some key strategies: Don’t miss or delay your doctor’s appointments. If recommended, make sure you get cardiovascular screenings and tests. If you’re on heart disease medications, be sure to consistently take them and follow your treatment plan. Ask questions and be proactive when it comes to your health and wellbeing. How Does Medicare Cover Cardiovascular Disease CVD? If you’re on Medicare or aging into Medicare,and cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment is important to you, you’re in luck. All aspects of the Medicare program cover heart disease related measures. This includes Medicare cardiovascular screening, treatment, and healthy lifestyle tools. Heart disease prevention and treatments are covered by: Original Medicare Part A Original Medicare Part B Medicare Part D drug plans Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap plans) In the most basic sense, Medicare will cover all the stages of cardiovascular disease, including: Annual screenings (covered by Part B) Doctor’s visits, both primary and specialists (covered by Part B) Heart condition medications (covered by Part D) Cardiovascular tests and procedures (covered by Part B) Hospitalizations (when admitted as an in-patient, covered by Part A) When you use Medicare Part B under Original Medicare, you can expect to pay: Part B deductible ($203 for 2021) Part B coinsurance (20% of the Medicare-approved charges) Part B excess charges (up to 15% of the Medicare-approved charges if you use providers who don’t agree to Medicare’s prices) When you use Part A coverage under Original Medicare, your costs may include: Part A deductible ($1,484 per benefit period) Part A coinsurance of $0 per day (after you pay the deductible) for hospital stays of up to 60 days Part A coinsurance of $371 per day for hospital stays over 60 days Medicare Cardiovascular Screenings Medicare covers cardiovascular screenings, which involves a blood test once every five years. But if your doctor orders more frequent cardiovascular screenings and tests, Medicare will cover them. However, you’ll pay your share of costs as we outlined above. Medicare Cardiac Rehabilitation Programs Medicare Part B will cover part of the costs for cardiovascular disease rehabilitation programs. These covered programs include exercise, education, and counselling designed to maintain your heart health. Note: Medicare Part B will cover these cardiac rehabilitation programs, only if any of these scenarios apply to you: You’ve had a heart attack in the last 12 months. You’ve had heart bypass surgery. You’re experiencing stable angina or chronic heart failure. You’ve had a heart of lung transplant. You’ve had a valve or artery repair or replacement. Once again, you’ll pay your standard 20% coinsurance if you use these cardiac rehab programs under Medicare Part B. Cardiac Tests Covered By Medicare Beyond standard cardiovascular disease screenings and rehabilitation programs, Medicare will cover medically necessary cardiac tests ordered by your doctors. These types of heart tests may include: Blood tests Echocardiograms (ECG) Exercise stress tests - MRI or x-rays Just as with the other services, you’ll pay 20% cost-sharing under Part B of Original Medicare. Cardiovascular Medications Most prescription drugs are not covered by Original Medicare. But you may be able to get heart and cardiovascular prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Part D plan. The 2 types of Medicare plans that offer Part D: Standalone Prescription Drug Plans (PDP) and Medicare Advantage plans that include Prescription Drugs (MAPD) It’s important to note that not all drugs are covered by all Medicare Part D drug plans. However, all Part D plans must cover at least two drugs in every therapeutic category, including heart disease or cardiovascular disease. Tip: You can use our prescription lookup tool to see if your drugs are covered under Medicare Part D. Medicare Chronic Condition / Disease Management Programs If you have more than one chronic condition, you can qualify for special disease management programs. These are also covered by Original Medicare, but you’ll still be responsible for your standard cost sharing. You may also have to pay a monthly fee to participate in these chronic care management services. Under these management programs, you’ll work with your healthcare professionals to craft a comprehensive health plan tailored to your heart condition. A chronic care management plan may include: Goal setting and health evaluations Working with all of your specialists Managing your medications Cardiovascular Disease And Private Medicare Plans So far, we’ve reviewed your coverage and costs under Original Medicare. But if you choose a private plan option like Medicare Advantage or Medigap, these plans will cover your cardiovascular health as well. If you enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan, your plan will pay part of the costs you’d normally pay out of pocket. If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll likely pay small copayments - similar to what you’d pay under Original Medicare. But with Medicare Advantage, you’ll have out-of-pocket spending protection, since these plans put a cap on your annual health spending. Most Medicare Advantage plans and some Medigap plans also offer access to non-Medicare health and wellness benefits. These can include gym memberships, SilverSneakers or other health programs that can help you lower your risks of cardiovascular disease. Conclusion: Medicare & Cardiovascular Disease Coverage With lifestyle and healthy habits, you can control many of the factors that may lead to cardiovascular disease. And if you currently have heart disease, you can manage your condition with a healthy lifestyle and tests, specialists, and medications covered by Medicare. To make the most of your private Medicare coverage (Part C or Part D): Check to ensure your medications are covered by the plan you’re considering. Make sure you’ll remain in-network with your doctors and specialists. And if you want help choosing a Medicare plan, you can work with a licensed insurance agent who can help you find Medicare plans and give you free Medicare quotes (with no obligation to enroll in a plan). Just call 1-800-620-4519 to speak with one of our licensed insurance agents, or use our Medicare plan comparison tool to find Medicare plans in your area. Note: This article is for general education purposes and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the guidance of your physician or a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.
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The popularity of Medicare Advantage plans is growing at a rapid pace. In 2020, more than 36% of all Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Advantage health care plans. Whether you’re already in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’re curious about them, or you’ve never heard of them, this Medicare Advantage guide is for you. In this in-depth Medicare Advantage guide, we’ll provide a Medicare Advantage overview that will answer your frequently asked Medicare questions and cover the following topics: What is Medicare Advantage and who qualifies for it The different types of Medicare Advantage plans and how they work The difference between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage What Medicare Advantage plans cover Who should consider getting Medicare Advantage How much Medicare Advantage costs Medicare Advantage and special scenarios Medicare Advantage plan ratings When to enroll in Medicare Advantage How to enroll in Medicare Advantage What Is Medicare Advantage? Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, is an alternative to Original Medicare. The Medicare Advantage program is a way for beneficiaries to access their benefits and rights under Original Medicare, but through a private insurance company instead of the Federal Government. A Medicare Advantage plan is a contract between a private insurance company and the Medicare program. By law, every Medicare Advantage plan must cover everything covered by Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B). This means that if you choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can be confident that you’ll receive all the benefits you’re entitled to under Original Medicare. Who Qualifies For Medicare Advantage? To qualify for Medicare Advantage, you must be enrolled in Original Medicare Parts A and B. You also must continue to pay your Part B premium in order to keep your Medicare Advantage coverage. There are no age restrictions for Medicare Advantage plans. If you’re enrolled in Part A and B before age 65 due to a disability or chronic condition, you’re still eligible for Medicare Advantage coverage. How Do Medicare Advantage Plans Work? Medicare Advantage health care plans work like the employer-sponsored health insurance plans you may be used to from your previous or current job. Medicare Advantage plans provide comprehensive coverage, and you usually need to stay in-network to receive care. You’ll typically have some out-of-pocket expenses when you receive services and procedures under your Medicare Advantage policy. These costs typically come in the form of copayments or coinsurance that you’ll pay to your provider when you receive care. An important point to remember is that all Medicare Advantage plans have an annual out-of-pocket (OOP) maximum that limits the total amount you can spend in any year. But you do not have an OOP with Original Medicare. What Types Of Medicare Advantage Plans Are Available? There are 6 types of Medicare Advantage plans, including: Medicare Advantage HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) Medicare Advantage PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) Medicare Advantage PFFS (Private Fee-For-Service Plans) Medicare Advantage SNP (Special Needs Plans) Medicare Advantage HMO-POS (HMO Point-Of-Service Plans) Medicare Medical Savings Plans (MSPs) In this Medicare Advantage guide, we’ll focus on Medicare Advantage PPO plans and Medicare Advantage HMO since they’re the most common types of MA plans. The Difference Between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage The primary difference between these programs is that Medicare Advantage is an alternative to Original Medicare. When you join a Medicare Part C plan, you no longer receive your Medicare benefits through Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans are offered and administered by private insurance companies. But these private insurance companies must comply with many rules and regulations set by the Medicare program. Pros And Cons Of Medicare Advantage Plans vs. Original Medicare Medicare Part C plans have many advantages when compared to Original Medicare. The 3 biggest pros of Medicare Advantage plans are: Annual Out-of-Pocket Maximum spending cap Availability of prescription drug coverage* Extra benefits for things not covered by Original Medicare *Note: Some MA plans are available without prescription drugs. These additional benefits from Part C make Medicare Advantage a more complete coverage option than Original Medicare. MA plans can have their drawbacks in comparison to Original Medicare, depending on your healthcare needs. The 3 biggest pros of Original Medicare are: #1. You can see any doctor or go to any facility anywhere in the country, as long as they accept Medicare. #2. There are no networks. Most Medicare Advantage plans have some kind of network restrictions. #3. You don’t need referrals to see specialists. With some Medicare Advantage health care plans, such as HMOs and Special Needs Plans, you usually need referrals from your primary care physician to visit a specialist. What Does Medicare Advantage Cover? Medicare Advantage plans provide coverage that matches Original Medicare Parts A and B. Generally speaking, your Medicare Advantage plan will cover the same service or procedure as Original Medicare. But there is one exception to this rule, which we’ll cover below. Medicare Advantage plans cover the following services. Medicare Part A Services Medicare Part A covers services that take place in healthcare facilities or institutions like: Inpatient hospital stays Skilled nursing services (not room and board) Hospice care In-home care Note: Hospice care is usually not covered by Medicare Advantage plans. Instead, hospice care is covered under Original Medicare, even if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. However, a new test program in 2021 will explore Medicare Advantage plans providing hospice benefits. Medicare Part B Services Medicare Part B services and procedures are considered more routine and non-emergency in nature than Part A. Common Medicare Part B services include: Doctor’s visits, including specialists Physical and occupational therapy Lab and diagnostic testing services like blood work and x-rays Durable medical equipment Mental health services Ambulance services Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy As mentioned, Medicare Advantage plans cover all of these services with the exception of hospice care. Medicare Advantage And Prescription Drugs Most Medicare Advantage plans offer prescription drug coverage. These plans are also known as Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans (MAPDs), and they include Medicare Part D. Medicare Advantage Extra Benefits When considering Medicare Advantage pros and cons, it’s essential to take extra benefits that Medicare Advantage could offer to you. Many of these benefits are not provided through Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage benefits may include: Fitness programs: SilverSneakers, gym memberships, and fitness trackers. Vision care: Eye exams, contact lenses, and sometimes eyeglass frames. Hearing care: Exams and often discounted hearing aids. Dental coverage: Some plans have basic dental benefits built in, others offer dental coverage for an extra premium. Transportation: Rides to and from medical appointments. Meal Deliveries: For qualified people returning home from the hospital or skilled nursing facility Telemedicine services and virtual healthcare. Note: Medicare Part C plans have the ability to choose which, if any, extra benefits to offer. These insurance companies may also make changes to their Medicare benefits and offerings each year. Who Is Medicare Advantage Good For? You should consider enrolling in Medicare Advantage if: You want to put a cap on your total out-of-pocket spending under Original Medicare. You want prescription drug coverage without paying for a separate Part D drug plan. You need some of the extra benefits (vision, hearing, private home aides) that come with many Medicare Part C plans. You don’t want to pay for Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans. You don’t mind using a network of doctors and facilities. You don’t mind needing referrals to see specialists. You don’t mind paying small copays each time you see a doctor. How Much Does Medicare Advantage Cost? Medicare Advantage plans have several costs associated with them. Before we dive into each cost, it’s important to remember that you always have to pay your Part B premium in order to have Medicare Advantage. Now, some Medicare Advantage plans offer a benefit that covers part, or all, of your Part B premium. But check the plan benefits closely to see if this is offered by a specific Medicare Advantage plan. Beyond this Part B premium, you might face the following Medicare Advantage plan costs: Monthly premium Annual deductible Copayment Coinsurance You might have a monthly premium for your Medicare Advantage plan, but these premiums tend to be low. For example, the average Medicare Advantage premium was $23.63 per month in 2020. However, many Medicare Advantage plans do not have a monthly premium. In 2020, 60% of people enrolled in Medicare Advantage didn’t pay a monthly premium. Some Medicare Part C plans have an annual deductible, but again, many do not. If your plan does have an annual deductible, this means you’ll have to pay a certain amount before the plan begins paying benefits. Note that there may be separate deductibles for drug coverage and medical benefits. Beyond premiums and deductibles, the most common expenses you’ll have with Medicare Advantage plans are copayments and coinsurance. These two terms are referred to as “cost-sharing.” This is what you’ll pay out of pocket when you receive covered services. All the amounts you pay during the year count towards your annual out-of-pocket cap. Examples Of Medicare Advantage Costs Let’s look at 3 examples of how these Medicare Advantage costs work in a Medicare Advantage HMO plan. (Note: These costs are not the actual costs for any specific plan, but rather, in the range of costs for plans that you may have access to.) Scenario 1: Medicare Part B Services You injure yourself shoveling snow on your property, and you go to the doctor for an examination. You’ll pay a copay of $20 to see your primary care physician who then refers you to an orthopedic specialist. Your orthopedic specialist charges you a $35 copay for the office visit and wants you to get x-rays. You pay a $50 copay for the x-rays. Fortunately, nothing is broken or torn, so your specialist refers you to physical therapy. You pay a copay of $40 for four physical therapy sessions. Your total out-of-pocket spending for this injury is $265, spread out over a month-long period. All of these costs count towards your Medicare Advantage out-of-pocket maximum. Scenario 2: Medicare Part A & B Services You experience the symptoms of an irregular heartbeat, so you’re admitted to the hospital as an inpatient. You spend two nights in the hospital. You pay a copay of $300 per day, which amounts to a total of $600. After you’re released from the hospital, you continue to see a cardiologist, and you pay a $35 copay to see this specialist each time you visit. Scenario 3: Cancer You’re diagnosed with a treatable cancer, and you’re given chemotherapy. The copay for this treatment is 20% of the Medicare-approved cost. Although 20% amounts to more than $20,000, you hit your annual out-of-pocket maximum, so your costs are capped at $5,900 for the year. When Can You Enroll In Medicare Advantage? You can normally enroll in or change your Medicare Advantage coverage during 3 periods of time: Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) when you’re first eligible for Medicare. The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), which runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31 each year - however, this MA open enrollment is only for those already in a Medicare Advantage plan. Enrolling In Medicare Advantage For The First Time If you’re turning 65, you can enroll in Medicare Advantage during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). Your IEP lasts for 7 months, which begins 3 months before your 65th birthday, includes that birthday month, and ends 3 months after you turn 65. If you’re under 65, your first chance to enroll in Medicare Advantage starts: After your 24th month of receiving Social Security disability benefits, or At any age if you have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gherig’s Disease, or if you have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Changing Your Medicare Coverage During AEP The Medicare Open Enrollment Period, also called the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period or Annual Election Period, is a good time to decide whether Medicare Advantage or Original Medicare is right for you. Also keep in mind that Medicare Advantage plan benefits can change annually. So if you have a MA plan, you should check to make sure the plan still meets your needs. Here are the actions you can take during AEP: Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. Disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare. Change from one prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D) to another. Enroll in a prescription drug plan. Cancel your prescription drug coverage. If you enroll in, or switch your Medicare Advantage insurance during AEP, your new coverage will be effective on January 1st of the following year. You may also be able to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan if you drop your Medicare Advantage coverage during AEP. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you have access to another enrollment period beyond AEP: The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA-OEP). MA-OEP runs from January 1 to March 31 of each year. During the MA-OEP, you can: Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. Drop Medicare Advantage, and return to Original Medicare. Add a Prescription Drug Plan if you return to Original Medicare. It’s important to keep in mind that the MA-OEP is only for people who already have a Medicare Advantage plan. If you change plans during the MA-OEP, your new coverage will be effective on the first day of the month after you enroll. Medicare Advantage & ESRD Coverage For all years before 2021, there was an exclusion for people with permanent kidney failure, known as End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). ESRD patients could not get new Medicare Advantage coverage. However, beginning January 1, 2021, ESRD patients will be able to enroll in or switch Medicare Advantage plans. Now the eligibility for Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare will be perfectly aligned. Medicare Advantage And Other Special Scenarios We mentioned earlier that Special Needs Plans (SNPs) are a type of Medicare Advantage insurance. Let’s take a look at some common types of SNPs, and how Medicare Advantage health plans are also helping people to get access to care and benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Medicare Advantage And Chronic Conditions There are Medicare Advantage plan options for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. These plans are known as Chronic Special Needs Plans (Medicare C-SNPs), and the benefits are tailored to help you treat and manage your chronic condition. These health plans often provide you with a care coordinator to make sure your needs are being met. These Special Needs Plans have Special Enrollment Periods (often called SEPs), so if you qualify for a C-SNP, you can enroll in it at any time. You won’t have to wait for an annual enrollment window. Medicare Advantage And Medicaid Another kind of Special Needs Plan exists for “Dual Eligibles” – people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. These plans, called Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs), have cost-sharing that conforms to the Medicaid program, which means that most costs are $0. D-SNPs incorporate various prescription drug discount programs, depending on your income level - so you’ll save money on your prescriptions if you qualify. D-SNP plans also have more favorable enrollment windows, which allow you to access the benefits once you become eligible for Medicaid or extra help and at certain times during the year without waiting for an annual enrollment window. Medicare Advantage And COVID-19 Medicare provides Coronavirus coverage to help people combat the virus, which includes: No-cost lab testing. Antibody testing. All medically-necessary services and procedures, including hospitalizations and doctor’s visits. Coronavirus vaccine coverage, when one becomes available. Many Medicare Advantage health plans are waiving cost-sharing for these services. In this case, you wouldn’t pay a copayment or coinsurance for seeing a doctor or going to the hospital if you have COVID-19. Medicare has also approved an expanded role for telehealth and virtual doctor’s visits. And many Medicare Advantage health care plans offer these no-contact services with no out-of-pocket cost to you. Medicare Advantage Plan Ratings Every established Medicare Advantage plan is given a Medicare Start Rating by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Star ratings range from 1 to 5, with 5 stars being the highest. Here’s a breakdown of what each rating means: 5-star rating: Excellent 4-star rating: Above Average 3-star rating: Average 2-star rating: Below Average 1-star rating: Poor Medicare Advantage plans are rated on several different metrics and are given an overall rating. This Medicare star ratings system is designed to help you get a feel for the level of quality and satisfaction a MA plan offers. Star ratings also give you an idea of how well a plan treats its members. Plans are rated on how quickly it responds to appeals and complaints and how they cover health screenings and preventative services. Plans are also rated for both medical benefits and prescription drug benefits, if the plan has drug coverage. How To Enroll In A Medicare Advantage Plan If you want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll want to consider 3 things before joining: Make sure you find a plan that’s available in your area. Most Medicare Advantage plans are restricted to specific counties or states. Make sure your current doctors and medications are covered. This is especially important if you’re looking at a Medicare Advantage HMO plan. You’ll have to use the doctors that are in-network, and you’ll only get coverage for medications that are on the plan formulary. So make sure you investigate these before enrolling. Pay attention to star ratings. This can help you compare the overall quality among different plans. But keep in mind that new plans are not given star ratings until enough data has been collected for CMS to calculate a rating. Once you’ve found a plan, you have a few options to enroll, including: Online, by phone, or paper enrollment directly with the insurance company. Working with a licensed health insurance agent who can help you find, compare, and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan of your choice. Medicare Advantage Guide Conclusion Medicare Advantage plans can be a great way to manage your out-of-pocket spending while enjoying extra benefits we covered, if you qualify. And they can offer some compelling advantages over Original Medicare, depending on your healthcare needs. So if you'd like to learn more about Medicare Advantage plans in your area, call 800-620-4519 to reach a licensed insurance agent who may be able to guide you to the right plan for your needs. You can also try online Medicare plan comparison tool.
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The transition from 2020 to 2021 offers many opportunities for people on Medicare. Whether you use Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage, or Medicare Supplement Insurance, you’ll find plenty of changes on the horizon. In this guide to 2021 changes to Medicare, we’ll review what happened during 2020, and dive into the Medicare changes and opportunities for 2021. Review of 2020 Medicare Changes To say that a lot happened in 2020 is a cosmic understatement. The big disruptor, of course, was COVID-19. The pandemic led to some sizable changes in the Medicare program. Some of the highlights from 2020 include: Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Plans C, F, and High Deductible F (HDF) were no longer available to newly-eligible beneficiaries as of 1/1/2020. For the second year in a row, the infamous “Donut Hole” was closed for Part D drug plans. Medicare expanded access to telehealth/virtual doctor appointment services. Many insurance companies, including the major Medicare Advantage plan sponsors, reduced or waived copayments for COVID-19-related care. Other than the COVID-19-related changes, the loss of Medigap Plans C, F, and HDF was probably the biggest change to Medicare for 2020. Those plans became unavailable for beneficiaries who first became eligible after 12/31/2019. This leaves Plan G as the most comprehensive Medigap plan available to all new Medicare beneficiaries. This plan will cover 100% of your Medicare deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance except for the Part B deductible. You’re responsible for the first $198 in Part B expenses for 2020. 2021 Medicare Costs 2021 Medicare Part A Costs Most people don’t pay a Part A premium because they paid Medicare taxes while working. So if you don’t get premium-free Part A, you pay up to $471 each month. Hospital Stays In 2021, you pay: $1,484 deductible per benefit period. $0 for the first 60 days of each benefit period. $371 per day for days 61–90 of each benefit period. $742 per “lifetime reserve day” after day 90 of each benefit period (up to a maximum of 60 days over your lifetime). Skilled Nursing Facility Stays In 2021, you pay: $0 for the first 20 days of each benefit period. $185.50 per day for days 21–100 of each benefit period. All costs for each day after day 100 of the benefit period. Medicare Part B Costs Most people will pay the Part B premium of $148.50 for 2021, but Social Security can share your exact Part B premium amount. You can also refer to the 2021 Medicare Costs guide from Medicare.gov for a complete breakdown of Part B premiums. Medicare Advantage Plan Changes For 2021 Many of the most exciting and notable 2021 changes to Medicare encompass Medicare Advantage plans. These plans, which are also known as Part C plans, are a private insurance alternative to Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage And ESRD The single biggest piece of news about Medicare Advantage for 2021 relates to those with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), also known as kidney failure. Beginning 1/1/21, Medicare beneficiaries with ESRD will be able to get coverage through Medicare Advantage plans. Prior to 2021, Medicare Advantage plans were generally able to exclude people with ESRD. This left ESRD patients in a tough spot, since under Original Medicare Part B, they paid 20% of the cost of dialysis. And this can get expensive very quickly since there was no out-of-pocket cap on their expenses under Original Medicare. Everyone with ESRD will now be able to get Medicare Advantage coverage. This may not reduce the amounts ESRD patients pay early in the year, since many Medicare Advantage plans charge a 20% coinsurance for dialysis as well. However, the great news for ESRD patients is that every Medicare Advantage plan has an annual out-of-pocket maximum. So once ESRD patients hit their annual spending caps, they’re not required to pay for any more medical expenses the rest of the year. Medicare Advantage And Hospice Benefits Another 2021 change to Medicare Advantage is a small test program for delivering hospice benefits. Historically, hospice coverage was provided by Original Medicare, even if you were in a Medicare Advantage plan. Starting in 2021, 53 Medicare Advantage plans across the country will provide hospice and palliative care. This is a very small number of plans, so it won’t affect most people at this point. However, if the test program works, you may see more Medicare Advantage plans offering this benefit in the future. Extra Benefits Through Medicare Advantage Plans Medicare Advantage is the subject of other big 2021 changes to Medicare. Beginning in 2021, additional benefits will be available. Extra benefits are benefits offered by Medicare Advantage plans that are not covered by Original Medicare. Examples may include: Dental coverage Vision and hearing coverage Chiropractic care For 2021, new Medicare benefits will be available. Many of them are designed to help you get care at home, and lend some support to caregivers. The new extra Medicare benefits in 2021 available through some Medicare Advantage plans include: Caregiver support Adult day health services In-home support services Therapeutic massage Acupuncture (for chronic low back pain only – this is also now covered under Original Medicare) But these extra benefits are not required or guaranteed. Instead, they are optionally provided by Medicare Advantage plans, and they can be changed or discontinued from year to year. Still, the availability of adult day health services and caregiver support will be beneficial for many of those on Medicare who struggle to care for themselves. For 2021, Medicare Advantage plan premiums are lower on average than in the past. In fact, the average Medicare Advantage plan premium is expected to be 11% lower in 2021 than in 2020. For 2021, the average Medicare Advantage plan premium will be $21 per month. On the other hand, the annual out-of-pocket maximum for in-network services is rising to $7,550. This is the highest it can be. Many plans will continue to offer lower out-of-pocket maximums. 2021 Changes To Medicare Drug Plans The other big news in 2021 changes to Medicare is the Part D Senior Savings Model. This model program, which is essentially a five-year test, will cap the price beneficiaries in participating to no more than $35 copays for a 30-day supply for many types of insulin. Under this new program for 2021, beneficiaries will have access to about 1,700 MAPDs (Medicare Advantage plans with Part D drug benefits) and stand alone Prescription Drug Plans that cap the cost of insulin. Another great detail about this program is that the cost for insulin won’t change, even if you enter the coverage gap during the year. You’ll still pay the same capped copayment. In addition, you won’t have to meet a deductible to get the $35 copay price. While not every plan has chosen to participate, CMS expects there to be at least one plan in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Given the effect of diabetes on the kidneys, patients with ESRD are in position to grab some great new benefits for 2021 and beyond. How To Prepare For 2021 Changes To Medicare For starters, you should make note that we expect a slight increase in Original Medicare costs, for 2021. Though we still don’t know what they’ll be, we expect there to be some increase in the Part B premium, even with the caps that will limit the total rise in costs. You can expect the same thing with deductibles. As with a normal Medicare Open Enrollment Period, also called the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), you should review your current coverage to see if switching plans for 2021 makes sense. New plans are available each year, so Medicare beneficiaries have until December 7 of each year to make a change to their plans for the following year. When comparing plans during the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, be sure to look at: The monthly premium (if any) Annual deductibles (if any) Cost structure, like copays and coinsurance amounts for Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans Out-of-pocket maximum amounts for Medicare Advantage plans Networks of doctors and medical facilities for Medicare Advantage plans Tip: It’s important to not just jump into a new plan because it has one appealing feature. You want to make sure that your doctors accept any new plan and that your current medications will be covered. If you use insulin, you may want to consider one of the standalone Prescription Drug Plans or MAPD plans participating in the Senior Savings Model program, if available. It’s estimated that those on insulin could save more than $400 per year on average. Besides savings on insulin through the Senior Savings Model program, ESRD patients who don’t currently have Medicare Advantage plan coverage should consider it for 2021. Moving to Medicare Advantage could help ESRD patients in 2 different ways: Moving from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage Moving from Medicare Supplement Insurance to Medicare Advantage In the first case, you can take advantage of the out-of-pocket spending cap that a Medicare Advantage plan can offer. The out-of-pocket cap could be a real benefit for ESRD patients since it’s not only dialysis treatments that could count against the Medicare out-of-pocket maximum (OOPM). All spending on Medicare-approved services and procedures count towards the OOPM, so an ESRD patient might “max out” their spending during 2021 and get substantial relief the rest of the year. On the other hand, if you have ESRD and are currently covered by a Medigap (Medicare Supplement) plan, you might be able to save money on your monthly premium by switching to Medicare Advantage. And you might save money or come close to breaking even by switching from Medigap to Medicare Advantage, depending on the premiums and out-of-pocket maximums for plans in your area. Just be sure you run the numbers before making this move. Note: It can be difficult to get Medicare Supplement insurance coverage back after you move away from it. You might have to go through medical underwriting, which means you may be declined coverage as an ESRD patient with a pre-existing condition, unless you qualify for a guaranteed issue period. Due to the complexities of Medigap coverage, it’s a great idea to talk to a licensed insurance agent to see if switching to Medicare Advantage is a good idea. Get Help With Medicare If you still have questions about 2021 changes to Medicare and how they impact you, call 800-620-4519 to get help from one of our licensed insurance agents. Or you can try our free Medicare plan comparison tool to find Medicare plans in your area. There is no obligation to enroll in a plan.
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