Washington State is a great place to live, with natural beauty and lots of fun activities to do. If you live in Washington and are approaching age 65, you may have questions about Medicare.
Understanding who is eligible for Medicare, how to apply, and how to use your benefits is essential as you get older. You don’t want to delay Medicare enrollment unless you have a qualifying group plan from an employer after age 65.
Here’s what you need to know about Medicare in Washington State.
Medicare is a national program that provides health coverage for those 65 and older, as well as Americans with specific health conditions. That means Washington State, as well as all other U.S. states, has Medicare available.
There are approximately 4.6 million people enrolled in a prescription drug plan in Washington and 5.6 million people enrolled in Medicare Advantage.
Some people prefer a Medicare Advantage plan, which is Medicare Part C. This plan replaces Original Medicare and often includes drug coverage and additional benefits as well. However, the plan is sold by private insurance companies and will have a limited medical network, and there may be additional monthly costs as well.
Medicare provides health insurance for those who are less likely to get coverage from their employers, which includes older Americans and those who are disabled or have serious health issues.
To qualify for Medicare in Washington, you need to be a permanent resident or American citizen who has lived in the U.S. for at least five years.
Also, one of the following must apply:
Many Washington residents will be enrolled automatically in Original Medicare when they are eligible. Part A is premium-free for most Americans, and Part B will have a monthly premium.
However, it’s important to review your coverage before simply moving forward with automatic enrollment. Your initial enrollment period has special privileges, such as automatic acceptance for Medigap (Part F) plans that can save you significantly on out-of-pocket costs. To get Medigap, you’ll need to apply for coverage before your initial enrollment period expires.
Learn more about the different enrollment periods in this Medicare guide.
Also, if you want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan instead of Original Medicare, you’ll need to do so during your enrollment period.
If you are not automatically enrolled, you’ll need to apply by doing one of the following:
After your initial enrollment period, you can only change your Medicare plan once a year during the annual enrollment period, unless you have a life event that creates a special enrollment period. So be sure you get the coverage you need right away!
The Medicare Savings Programs (MSP) are four options that allow those with lower incomes and assets to better afford their Medicare costs.
The most comprehensive is the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program (QMB). This program helps pay for Part A and B premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments. You qualify for this program if you have monthly earnings under $1,094 for an individual ($1,472 for a married couple), and assets under $7,970 ($11,960 for a married couple).
There is also a Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program (SLMB), which has slightly higher income and asset limits and pays for Part B premiums only. The Qualifying Individual program (QI) has higher limits than SLMB and also only pays for Part B premiums.
If you qualify for the QMB, SLMB, or QI programs, you will also get extra help with your Medicare Part D costs.
The final Medicare Savings Program is for those who are disabled but able to return to work. This can cause you to lose your Social Security disability benefits and premium-free Medicare Part A. The Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals program (QDWI) has fairly high income and asset limits and helps pay for Part A premiums.
Medicare is never mandatory, but if you decline to enroll when you are eligible and then change your mind and decide to use it later, you could pay much higher premiums as part of the late-enrollment penalty.
Because Medicare Part A is premium-free for most people, it makes sense to enroll in that as soon as you are eligible. Medicare Part B can be delayed if you are still working and have a qualifying group plan from an employer. When your employment ends, you can enroll in Medicare Part B without a penalty.
You can have Medicare Part A and not use it, and simply decline Medicare Part B even if you aren’t working. However, it may be expensive to get Medicare Part B later if you want it. If you want to completely reject all Medicare and not use it at all, you also have to reject your Social Security retirement benefits.
In most cases, it’s better to enroll when you are eligible unless you have insurance through your employer and don’t need Part B until later.
Washington State does have a variety of Medicare Advantage plans, known as Medicare Part C. Medicare Advantage in Washington will vary depending on the private insurer who offers it, so be sure to compare different plans before making your final decision.
Medicare Advantage completely replaces Original Medicare and often includes additional benefits and prescription coverage as well. Many times, you can get these plans for no more than you were paying each month for Medicare Part B, although some plans may have an additional premium.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that Medicare Advantage plans are generally limited to a local medical network, and you may not be able to get non-emergency medical care outside of that area. That means if you travel often you might prefer to keep the national Original Medicare coverage instead. Learn more about the differences between [Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage].
The best Medicare Advantage plan is the one that gives you the coverage you need at a price that makes sense for your budget. Many people choose an Advantage plan because they enjoy having predictable costs, rather than paying 20% as you do with Original Medicare.
You’ll want to compare plans based on the medical providers they include, the drugs they cover, and the extra benefits you can receive. Getting vision and dental coverage can be a significant bonus over Original Medicare, as long as it is comprehensive enough for your needs. Once you find a plan that works for you, enroll. Then compare your options again each year to make sure you’re still getting the best coverage for your money.
This guide was designed to answer common questions about Medicare in Washington State, but you may still have questions or concerns. It can be helpful to talk to a licensed insurance agent to compare plans and get advice. For assistance choosing your Medicare plan, contact us today!
When planning ahead for your healthcare expenses and how they align with your Medicare coverage, it’s very important to stay informed on the changes to Medicare each year. Several aspects of Medicare - particularly related to out-of-pocket costs - can change on an annual basis. Beyond costs or plan changes, Congress also occasionally proposes and passes legislation that often impacts Medicare benefits. In this article, we’ll review the recent changes, including the 2023 Medicare costs and an overall look at the state of Medicare in 2023. 2023 Medicare Costs: An Overview The Medicare costs that change each year are: Part A deductiblePart A daily coinsurancePart B deductible Medicare Part A CostsThe changes to Part A costs include:Part A deductible - $1,600, an increase of $44 from 2022Part A daily coinsurance for hospital stays over 60 days - $400 per day, an increase of $19 per dayPart A daily coinsurance for hospital stays over 90 days - $800 per day, an increase of $22 per dayPart A daily coinsurance for skilled nursing facility stays longer than 20 days - up to 100 days $200, an increase of $5.50 per month Keep in mind that it is possible to pay the Part A deductible more than once in a year. This would only happen when you have multiple hospital stays in one year, and your stays are separated by more than 60 days. In this situation, you’d pay the Part A deductible each time.When you pay the Part A deductible, that gets you 60 days in the hospital and 20 days in a skilled nursing facility. If your stay goes beyond those times, you’ll have to pay the updated daily co-insurance amounts indicated above. Medicare Part B CostsThe Part B deductible for 2023 decreased to $226. It was $233 for 2022. You have to pay the Part B deductible each year before Medicare starts paying its portion of your outpatient care. Unlike the Part A deductible, you’ll only be required to pay the Part B deductible once per year.After you’ve met the Part B deductible, Medicare will pay the first 80% of the cost for your care; you’ll be responsible for the remaining 20%. Besides standard Part B coinsurance, you might encounter Part B excess charges, which can be as much as 15% of the Medicare-approved cost for your care.There were no changes to these coinsurance costs for 2023. How Much Will Medicare Premiums Increase in 2023? The standard Part B premium for 2023 is $164.90, which is a decrease of $5.20 per month. This decrease takes some of the sting out of last year’s increase, which was one of the largest in history. You may pay a higher premium for Medicare if you have incomes exceeding $97,000 (single filers) or $194,000 (married filing jointly).In addition to the costs for using your coverage, you’ll also have to consider the cost for getting your coverage. Most people don't have to pay a premium for Part A coverage (because it’s been pre-funded through payroll tax deductions), but you do have to pay a premium for Part B coverage. Medicare Part D Changes Another major component of your Medicare coverage is Medicare Part D, also known as Prescription Drug Plans (PDPs). Part D is offered by private insurance carriers with a Medicare contract - not offered by the federal Medicare program. There have been major changes to Part D in the past year as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act. Some of these changes won’t take effect until 2024 or later, but a few of them will be effective in 2023. The changes that will be applicable for 2023 include:Caps on the cost of certain insulinTaxes on excessive increases in the cost for prescription drugsLowering the cost of many vaccinations covered under Part DEach of these changes will have an impact on both standalone Part D Prescription Drug Plans (PDP) and Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans (MAPD). New Caps On Insulin PricesThe Inflation Reduction Act has brought us the Insulin Savings Program, which was a temporary “test program” that began in 2020. The program is now permanent and mandatory. But previously, it was optional: Part D plans could choose to participate on a voluntary basis.The Inflation Reduction Act limits monthly cost sharing for covered insulin products to no more than $35 for Medicare beneficiaries, as long as the insulin is on the plans formulary. No deductible will apply to these insulin prescriptions. For 2023 and beyond, insulin prescriptions are capped at $35 for a one month supply. This price level stays the same throughout the year, even if you enter the coverage gap or “donut hole.” Excise Tax On Excessive Cost Increases Cost increases on prescription drugs, which are set by the manufacturers, will be subject to a new tax beginning in 2023. Medicare will use 2022 drug prices as a baseline and will investigate the prices for 2023 prescription drugs. If the increases from 2022 to 2023 are larger than the official rate of inflation, the manufacturer will pay a tax equal to 100% of the amount that the increase exceeded inflation for the year. Drug prices will be tracked each year in this way. The hope is that manufacturers will be less likely to increase prices aggressively since they won’t be able to keep any of the extra revenue that large cost increases used to bring them.While this new policy doesn’t directly reduce or limit the prices you pay through your drug plan, over time, it may allow for smaller copayments and coinsurance for your prescriptions. Reduced Vaccine Costs Under Part D The Inflation Reduction Act is also impacting how much you’ll pay for vaccinations under Part D. Prior to 2023, most non-essential vaccines were subject to cost-sharing, which meant that you had to pay a copayment or coinsurance for them. For example, the shingles vaccine was famously expensive. For 2023 and beyond, many Part D covered vaccines will be available at no cost. This brings the Part D vaccinations into alignment with the rules and cost structure for Part B vaccines (like the COVID-19 and flu shots). This includes the shingles shot, so protecting against this painful illness will be cheaper starting in 2023. There are still vaccines that you’ll have to pay for under Medicare, even after these recent changes. Vaccines that are needed to treat injuries or exposure to certain diseases may still require cost-sharing. General Enrollment Period (GEP) ChangesThe last major change to Medicare in 2023 relates to entering Medicare when you’ve missed your original enrollment window. Most people get to enter Medicare when they turn 65-years-old. In that case, you have a seven-month enrollment period known as your Initial Election Period (IEP) during which you can enroll. If you miss this chance, you have to enroll during the General Enrollment Period (GEP). GEP runs from January 1st to March 31st each year. Previously, if you enrolled during the GEP, your Medicare coverage wasn’t effective until July 1, which left you with a significant gap in your medical coverage.For 2023 and beyond, your coverage will be effective on the first day of the month after you sign up during the General Enrollment Period, eliminating the lengthy waiting period. Learn MoreIf you still have questions about 2023 Medicare costs and how they impact you, call 800-620-4519 to speak to one of our licensed insurance agents. You can also view our Medicare resources online:Compare Medicare plans: Visit our Medicare plan comparison tool.Learn about Medicare: View our Medicare Learning Center.Note: These 2023 Medicare costs and updates are courtesy of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). For more information, visit the CMS newsroom.
Researching your Medicare plan and understanding how to use your benefits wisely is key to maximizing your Medicare plan. But if you don't take the time to learn all that your current plan has to offer, or if you avoid comparing Medicare plans when it may be time to make a change, you could end up paying more money for your healthcare. To help you make an informed choice, we’ve put together this guide about 10 costly mistakes to avoid when picking a Medicare plan. Mistake #1: Using Doctors And Medications That Are Not Covered By Your Plan Medicare Advantage plans have formal networks of providers and lists of medications that are covered (called a formulary). If you see doctors who aren’t in-network, you’ll be paying more for your care than if you use in-network providers. While some PPO plans will allow you to see non-network providers, you’ll save the most money when you use in-network providers. In the same way, plans only provide coverage for medications that are on the formulary. If you use non-covered medications, you’ll end up paying full price for them. So if your current plan doesn’t work with your doctors and medications, you may want to consider making a change to your coverage a qualifying enrollment period. Our online guided Medicare enrollment tool also allows you to check and see if your doctor and drugs are covered in a Medicare Advantage plan. Mistake #2: Not Taking Advantage of Additional BenefitsOne of the reasons Medicare Advantage plans are increasingly popular is because they usually provide benefits that are not covered by Original Medicare. These kinds of benefits can include dental, vision, hearing, or prescription drug coverage.These benefits also may be included in your plan at no additional cost. If you don’t use them, you might be paying more than you need to for these services. In addition to the potential cost savings, these additional benefits are designed to help you live a healthier life. Mistake #3: Paying Cash For Your MedicationsIt can be tempting to pay cash for some of your less expensive medications. This is especially true when you look into any of the various prescription discount card programs that are currently available. However, it's wise to avoid paying for your medications if you're expected to reach the third coverage stage of the Medicare Part D drug program (often called the donut hole). Your drug plan tracks your spending, so if you pay cash for a prescription, it doesn’t count towards your official spending. This means that you might not be able to move out of the donut hole if you pay cash for some of your medications. Instead, consider using your plan even if you’ll pay more, if it means that you’ll move out of the donut hole faster. Mistake #4: Not Understanding Your Plan’s CostsWhile Medicare Advantage plans generally help to limit your healthcare costs, it’s important to remember that there are costs you’ll be expected to pay for your care. These costs are usually referred to as cost-sharing. Cost-sharing can include deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Besides these amounts, you’ll want to double check your plan’s Out-of-Pocket Maximum (OOPM), which is the most you could possibly spend in one year. Mistake #5: Choosing A Plan Based On Premiums AloneIt can be tempting to focus on the monthly premium you pay for your coverage, and not dig deeper into the costs you’ll pay to use your benefits. Pay particular attention to any deductible that you have to meet, as well as co-payments for services you’re likely to use. Besides these, consider your total costs in light of any costs for prescription drugs you take, too. Mistake #6: Not Checking To See If You Qualify For Financial AssistanceThere are a number of federal and state programs that are designed to help you pay for the cost of your health care. These can include Medicaid, Extra Help, Low Income Subsidy, and state pharmaceutical assistance programs. While there are income and asset limits for participation in some of these, you should apply for them if you think there is any chance that you could be eligible. Many times the limits are dependent on household size so you may qualify even if your income appears to exceed the limits. The upside is huge and there’s no downside to applying, so don’t miss out any potential for savings with these programs. Mistake #7: Not Considering Late Enrollment PenaltiesIt’s very important to consider the impact of late enrollment penalties, especially when you’re first entering Medicare. You can potentially be subject to enrollment penalties for both Part B and Part D. These penalties are assessed in the form of an additional monthly premium. Importantly, these penalties are generally permanent; once you’re subject to them, you’ll pay them for the rest of your life.If you’re already in Medicare, and you have avoided late enrollment penalties so far, just make sure that you continue to have Part D drug coverage, either from a Medicare Advantage Plan or a standalone Prescription Drug Plan.Mistake #8: Not Reviewing Changes In Your CircumstancesIt's important to review any changes in your circumstances on an annual basis. If you’ve been referred to a new specialist, prescribed a new medication, or diagnosed with a new medical condition, you might be better served by a different plan for the new year. So be sure to consider the impact these kinds of circumstances may have on your Medicare coverage. Mistake #9: Automatically Renewing Your Plan Each YearEach year, your plan will mail your Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) before the fall Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). The ANOC outlines changes in your plan benefits or costs for the upcoming year. Use this document, along with your plan’s overall Evidence of Coverage (EOC) to know how to use your benefits for this year.If you don’t make a change during AEP, you’ll automatically stay in your current plan. But plan benefits change from year to year, as do Medicare Advantage plan networks. So it's essential to review your coverage each year. Mistake #10: Not Working With A Licensed Insurance AgentAs you research the plans available in your area, consider working with a licensed insurance agent like one of our TogetherHealth agents. We work with a network of the nation’s major insurance carriers and can provide you with a variety of plan options to fit your healthcare needs, remain in-network with your doctors, and give you strategies to save money on prescription drugs. Get Help With MedicareIf you need more guidance, call 1-800-620-4519 (TTY 711) to speak to one of our licensed agents and get advice on how to avoid these 10 costly Medicare mistakes.
With the 2020s underway, let’s take a look back at seven key milestones and issues that marked the evolution of healthcare over the past 25 years. 1. The Affordable Care Act became law Just months into 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) into law. The Affordable Care Act, often referred to as the ACA or Obamacare, changed the nation’s health insurance landscape and brought about numerous provisions to help make health insurance more affordable and accessible to as many Americans as possible. Some key provisions include: The creation of a health insurance marketplace in every state to provide consumers with a place to purchase health insurance.Income-based subsidies, including premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, for those who purchase individual coverage through the health insurance marketplace (i.e., the state-based and federal exchanges).A requirement that insurance plans cover young adults on their parents’ policies to age 26.Guaranteed issue and renewal of policies.Medicaid expansion to those with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level, in participating states. Ten years later, uninsured rates have declined. In 2010, nearly 16% of Americans were uninsured. But in 2016, the uninsured rate hovered just above 8% - its lowest point in the decade. Although, it started to increase again slightly in 2017.2. Short-term health insurance kept its strideShort-term health insurance is temporary insurance that provides coverage in certain medical situations like an unexpected accident or illness. However, it doesn't include the same essential health benefits that ACA plans do, making it a more affordable insurance option for many.Short-term health plans remained a relevant health insurance option throughout the decade with sales increasing sharply after the ACA took full effect in 2014. These plans became an attractive option for people who were exempt from the individual mandate or opted to pay a penalty for not having an ACA-compliant health plan.Obama limits short-term policiesConcerned that short-term health insurance was impacting ACA enrollment, the Obama administration created regulations that limited their availability. In 2016, short-term policies were capped at three months.Trump expands short-term policiesIn 2018, the Trump administration lifted Obama-era limits. Policies can now last up to 12 months and can be renewed for up to 36 months, depending on state laws. Arizona, for example, has adopted the Trump administration’s regulation. Some states, such as Oregon, still limit short-term plans to less than 90 days.3. High-deductible health plans grew in popularityHigh-deductible health plans, called HDHPs, were introduced in the early 2000s and were considered "mainstream plans" by 2012. People obtained these plans usually through their employer group-based coverage (if offered), the healthcare exchange, or from private insurers. Here are some interesting facts:HDHP enrollment jumped from 10 million people to 11.4 million people in one year (from January 2010 to January 2011).By 2015, HDHPs accounted for 60% to 80% of plans offered in the individual health insurance marketplace. In 2019, the IRS classified high-deductible health plans as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,350 for an individual and $2,700 for a family. The average annual deductible for individual coverage through a group plan was $1,655 in 2019.But while consumers can appreciate the lower monthly premium of a high-deductible insurance plan, they also tend to delay or skip medical care because of the high out-of-pocket costs associated with HDHPs.The popularity of HDHP may be slowing - at least in the group market. The percentage of employers offering a high-deductible health plan as the only option is projected to decrease in 2020, with more employers beginning to offer additional coverage options.4. Healthcare spending continues to climbIf it seems like your healthcare costs increased throughout the past decade, it probably did. In 2018, the average American household spent $5,000 on healthcare, with nearly 70% of the $5,000 going towards health insurance.The more staggering fact: medical bills are reported to be the number one cause of bankruptcies nationwide. And today, medical costs are considered America’s "real healthcare crisis". And while politicians continue to debate issues including health insurance reform and prescription drug pricing, they have not agreed upon a clear solution.Until things change, consumers must continue to find ways to save on their own, from finding flexible and affordable health insurance options and taking advantage of preventive care, to comparing provider rates before seeking services and getting alternative healthcare through options like telemedicine.5. An opioid epidemic devastates our nationThe opioid epidemic might be the most daunting and complex public health crisis of our time. Heroin-related overdoses increased 286% from 2002 to 2013, with a significant spike around 2010. Another wave of opioid-related deaths hit around 2013 and this time, synthetic opioids like fentanyl were behind the surge. The crisis continued to escalate from there, with prescription drugs playing a significant role. Here are some of the most shocking reports:Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths and increased to 47,600 people in 2017. By 2019, more than 90 Americans per day were dying from opioid overdose. And prescription opioid abuse was costing the nation $78.5 billion per year.The epidemic impacted people in both rural and urban environments. But overdose deaths in rural communities surpass deaths in urban settings. So what’s being done about it? In early 2019, the Trump administration launched a $353 million initiative to cut opioid overdoses by 40% over the next three years. The federal government is also working to hold drug companies accountable. For example, top executives at Insys Therapeutics were found guilty of racketeering conspiracy—a charge typically assigned to drug dealers and mob bosses. In 2018, the CDC reported that drug overdose deaths decreased for the first time since 1990.6. Covid-19 pandemic and the U.S. healthcare systemThe 2020 pandemic was not only the biggest health event in the U.S. in the past decade, but a major burden on an already fragile healthcare system. From shortages of hospital beds and staff to healthcare facilities having to ration medical supplies to keep up with COVID-19 cases, we’ve seen how our healthcare infrastructure is in need of improvements to better prepare for crises. Not only that, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology assert that the pandemic revealed some deeper issues in our healthcare system, such as disproportionate access to care among marginalized groups and the country’s dependence on healthcare services from underpaid workers.7. Medicare enrollment: Medicare Advantage Plans and Original Medicare Medicare Advantage plans, which are an alternative to Original Medicare, have seen a steady increase in enrollment each year over the past decade. As of 2022, there are 28.4 million Medicare Advantage enrollees which account for 48% of the Medicare-eligible population. People enrolled in MA plans back in 2012 represented about a quarter of all beneficiaries, so enrollment rates have just about doubled.Another interesting fact as reported by Kaiser Family Foundation is that “the average Medicare beneficiary in 2022 has access to 39 Medicare Advantage plans, the largest number of options available in more than a decade.”Here’s a breakdown of MA plan enrollment:About two-thirds (18.7M) of the Medicare population are enrolled in a plan available through individual enrollment.Roughly 5.1 million beneficiaries have coverage through an employer or union group plan available to retirees.More than 4.6 million people are enrolled in Special Needs Plans, the majority of which (89%) are those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. The healthcare debate continuesDiscussions about healthcare reform and our healthcare landscape did not stop when the ACA was passed. Conversations about legal challenges continue to this day. There has been proposed legislation to repeal and replace the ACA under the Trump administration. Trump administration removes individual mandateNew tax legislation passed in December 2017, which changed one key aspect of the ACA. Previously, you could be penalized for not having health insurance, but Congress and President Trump eliminated the mandate rule for all coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2019. Individual mandate challenged as unconstitutionalThe 5th Circuit also ruled in Texas vs. United States that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, at which time, a A Texas Judge was deciding what, if any, of the ACA still stands. But in 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that states don’t have any grounds to challenge the constitutionality of the ACA mandate.The 2020 electionWith the Presidential election in 2020, Democrats were focused on building upon the ACA with tactics like a “Medicare for all” national health insurance system. However, this agenda never took effect with the Democratic party winning the election. Now twelve years after the passing of the ACA, the Biden-Harris administration has promised to continue upholding the ACA and making affordable health insurance accessible. With ongoing talks of a universal health insurance option for Americans and how to navigate health-related issues post pandemic, there’s no doubt that healthcare legislation will continue to make headlines over the next decade. From Obamacare to the opioid epidemic to the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare-related issues have made major headlines. And it’s inevitable that they’ll only continue to evolve and impact our lives for years to come. We’ll continue to follow the trends and changes as well as their impacts on our nation.