Category: Medicare Advantage

Medicare Open Enrollment 2019

Medicare Open Enrollment 2019

Medicare Open Enrollment 2019

medicare open enrollment 2019

Medicare Open Enrollment 2019 runs from October 15th to December 7th. These are the same dates every year. In 2020, Annual Open Enrollment will also be 10/15/2020 – 12/07/2020.

What is Medicare Open Enrollment?

Also called AEP – Annual Enrollment Period is the time of year Medicare Beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare Advantage Plans and Prescription Drug Plans.

Information for new plans starts to become available each year on or around October 1st, but changes can not be made until AEP actually starts on October 15th.

What Changes Can you Make During the Annual Enrollment Period?

  • If you are in Original Medicare, you can join a Medicare Advantage Plan during this time.
  • You can also join or switch Part D Prescription Drug Plans.
  • In addition, if you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to another plan.
  • Finally, you can drop a Medicare Advantage plan to return to Original Medicare during this time.

Are Medicare Supplements Affected by Medicare Open Enrollment?

This enrollment period does not apply to Medicare Supplements (Medigap) Plans. You are free to change these plans when you please. However, if you are outside of a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) then you will need to go through medical underwriting to get into a new Medigap Plan. Medical Underwriting usually entails answering basic health questions by phone or in person with an agent.

What is the January – March Open Enrollment Period?

Sometimes also called Open Enrollment, the government created a new time period that runs from January 1st to March 31st each year where you can make limited changes. According to the Medicare and You Book,

If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can make a change to a different Medicare Advantage Plan or switch back to Original Medicare (and join a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug Plan) once during this time. Any changes you make will be effective the first of the month after the plan gets your request.

Medicare and You 2020

The important thing to note here, is that you can only make ONE change during this time. Lawmakers created this time period to give you the opportunity to fix any problems you may have found in your current plan or any new plan you may have adopted.

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Railroad Medicare

Railroad Medicare

Railroad Medicare – What You Need to Know

Here is what you need to know about Railroad Medicare Benefits to be successful in your retirement planning.

Introduction to Railroad Medicare

Railroad Medicare Benefits and Choices at MedicareLifeHealth.com

So, you are retiring from the Railroad? Congratulations! Mostly, your options for Medicare planning will be the same as everyone else’s. Our articles on Medicare Basics, Medicare Supplements and Medicare Advantage will all apply to you.

However, there are just a few differences between Social Security and the Railroad when it comes to Medicare. Let’s look at what these similarities and differences are.

What is the Same

Signing-up

  • Already Retired: Signing-up for Medicare is the same on SS or RRB. If you are already receiving benefits from Social Security or the Railroad you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B. You can then decline Part B if you want to. (Read about declining Part B here.)
  • Not Yet Retired or Not Receiving Benefits: For those of you that are not already retired and/or not yet receiving benefits, you will need to notify the local Railroad Board (RRB) office before you turn 65 that you would like to sign-up for Medicare. You can sign-up up to 3 months before you turn 65, and even if you are not planning on retiring at 65.

Your Medicare Path Choices

Just like Social Security Medicare, you will have two options for setting up your Medicare:

  • Original Medicare: You have the option of choosing to keep Original Medicare and then enrolling in a stand-alone Part D Drug Plan. In addition, you can then add a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan to pick up the costs Original Medicare does not cover. You can read more about Original Medicare here.
  • Medicare Advantage: You also have the option of moving to a “bundled” Medicare Advantage plan. These plans are run by private insurance companies and bundle together Parts A, B & D all into one plan with one point of contact. They are also called Medicare Part C. You can read more about Medicare Advantage here.

You can read about the difference between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage here.

What is Different

Part B Claims Processing

The major difference in Medicare for Railroad Board vs Social Security, is how the Part B claims are handled. Unless you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan (where the private insurance company you use handles all of your Medicare claims), you will deal with a different claims handling entity than those enrolled in SS Medicare.

The Railroad Medicare program uses an outside company for medical insurance claims that fall under Part B services. (Read more about the different parts of Medicare and what they cover here.) This company Palmetto GBA. They are a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield. You will need to submit claims directly to them if you are under Original Medicare through the RRB.

How to Contact Palmetto GBA for RRB Original Medicare Beneficaries

If you need to submit a claim for a Part B service or ask a question, you can contact Palmetto GBA here:

Palmetto GBA
Railroad Medicare Part B Office
P.O. Box 10066
Augusta, GA 30999-0001

Toll Free: 1-800-833-4455
TTY/TDD: 1-877-566-3572
Website: www.palmettogba.com/medicare
According to the RRB website, you will click on “RRB Specialty MAC Beneficiaries” on the website above

More Information

For more information about Railroad Medicare Benefits, you can visit their website here.

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Does Medicare Cover Hearing Aids?

Does Medicare Cover Hearing Aids?

Does Medicare Cover Hearing Aids?

One questions we hear a lot at Medicare Life Health is “Does Medicare Cover Hearing Aids?

  • The simple answer is NO.
  • However, some Medicare Advantage Plans will. Let’s look at both.

Original Medicare Will Not Cover Hearing Aids.

Original Medicare – Parts A & B run and administered by the Federal Government – does not pay for hearing aids. In addition, it does not cover exams or fittings needed for hearing aids.

As an exception, Medicare will cover any hearing exams ordered by your doctor for medical treatment. Here is the direct quote from the Medicare and You Guidebook. (Please see our Medicare and You User Guide for more information.)

does medicare cover hearing aids?

Hearing and balance exams – Medicare covers these exams if your doctor or other health care provider orders them to see if you need medical treatment. You pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount, and the Part B deductible applies. In a hospital outpatient setting, you also pay the hospital a copayment.”

Medicare and You 2020 Guidebook

What about Medigap (Supplement) Plans?

No, Medicare Supplement Plans (also called Medigap) do not cover hearing exams or hearing aids. These supplements cover the costs of covered services that Medicare leaves for beneficiaries to pay. (For example, coinsurances, co-pays and deductibles.)

They are not structured to pay for extra services like hearing, dental, vision, wellness or long-term care.

Do Medicare Advantage Plans Cover Hearing Aids?

All Medicare Advantage Plans are designed differently, but most of them offer benefits for exams and hearing aids. Depending on the plan, you may find covered, or partially covered, hearing exams. In addition, many plans will have co-pays or coinsurance on hearing aids.

As an example, one MA plan might offer 0% co-pay on a hearing exam and a co-payment on a hearing aid. They might have two kinds of hearing aids with different amounts you pay as your portion for either a standard hearing aid or a more advanced one.

Also, some Medicare Advantage Plans will contract with specific hearing aid companies to offer discounted or even fully covered hearing aids if you use these providers.

Summary & Action Steps

In summary, if you are in need of hearing aids, Original Medicare and Medigap Plans will not cover them. However, a Medicare Advantage plan often will.

With hearing aids often costing thousands of dollars, it can make sense to consider a Medicare Advantage plan where you can get discounted hearing benefits and hearing aids.

Finally, to learn more about Medicare Advantage Plans – how they work and what they cover – please click here.

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Medicare and You 2020

Medicare and You 2020

Medicare and You 2020 Guidebook – Read This First

Your Introduction to the Medicare and You 2020 Book, and where to get a copy.

The Medicare and You 2020 Guidebook details what you need to know about Medicare benefits for the current year. In it you will find the basics of Medicare, how to get it, and what changes the program is implementing in the calendar year.

However, it is 120 pages long and very detailed. It is also very dry and technical.

So, if you are trying to learn more about Medicare – without falling asleep in the process – we have on-topic website article suggestions for you here that follow the elements of the Medicare and You 2020 Guide.

Where to find the guide

What is included in the Medicare and You 2020 Guidebook?

Here we will outline the sections of the guidebook and give you relevant articles that discuss the various Medicare elements and benefits.

What are the Parts of Medicare?

Intro Section (page 5)

The Medicare and You book starts out with summarizing parts A, B, and D and what they include.

Medicare Part C is discussed in the next section.

Related Article: For an illustrated overview of the four parts of Medicare, visit our medicare parts infographic and article “Medicare Parts A B C D.”

What are my Medicare options?

Intro Section on Original vs Medicare Advantage (pages 6-8)

how to read Medicare and You 2020 guidebook

Many online comparisons are between Medicare Supplements and Medicare Advantage plans as those are the additions that are in your hands to choose.

However, all these comparisons are in their simplest form between having Original Medicare vs Medicare Advantage. This section does a side-by-side comparison of the two (with or without a supplement).

Related Article: For a more in-depth discussion to help you decide what Medicare options are right for you, please read the “Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplements” article here.

How do I get Medicare?

“Section 1: Signing up for Medicare” (pages 15-24)

People get Medicare in different ways. Some are signed-up for it automatically if you are already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement. Some people must sign up for it when they turn 65 (or delay it if they are not ready at 65).

This section gives you people to call (Social Security at 1-800-772-1213) and places to visit (online at ssa.gov/benefits/medicare) if you need to sign yourself up.

Other topics covered include, when to sign-up, what to sign-up for, and what does each part cost?

Related Articles:

Hey, Medicare and You 2020, Will Medicare Cover My…?

“Section 2: Find out if Medicare covers your test, service or item” (pages 25-50)

This section lists all Medicare Benefits you will receive if you are signed-up for both Medicare Parts A and B. These benefits are universal, meaning they are the standards of care you will receive whether you are receiving Medicare from the federal government or through a private carrier with a Medicare Advantage Plan.

If you are looking to see if a specific benefit is included in Medicare, this is the section to search for it.

This section also reminds you of what is not included in Medicare, such as Long-Term Care insurance. In addition, Original Medicare does NOT include many services that ARE covered by Medicare Advantage Plans. These include dental care, eye exams, hearing benefits, and fitness programs.

2020 New Offering Alert: One interesting change noted in the Medicare and You 2020 book is that many Medicare Advantage programs are now offering “telehealth” benefits where you can see a provider at home instead of at their facility. The guidebook notes that this is typically beyond what Original Medicare can offer.

Related Article: To see the basics of what Medicare Covers, please see our article “Medicare Parts A B C D.”

What exactly is Original Medicare?

“Section 3: Original Medicare” (pages 51-54)

The Original Medicare section explains how our Federal Health Insurance for Seniors works. If you have Original Medicare, with or without a supplement, you are a beneficiary of a nationalized health care system and the government is the primary payer of your health benefits.

Read this section to learn how that works and how to use your benefits once you are on Medicare.

Related Article: Read “What is Medicare?

What is Medicare Advantage?

“Section 4: Medicare Advantage Plans & other options”

The other option than being on Original Medicare is to be on a Medicare Advantage Plan. In this case, a private insurance company becomes your primary payer and main contact. Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD) Plans are called “bundled plans” because they combine parts A, B and D to form one “Plan C.”

They often have reduced costs for premium payments, with some of them even offering “$0” monthly premiums. In addition, they often include extra benefits, not included by government Medicare, such as dental, hearing and eye care. “Silver Sneakers” and similar fitness/wellness programs are also often an included benefit.

Related Articles:

What is a Medicare Supplement / Medigap Plan?

“Section 5: Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policies” (pages 69-72)

Medigap Policy Chart
CLICK HERE to see more about the various Medigap plans and what they offer.

When you opt for keeping Original Medicare (instead of a Medicare Advantage Plan) you will most likely want to pair that with not just a stand-alone drug plan, but also with a Medigap Plan. These plans are also called Medicare Supplement Plans.

They are supplemental insurance plans that pick up paying where Original Medicare leaves off – such as with the 20% coinsurance, co-pays and deductibles.

The government sets the requirements for each supplement plan and then the private insurance companies decide what price they can offer for each plan in each market they are in. These plans are labeled with letters, and offer the exact same benefits no matter what private insurance company you choose.

Related Article: For more information, please read this article on Medicare Supplement Insurance.

What is Part D?

“Section 6: Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D)” (pages 73-82)

Read this section to learn how Medicare Drug Plans work, where to get one, and when you can get one / switch them.

Remember, that if you opt for a Medicare Advantage Plan, you will most likely have your drug plan included (which is called a MAPD plan).

Related Articles:

Can I get help paying for medical costs?

“Section 7: Get help paying your health & prescription drug costs” (pages 83-88)

The government has set up several ways for Medicare Beneficiaries to get help in paying for their health insurance. Read this section to see if you qualify for the various tiers of assistance.

How can I protect myself?

“Section 8: Know your rights & protect yourself from fraud” (pages 89-100)

The U.S. government understands that health insurance can be confusing, and there are people out there that will try to take advantage of this confusion. Read this section to know how to protect yourself from health care and insurance fraud.

In addition, Section 8 also explains your rights under Medicare and how to make an appeal if you decide your rights have been violated. The Medicare and You 2020 book defines an appeal as “…the action you can take if you disagree with a coverage or payment decision by Medicare or your Medicare plan.”

How do I get my questions answered?

“Section 9: Get more information” (pages 101-112)

Next, if you have questions related to Original Medicare, the handbook offers you the following numbers to call:

1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
TTY users call 1-877-486-2048
Get information 24 hours a day, including weekends

Medicare and You 2020

Additionally, for questions regarding insurance plans like Supplement (Medigap) or Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD) then we suggested talking to a licensed insurance professional.

If you are lucky enough to live in our headquarters of Nebraska or our neighboring state of Iowa, you can give Carly a call/text or email.

Related Article: Please see our Frequently Asked Questions page, and if you have a question, please leave it in the comments section or email us. Thanks!

What does this word mean?

“Section 10: Definitions” (pages 113-116)

Do you just live to read a good glossary? Well, here you go. You will find here definitions to all the health care and insurance lingo you need to know to navigate your health care effectively.

Related Article: Feel free to look through all our Medicare Articles. They are all listed on this page.

Medicare and You 2020 Handbook Review

We hope our review of the 2020 Medicare and You Book has been helpful.

Our one hope for next year is that the book might be more helpful in pointing beneficiaries towards ways to find LICENSED independent insurance professionals that can help them in making decisions. These agents are the only ones required to stay licensed, tested and up to date on the plans that are out there. Moreover, this applies especially for the Medicare Advantage approved agents as they have to be re-tested every year on changes.

Finally, we are MedicareLifeHealth.com just don’t understand how people can be offering advice on plans – that change yearly – they have not be certified to explain.

Our advice? Find yourself a good agent, and make them work for you.

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Medicare Part A B C D

Medicare Part A B C D

Medicare Parts A B C D Explained

Medicare has four different parts: Medicare Part A B C D. Each of these parts serve a different function in our national health care system for seniors.

As an overview of Medicare:

Here is More Detail on in our Medicare Parts A B C & D Infographic

Medicare Parts A B C D Explained

Original Medicare Components

Parts A & B come together to form “Original Medicare.” We have a detailed article on Original Medicare for you to read here.

If you are interested in the costs associated with Original Medicare Parts A and B, please visit our article “How Much Does Medicare Cost?

Medicare Part A Hospital Insurance Covers

Part A is dedicated to Hospital Insurance and covers care for…

  • Inpatient Hospital
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities
  • Hospice
  • Home Health

When you visit the hospital, Medicare will help you pay for the above services. However, Original Medicare does not pay for all of it. There are copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles may apply to each service. This is why most Medicare Beneficiaries will supplement Original Medicare with either a Supplement (Medigap) plan or a Medicare Advantage Plan.

Remember, Medicare does not cover Long-Term Care costs such as Nursing Home or Assisted Living Expenses.

Medicare Part B Medical Insurance Covers

Part B consists of Medical Insurance and covers the care of…

  • Outpatient
  • Home Health
  • Doctors
  • Health Care Providers
  • Durable Medical Equipment
  • Prevention

Again, Medicare will only cover some of these costs. You will also have copayments /coinsurance / deductibles that accompany these services. We highly recommend finding a Med Sup or Med Advantage plan to help you pay for the extra costs.

Additional Components of Medicare

Now that you understand the components of Original Medicare (Parts A & B), let’s look at the two additional parts of Medicare – Parts D and C – Drug Coverage and Medicare Advantage.

Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Insurance Covers

Part D is regulated by the government but handled by private insurance companies. This part includes care for…

  • Prescription Drugs
  • Covered Vaccines

To learn more about Part D Prescription Drug Coverage, please read our article about it here.

Medicare Part C – Also Known as Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD)

MA / MAPD Plans are becoming more popular and more accessible to Medicare Beneficiaries all over the United States. Moreover, as more and more people are joining them, they are becoming very affordable options.

These plans offer additional benefits and services to what Original Medicare can offer such as dental benefits, vision benefits and hearing benefits. They also often include wellness benefits such as free gym memberships.

Read this article to learn even more about Medicare Advantage.

Medicare Parts A B C D Further Reading

If you would like the Parts of Medicare explained in even more detail, we shall direct you to our review of Medicare and You 2020. This is a User’s Guide to the government’s Medicare and You 2020 Handbook which has the yearly updates for what is available in the current plan year. In this case, 2020, when our article was published.

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Biggest Medicare Mistakes

Biggest Medicare Mistakes

The 5 Biggest Medicare Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

No one wants to make a mistake that will cost them hundreds (or thousands) of dollars down the road if they can help it! However, Medicare can be very confusing, and even very knowledgeable people can miss things. Here are the five biggest Medicare mistakes people make, and how you can avoid them!

#1 in Our Biggest Medicare Mistakes: Missing Enrollment Deadlines

Although the government gives us all a little wiggle room around each Medicare Milestone we pass, there are certain deadlines you must mind to avoid late penalties and inconveniences.

Original Medicare Coverage Deadlines

five biggest medicare mistakes and how to avoid them

You will need to sign-up for Medicare when you turn 65 if you are not already getting Social Security. You will be automatically signed-up for Medicare if you are getting Social Security. In addition, you will need to tell the government if you are delaying Medicare because of other credible coverage (such as an employers coverage).

You will have three months before your birthday to sign-up, the month of you birthday, and then three months after to sign-up. However, what some people do not understand, is that if you enroll after you turn 65, your coverage will not start until the first of the month after you enroll. This could lead to a gap in your health care coverage.

A NOTE ON CREDIBLE COVERAGE: Some people will delay Medicare coverage if they have a good health plan from their employer. This is usually okay, but there is an exception for small business employers to be aware of: If your employer has less than 20 employees, you will need to enroll in Medicare right away when you turn 65.

This is because when you work for a small business, their insurance will become secondary insurance and Medicare will be your primary payer. If this is the case, you will need to enroll right away in Medicare to avoid a penalty. (Also note that Cobra is not credible coverage.)

Medigap Guaranteed Enrollment Deadlines

The last Medicare Enrollment Mistake people make is missing their Guaranteed Enrollment period for a Medigap Plan. You will have six months, from the beginning of the month you first turn 65, to enroll in a Medigap plan with a guarantee to be issued a policy. If you apply after this window, you will have to go through medical underwriting. This means that companies have the right to deny issuing you a policy based on your medical history after your open enrollment is over.

It is important to remember that Medicare Advantage Plans have a different enrollment process than Medigap. The Medicare Advantage Annual Election Period is not for Medigap Plans. Which lead us right into Mistake #2…

Medicare Mistake #2: Not Understanding Medigap Plans vs. Medicare Advantage Plans

There are two main ways you can set up your Medicare Health Care Plan: Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Original Medicare with a Medigap Plan. You either have one or the other, not both. Both can be good ways to set up your health care, but not understanding how they work can lead to making on of our biggest Medicare mistakes.

We have a whole article on Medicare Advantage vs. Medigap Plans here. I suggest reading it if you are unfamiliar with the two plan types. Considerations with these plans include how you get your Prescription Drugs and how you want to budget your money. Cash flow can be different plan to plan with premium payments and out of pocket expenses to consider when making a decision. Your lifestyle needs and travel patterns also need to be considered when making a choice between MA and Medigap.

Mistake #3: Assuming Your Doctors and Drugs are Covered

We all know what assuming can lead to… mistakes! It is very important to make sure that your doctors are covered with the Medicare option you choose. The carrier will be able to help you confirm that you will be able to continue with your current doctor if you so desire. If you are working with an Insurance Agent, they will have the ability to do this for you as well.

Checking your drug options with a plan is also an important part of finding coverage. The government does make sure that at least two kinds of drugs are available per category of treatment. Moreover, carriers will have a process for you to make an exception for a drug not on its list (called a formulary). However, it makes for a smoother transition to check ahead of time to see what is covered for your specific needs.

Biggest Medicare Mistake #4: Assuming Medicare Covers Long-Term Care

It is a common mistake to assume that your Medicare coverage includes long term care – it does not. Skilled nursing facilities for recovery from a certain event are covered (and come with different co-insurances based on different plans). However, long term stays in assisted living and nursing homes are not covered. You will need to have a plan in place to cover these needs. Your planning may include, long term care insurance, IUL policies with long term care (or critical illness) riders, or self-insurance (paying cash).

Another option, for those that do not have a lot of resources saved up for retirement, is to “spend down” your assets to qualify for Medicaid to help you in paying for your care. However, I would not suggest this option for those that have the means to plan ahead for the level of care they desire or those that want to pass money on when they pass.

Biggest Medicare Mistake #5: Enrolling Directly with a Carrier

Ok, follow me on this one. When you first turn 65, you are bombarded with advertisements for different Medicare plans. Sometimes, it feels easiest to just pick up the nearest postcard and give that insurance company a call. Or maybe you have done your research on your own (which is just fine!) and decide to enroll directly with the carrier you want to go with. Here is where you should stop and consider this as a mistake.

Here is the problem: when you enroll with an insurance company for one of their plans directly, you have to deal with them alone. On the other hand, when you enroll with that same company through an independent insurance agent, you now have an advocate and support system to help you work with that carrier.

Here is how an independent agent helps:

  • First, if something goes wrong, you can call your agent for help! You are not on your own, and this is a big deal. As we all know, everyone can make mistakes – you, your doctor’s office, your insurance company. When these mistakes happen, you can call your agent for support and they can work with you and the insurance company to make sure you are taken care of.
  • Second, rates and plans change! A good independent agent will keep on top of industry changes and plan changes for you. They can stay on top of your premium rates and what might be new or changing in your area to make sure you always have the best coverage. You will not get this level of service when you work directly with a carrier.
  • Finally, you do not pay anything extra for working with an independent agent. They are still paid as an independent agent from Whichever company you are placed with at no charge to you.

Medicare Mistakes Summary

In addition to this article, another great resource is the Medicare and You book put out by the government. Since this is a large (120 page) document, we have created a Medicare and You User’s Guide for you to read and reference here.

In summary, you can avoid the biggest Medicare mistakes with a little research and a little help.

Reach out to a professional to answer any of your market specific questions and find out more about Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplements, and their differences here on MedicareLifeHealth.com.

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How Much Does Medicare Cost?

How Much Does Medicare Cost?

How Much Does Medicare Cost?

Medicare costs can be different person to person, depending on which type of plan you choose. After you have a basic understanding of Medicare and it’s basic components, you will want to know how much does Medicare cost? The answer is, it depends on how you structure it. Let’s break down what you could be paying.

Medicare Costs Broken Down & Made Simple

When you set up your Medicare, you will decide if:

Your costs will also be different if you get help in any way from any state or federal programs.

How Much Original Medicare Costs

  • Medicare Part A – For most people, there is not a cost or premium you pay for Part A. Your Part A is premium free if you worked in the US and paid Medicare taxes for at least 30 quarters. (You will pay between $240 – $437 a month depending on your work history for Part A if you do not meet the premium free requirements).
    • There is also a $1,364 yearly deductible for Part A services and coinsurance tiers on hospital stays.
  • Medicare Part B – You will pay a premium for Part B. In 2019, the standard premium is $135.50 per month. If you make more than $85,000 a year in retirement, you will pay more on an income dependent scale.
    • There is also a $185 Part B deductible and a 20% coinsurance (co-pay) for most approved services.
    • Late penalties may also apply to Part B (and less commonly, Part A) if you do not sign-up when you are first eligible.

How Much Prescription Drug Costs

Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans

Medicare Part D – Prescription Drug Coverage needs to be obtained from a private insurance company. Each company will price their service differently and you can shop for the best plan and price for you. In addition, you will pay more for your Part D coverage, on a sliding scale, if you make more than $85,000 a year while on Medicare.

Other costs to consider with your Part D coverage are co-pays and coinsurance, in addition to deductibles.

There are also late enrollment penalties associated with not signing up for Part D coverage when you are first eligible if you do not have “credible coverage.”

How Much Medicare Supplements or Medicare Advantage Plans Cost

On top of your Original Medicare, you will need to make a decision to either participate in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan or to consider having a Medigap (Medicare Supplement) Plan. If you need help deciding on which one is best for your needs, please read our article on Medicare Advantage Vs. Medicare Supplements.

  • Medicare Supplement Plan Costs – Medicare Supplements will each have a different cost depending on the Letter Plan you choose and the company you go with. The government decides what benefits are offered by each letter plan. Then, each private insurance company decides what price they can offer for each plan in each market. It is a good idea to compare multiple plans by multiple carriers (insurance companies) in your area before choosing a plan. An independent insurance agent will be able to help you do this.
  • Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD) Costs – Part C, or Medicare Advantage Plans are also offered by private insurance companies and stand in place of Original Medicare. In addition, they often include Part D Prescription Drug Coverage. Some of these plans have low or zero premium plan options. A few even cover Part B premiums. All of them are required to have max out of pocket expenditures and deductibles. It is a good idea to talk to an independent insurance agent on MAPD plans in your area to help you choose your best option.

Medicare Costs Summary

In summary, Medicare will cost you something, unless you are on full benefits from Medicaid. Moreover, you have already been paying into the Medicare system during your working career with Medicare taxes. Common set-up for Medicare beneficiaries include:

  • Having Original Medicare, Part A Premium Free, Part B Premium at $135.50 /month and a stand alone Part D Premium to pay. Then, adding on a Supplement Plan to cover the expenses Original Medicare does not pay.
  • Or having a Part C Medicare Advantage Plan that includes a drug plan with a premium to pay (sometimes a $0 premium). Most commonly, you will still pay your Part B premium with Medicare Advantage.

Get More Help Understanding How Much Medicare will Cost You

One good resource for learning more about the costs of Medicare is the Medicare and You Book published by the government every year. It is a large book, so please star with our Medicare and You User’s Guide to learn what it offers and to get a copy if you need one.

In addition, finding the best Medicare options for your budget can be a lot to take on, but hopefully this breakdown is helpful. I strongly suggest talking to a professional to help you in setting up your Medicare plan. As an independent agent myself, I suggest using an independent agent. They are not tied to one company, so they work for you, not one carrier and can help you in considering many different carriers and plans.

Carly Cummings, Medicare and Medigap Expert

As always, if you live in Nebraska or Iowa, please give me a call, and I can help you out either in person or over the phone.

Carly Cummings, NE/IA Licensed Independent Insurance Agent for Life and Health.
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Using an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent

Using an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent

Should I Use an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent?

5 reasons to use an independent medicare insurance agent. Author is a Nebraska based independent insurance agent.

When it comes to making decisions on and signing up for Medicare health care planning, you will have a few paths to consider. First, you could take the path of figuring everything thing out on your own and signing-up independently. Your second option is to talk to a captive agent that works for one insurance company. Finally, you can use an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent to help you make Medicare decisions.

FULL DISCLOSURE: If you have read up on your fearless author, you will know that I am an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent. Therefore, you can rightly assume that I am for using an independent agent or broker for Medicare help. However, I know there are different ways to tackle any one solution, so use this information to move you forward in the direction you for which you are most comfortable.

The Top Five Reasons to Work with an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent

1. Independent Agents Can Compare Companies

I decided on a career as an independent agent expressly because I enjoy helping people. Moreover, I feel proud to introduce seniors to our nation’s national health care system and the private insurance companies that administer both MA plans and supplements.

To compare, let’s define a captive insurance agent as an agent that works for just one insurance company. That agent can sign you up only for the plans that are offered by their employer. If one of their plans do not fit your needs, you will need to find another agent to help you. On the other hand, using an independent insurance agent for Medicare allows you to compare the multiple carriers they represent and the various plans they offer.

As an example, let’s say you are comparing Medicare Supplement Plans available in your area. Your independent agent might be contracted to sell multiple carriers and can look up the prices and find the best rate for you. Remember that Medigap (supplement) letter plan benefits are set by the government and often the only main difference will be price. In this instance, the more choices, the merrier (for your wallet)!

2. You Do Not Pay Medicare Insurance Agents

My clients do not pay me, and the government does not pay me. As an independent agent, I get paid by private insurance carriers when I place business with them. As mentioned in reason one, since I do not belong to any one carrier, I can help my clients look at many different options available to them.

An agent’s goal is to help you make the right decision for your needs without thinking about making money. We do need to make a living, but there are rules set with compensation that all the insurance companies comply with. As a result, getting paid with one carrier versus another is not going to make a big difference to an independent agent that has her client’s best interest in mind.

3. Your Independent Agent Can Help You Communicate with Insurance Carriers

This is a big reason to work with an independent agent that often gets overlooked. Your agent can help you work with your chosen insurance (carrier) company. If you sign-up with a carrier directly, you will have to work with them directly. This is fine, but let’s say you have a question or have a dispute. Your insurance agent can “go to bat” for you in helping you get your question answered or problem solved. Perhaps even faster than you could do it yourself.

Your agent will also stay on top of news and changes coming from your carrier and can alert you to anything you need to know or actions you need to take. This includes helping you to stay up on Medicare Part D plans and changes.

4. You Can Ask Your Agent Questions

Yes, yes you can. Call, email, text your insurance agent and they are there to help with your health insurance needs. Often times your agent will also be an expert in other kinds of insurance such as life, dental/vision/hearing, annuities, etc.

5. Your Agent Can Shop Rates/Plans for You in the Future

Much like car insurance these days, your premium rates might change over time, and you might have more options that become available in your area.

For supplement insurance, it is a good idea to shop your policy every once and a while to make sure you are not paying to much. Medical Underwriting becomes necessary for supplement switching when you are not in a guaranteed time of eligibility. As a result, you will want to work your agent hard while you are perhaps younger and hopefully healthier to keep on top of your supplement rates.

As for Medicare Advantage Plans, your agent can help you keep on top of the market to help you in deciding if you ever need to switch plans or companies.

Your Other Options

There may be reasons that you choose to not use an independent agent. You may end up using a captive agent, or you may end up doing everything by yourself, and this is just fine. If you want to go the solo route, or even just to get an overview of the market in your area, I suggest you visit the Medicare Government Website Plan Overview Page. Visiting this page before you visit with an agent is also a good idea so you can ask knowledgeable questions.

Conclusions

In conclusion, you might appreciate using an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent if you…

  • Like to compare rates/plans
  • Enjoy complimentary help
  • Appreciate a company lesion
  • Have occasional health care plan questions
  • Like to keep up-to-date on market changes
Carly Cummings, Medicare and Medigap Expert, Independent Medicare Insurance Agent
Medicare Expert ,Carly Cummings

If you are living “The Good Life” in my home state of Nebraska, I would ask that you give me a shot at being your Nebraska Independent Medicare Agent. Click here for my contact info.

If you are in any of our other fine 49 states, you can always reach out to ask me questions, but I can’t represent any companies or plans to you, but I encourage you to find an agent in your area. Word of mouth is always a good way to find an agent, so start by asking your friends and family who they use. Alternatively, you can always Google, “independent Medicare insurance agents near me.”

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What is AEP?

What is AEP?

What is AEP? Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period

Do you love a good acronym? How about a very large amount of them? The health and insurance industries are nothing if not full of confusing acronyms. Moreover, “industry people” will just assume you know them all. AEP is no exception, so let’s discuss what actually is the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period.

The Definition of AEP

Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)

AEP stands for Annual Enrollment Period. It is defines the period of time each year eligible seniors can enroll in both Medicare Advantage Insurance Plans (Part C) and Prescription Drug Plans (Part D). In addition, you will not be required to go through medical underwriting to join these plans. (ESRD is an exception.)

Outside of a SEP (Special Enrollment Period) or your IEP (Initial Enrollment Period), this is the only time that you can join a Part D or Part C plan. Yes, I know, more acronyms!

In addition, AEP is one of the two times you can switch plans, if you are already in one. (The US government just added the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. This is a second period of time – Jan. 1 – March 31 – where you can switch plans once if you are already in a plan. )

When is AEP?

The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period is October 15th – December 7th. The changes you make during this period of time will take place for the following year on January 1st.

Possible Changes During the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)

Does AEP apply to Medigap (Medicare Supplement) Plans?

No, AEP does not apply to Medigap (supplements). You can switch a supplement plan at any time. However, you will be subject to medical underwriting. This means that you are not guaranteed to be accepted into the Medigap plan.

How do I Switch Plans / Join a Plan During AEP?

You can start researching and learning about the plans available to you the next year, starting October 1st. However, you will not be able to complete an enrollment application until October 15th.

When switching/joining a MA/MAPD or Drug Plan, I highly suggest using an independent insurance agent. There are many considerations when choosing a plan, and she/he will help you in making sure you pick the right plan for you. (If you live in Nebraska, please give me a email/call/text, and I will be happy to help.)

That said, you can also research plans and see their ratings at https://www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan.

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Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplement

Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplement

Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplement (Medigap): What Medicare Plan is Best for Me?

I am a firm believer that there is a good Medicare health plan out there for everyone. Moreover, there might even be more than one good choice out there for your situation. If there is more than one good choice available to you, you might be weighing your options right now – Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplement.

First, Let’s review your Medicare options:

Original Medicare (no supplement)

Certainly, stand-alone Medicare coverage is an option. You would still want to get Part D Prescription coverage. (There are penalties down the road if you do not get Part D or have credible coverage already and then want to get it later.) However, you would then be left paying your deductibles and 20% coinsurance out-of-pocket.

For example, with ONLY Original Medicare and NO supplement or MA plan, if you ended up having a major health event like a surgery, the 20% left that medicare doesn’t pay could still be thousands of dollars.

You would also have to go through medical underwriting with a private insurance carrier if you later want a supplement and you have missed your Guaranteed Issue time frame. You can always join a MA plan later, but only during a special enrollment period or during the Annual Enrollment Period (Oct. 15 – Dec. 7).

Original Medicare with a Supplement

With this option, you keep Original Medicare and add on a Supplement (Medigap) Policy with a private insurance company to help you in paying the pieces that Medicare does not. These costs can become large if you have a big medical event or a chronic illness. In this instance, a Supplement would protect you from “losing the shirt off your back”! You would also have a stand-alone Part D Prescription Drug Plan (or a plan that is considered “credible coverage”).

Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD)

Finally, with a MA/MAPD plan you would replace Original Medicare with a bundled plan offered by a private insurance company. These often include a Prescription Drug Plan. (These are called MAPD plans, which are most the common plans). You still “have Medicare” with these plans. However, they are run by private companies who put together networks of providers and health facilities.

One question we hear a lot is, “can I have both Medicare Advantage and a Medicare Supplement?” No, you have one or the other. Not both, they do not work together and it is illegal for anyone to sell you both.

What are the Differences Between having a Supplement (Medigap) and having Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD)?

Now, let’s do a breakdown of Medicare Advantage vs. Medicare Supplements. First, let’s look at the difference in care and the differences in cost. We are assuming you either have Medicare Advantage or Original Medicare with a Supplement (aka Medigap Plans).

Medicare w/Medigap Medicare Advantage
Care OptionsYou can go to any doctor that accepts Medicare already. Specialist referrals are not needed.You typically must visit doctors that are in the plan’s network if you do not want to pay extra. Specialist visits sometimes need a referral, depending on your plan. Click here to read more about plan structures (HMO, PPO, etc.)
ExtrasNASome plans include extra benefits such as hearing, dental, vision and fitness/wellness programs.
Monthly
Costs
Medicare Part A – usually premium free
Part B – Monthly Premium (based on income level)
Part D – Monthly Prescription Premium
Supplement – Premium dependent on which company & plan letter you choose
MAPD plans with Drug Coverage Included pays a monthly premium to the insurance company for all services. Some plans include the Part B Premium and some plans do not. Some plans have a $0 monthly premium option.
Out of Pocket CostsCosts can be very minimal depending on that Medigap plan you choose. There are high deductible options, and starting in 2020, the Part B deductible will have to be paid by everyone who is just aging into Medicare. Some plans have lower out-of-pocket costs than Original Medicare and all have a yearly limit on out-of-pocket expenses that are covered by Medicare.
Domestic TravelEmergency and urgent care are always covered in the US. You can use any doctor that takes Medicare in the US for routine visits. If you spend long periods of time traveling and need to see a doctor for routine visits whole out of town, this might be your best option. Emergency and urgent care are always covered in the US. You will have to use doctors in network for routine visits for them to be covered. Some insurance companies have large networks that can span several states, so make sure to inquire about how large the network is before you rule out a MA plan if you travel a lot.
Foreign TravelSome supplement plans cover part of the emergency medical fees you may use in other countries. Plans C, D, F, G, M & N have 80% foreign travel exchange limits. Plans do not typically have any over seas coverage.

Making Your Choice between Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplement

Now that you understand the basics of Medicare Advantage Plans and Original Medicare plus a Medigap (Supplement) Plan and know the significant differences between the two, it’s decision time.

First, I always recommend speaking with a licensed, independent agent that can help you in assessing all the various plan types available in your area. Every county has different options for MA/MAPD plans, and insurance carriers have different prices on the supplement plans you may be considering.

Second, it’s good to have an idea of what is important to you. You should be thinking specifically in regards to money and lifestyle when choosing a path.

Consider these questions when choosing between Medigap and MA Plans:

Do you plan on living in another place for a significant period of time during the year?

If you are a “snowbird” or are planning a longer vacation where a routine doctor visit may be necessary when away from your primary residence, then a supplement may be your best choice. Remember though, emergency / urgent care visits are covered with both types of plans.

However, if your travel happens to be international, Both Original Medicare and MA plans do not cover foreign travel, but some supplement plans (plans C, D, F, G, M & N) have 80% foreign travel exchange limits that will help off-set some costs.

What is (or will be) your cash flow situation in retirement?

Some retirees have pensions, social security and other payments (like annuities) that come to them automatically each month. Other retirees have less of these automatic infusions or smaller required distributions and prefer to leave as much of their cash in investments as possible. Finally, some retirees are on a smaller, fixed income. This might require them to consider cash flow very carefully.

In each situation, you will need to review how you are paying for your health services, as each plan offers different payment options.

Cash Flow with a Supplement:

With a supplement, you will have a set amount of money (that could be a larger sum than an MA plan) come out of your bank (and/or S.S./R.R. check) each month. This can add up when you consider it includes Part B premiums, Part D Prescription premiums, and your supplement premiums. However, if you chose a plan that covers everything Original Medicare leaves out, then you would not pay any other out-of-pocket fees for Medicare covered services.

Cash Flow with a MA/MAPD Plan:

With a Medicare Advantage plan, you will most likely have a smaller amount of money coming out of your wallet each month. You will most likely have an MAPD plan that includes your drug plan, as stand alone MA plans are becoming much more rare, and some plans even include Part B premiums. So, with a MAPD plan, you would be paying a MA premium and maybe your Part B premium each month. Moreover, there are sometimes zero dollar per month ($0/month) premium MA plans available. The costs then to consider and maybe budget for with MA plans is if there are any co-pays, co-insurances and deductibles with the plans. Each plan will be set-up differently, and each plan will also have a max yearly out-of-pocket limit.

Just like in any kind of insurance, Medicare plans are set-up to allow you to choose how much out-of-pocket expenses you incur versus monthly premiums you pay.

Looking at your budget and then talking through your options with a licensed agent will allow you to make the best choice for your situation.

How interested are you in extra benefits being included?

Finally, one more consideration is the other elements that round out your health insurance plan, such as dental, vision, hearing, etc. If you have a supplement plan, you will need to decide if you need these services, and if you do, are you wanting to take on insurance plans for them. You might decide to add on a stand-alone, or a plan that includes any or all of these common services (dental, vision, hearing).

Often times, Medicare Advantage plans will include these services as a part of their plan as an additional benefit which might save you money if you were planning on getting a stand alone plan or paying cash for these services.

Moreover, many MA plans will offer fitness or wellness services that are included at no additional cost. Sometimes this means you will not have to pay for a separate gym membership. Silver Sneakers is one example of a national program that is used by many MA plans to provide fitness and wellness services.

The Next Steps for Choosing Your Medicare Plan

As you can see, developing your Medicare Health Insurance Plan can be very involved, but I am confident you can do it! Having a professional to help you through the process is important. Please reach out to an independent insurance agent to review what is available in your area. They will be able to explain plans in specifics and answer your questions about Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplement.

Finally, Medicare.gov is also a good tool for answering your broader questions, and we also encourage you to comment on this page or contact us directly with any questions. Thanks!

Other Topics Related to Medicare Choices:

medicare advantage vs original medicare with a supplement - Medicare Life Health Pin
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