Medicare plans aren’t intended to cover every medical expense – there are still co-payment, coinsurance, and deductible payments to be made. Can you afford them yourself, or should you get Medigap insurance?
What is ‘Medigap insurance’?
Medigap insurance is simple: You pay a modest premium each month. In exchange, you take much of the pain out of any possible deductibles or copayments. While Medigap is standardized under federal law, these policies are private health insurance plans that cover expenses you may still have even after Medicare has paid its portion of your medical bills. This may includes copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, physician fees, lab fees, the cost of durable medical equipment, and sometimes more.
There are ten types of Medigap policies available; all have standardized minimum benefits and use the same letter names (with the exception of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which each have their own system). This makes it easier to compare rates offered for the same policy by different companies, and to know what policy to shop for if you move to another state. When considering Medigap insurance plans, your first step is to find out what is available in your state.
The good news is that any standardized Medigap policy is guaranteed renewable, which means that coverage cannot be canceled for any reason other than failure to pay the premium. You cannot be dropped because you are sick.
Am I eligible?
Anyone age 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B can purchase Medigap. However, you may not need a Medigap policy if you:
- Are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C). In fact, it is illegal for anyone to sell you a Medigap policy if you are already in a Part C Plan, unless your Part C coverage will end before the Medigap insurance begins.
- Are covered by Medicaid. Except for certain circumstances, it is illegal for an insurance company to sell you a Medigap policy if you receive Medicaid.
- Have other health insurance, such as coverage from employer/union group health, TRICARE, or VA benefits.
If you are eligible for and in need of Medigap coverage, it is very important to understand the advantages of the open enrollment period.
What is the open enrollment period? Why is it so important?
The open enrollment period for Medigap insurance is a one-time only six-month period that begins the first day of the month in which you are 65 years of age AND enrolled in Medicare Part B. During open enrollment, you have the right to purchase any Medigap plan that’s available in your state without the risk of refusal and without paying extra for any pre-existing conditions. (Depending upon your previous coverage, however, there may be a waiting period for coverage related to a pre-existing condition).
If you are 65 and already have employer-provided group health insurance, you may wish to wait to enroll in Medicare Part B. When your employer coverage ends, you can enroll in Part B without a late enrollment penalty, and then your Medigap open enrollment period will begin when you need it.
What if I don’t need Medigap now, but need it later?
In addition to the open enrollment period, there are certain other situations under which you have the right to guaranteed Medigap coverage regardless of any pre-existing conditions, at the same price for which it would be offered to anyone else. These rights are called “guaranteed issue rights” or “Medigap protections” and they occur in the following circumstances:
- Your other health care coverage changes or is lost.
- You’ve had a Medicare Advantage Plan (Medicare Plan C) for less than a year and want to switch (or, in some cases, switch back) to Original Medicare with a Medigap plan.
- The carrier of your current Medigap insurance ceases to exist, or has misled you or otherwise broken the rules.
If any of these situations occur, you have 63 days to exercise your guaranteed issue rights to secure Medigap insurance. Click here for detailed information about situations, rights, and deadlines.
It is important that you be able to prove your previous coverage and the date it changed or ceased; keep all letters of notification, claim denials, or similar documents, and the envelopes in which they arrived.
How much does it cost?
Each insurance company sets its own premium, or price, for the policies it offers, and there are a number of ways in which they may choose to do so. When comparing premiums from different companies, it is important to consider the method used in pricing – be sure to ask for this information before buying.
Issue-age-rated, or “entry-age-rated” policies have premiums determined in part by the age at which you first purchase the policy. A premium may increase due to inflation or other issues, but will not increase based on age.
Attained-age-rated premiums increase with age in addition to inflation or other external issues. These premiums are quite low at first, but can ultimately be the most expensive.