Money in the Middle

Sandwich Generation Talking About Money Up, Down and Across Generations

Posts Tagged ‘medicare

Baby Boomers, Don’t Let Medicare Traps Trip You Up

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Avoid the Traps and Save Money on Medicare

If you are one of the millions of baby boomers turning 65, you’ll soon find yourself facing the Medicare maze.

In fact, your mailbox is probably already filling up with letters and offers for different Medicare plans that are sure to be “just the right fit.”

I talk to lots of people turning 65 and they all say the same thing — why is selecting a Medicare plan so confusing…parts, plans, supplement, advantage?

For example, did you know that if you stay on COBRA too long after you are 65, you’ll miss your initial enrollment period and face enrollment during the general enrollment period — and maybe months without health insurance coverage?  Or that if you don’t sign up for Part B at the right time you can face a penalty; same for Medicare Part D drug plans? Or just selecting the same health insurance company you are currently with may not be the right Medicare coverage.

So if you find yourself getting ready for Medicare — or helping a parent or family member with the Medicare decision, you might find this booklet of assistance:  Getting Ready for Medicare:  7 Traps to Avoid.  I wrote it after hearing too many confused conversations —and frustrated people – struggling to get signing up for Medicare right.

Hope it helps turn the Medicare maze into a bit more of a straight path.

Written by Laura Rossman

February 21, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Get Ready to Help with Medicare Insurance Decisions

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This is the time of year when people on Medicare prepare for open enrollment.  And you thought you were done with that when you left the workforce.  But, Medicare has an open enrollment period each year for Medicare beneficiaries who want to enroll or change Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans.

 For many of us in the sandwich generation, it’s a time when we lend a hand to an aging parent or family member to figure out if they need to change plans – either for cost reasons or because their medical needs have changed.  It can be pretty confusing no matter what your age.  But it really is worth taking the time to compare plans and make sure you’ve got the right plan and the right price.

 The good news is that prices for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans won’t be changing much from 2010 to 2011. 

Plan prices will be about 1 percent lower, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

You may still have to shop for a new plan during open enrollment – if the plan has changed benefits, health care needs have changed or the plan is exiting the business. It’s also smart to check and make sure the plan you’ve got is still the right plan.  During this special period you can switch plans without having to worry about health conditions limiting your choices.  This period doesn’t apply to Medicare Supplement Plans.

 Those who have Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part D plans can change their plans during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) from Nov. 15 – Dec. 31. 

Longevity Alliance, a national insurance brokerage, is offering an AEP Reminder service.  You can sign up to receive an email when most of the 2011 plan information is available.  That way you won’t have to keep calling to find out about rates for 2011 and you won’t let it slip!  You can sign up for the free service by clicking here.

Rate and plan comparison tools are available at www.medicare.gov.  But the 2011 rates usually aren’t loaded into the system until mid-late October.  So keep checking back and make sure you are looking at 2011 rates. 

“Even with the lower costs, all beneficiaries should take time this Fall to compare their current health and drug plan coverage with what’s available and best meets their needs for next year,” said Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator and director of CMS’ Center for Medicare.  “Medicare will continue to provide a wide-range of consumer tools to help beneficiaries make the best possible choice of coverage.”  

Rates and benefits for specific 2011 plans are generally released between Oct. 15 and Nov. 1.  The government rules say you can’t buy a plan until Nov. 15, but you can start shopping and comparing rates so you don’t end up in a last-minute rush.  And you’ve got to shop to save and/or make sure you’ve got the right plan for your current medical needs.

 Don’t wait too long. The companies handling this business get very busy.  You’ll get more attention and assistance, if you need it, if you look early in November and apply as soon as you can – November 15.  And make sure you compare plans and fully understand the co-pays and network limits since a low-cost premium may just shift costs  and you’ll find you’re paying more at the doctor and the pharmacy.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Shop before you buy Medicare insurance

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If you’re getting ready to sign up for Medicare, there’s a great 3-part series of questions and answers at the New York Time blog “Bucks.” 

Even if you are already a Medicare beneficiary, you’ll find helpful information about new benefits next year and some guidance on the different types of Medicare insurance plans. 

The Medicare Rights Center is the expert behind the answers.  The topics cover the basics to some very specific questions about benefits and coverage for the disabled.

 If you have a Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare part D or think you might want to switch to one of these plans, the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period ( the AEP) is Nov. 15 – Dec. 31, 2010 for policies that will be effective in 2011. 

For most of those with Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D plans this is the one time of the year when you can change your coverage (there are some exceptions). 

Comparing your current Medicare plan to other plans may be especially important this year as changes in prices and benefits are expected. 

Plan information and prices for policies effective in 2011 aren’t available yet.  You’ll have to wait until October.  

But it’s not too early to start reading up on the ins and outs of Medicare. 

If you’re new to Medicare, and must purchase your own plan (no retiree insurance), you may find the cost of insurance is more than you anticipated.   

Here’s what Jennie Phillips at Bankrate.com found when her husband turned 65:

“You add all this up and it comes to a minimum of  $257.50 per month or $515 for a couple. It is easy to go much higher if you want plans that offer more bells and whistles. That’s about $100 more per month than we contribute to our current health plan offered through my husband’s employer, including vision and dental insurance, which Medicare doesn’t offer.”  Read the rest of the story here

More evidence that it’s really important to research and find the right plan but also make sure you shop for Medicare insurance.  Don’t look at just one company.  Compare prices of at least 3 companies to make sure you get the right plan and don’t pay too much.

 Unlike your days as an employee where you could choose levels of coverage, but there was only one company offered, you do have a choice.  Make the most of it to get the best plan and price.

Written by Laura Rossman

August 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Baby boomer tips to their children on retirement

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 There was generally good news about the state of Medicare and Social Security last week when the trustees released their 2010 Annual Report.  Good news for  baby boomers.  Not so good for the generations following us.

 Medicare is looking much healthier, thanks to the changes in the health care reform bill that reduces costs for prescription drugs and physician services..  The Hospital Insurance trust fund is expected to remain solvent an additional 12 years – until 2029.  While Medicare finances have improved, further reforms will be needed. 

Social security isn’t sitting quite so pretty, but there’s no reason for alarm.  The recession’s combination of fewer workers and more early retirees means that Social Security expenditures are expected to exceed tax receipts in 2010 for the first time since 1983.

 “The fact that the costs for the program will likely exceed tax revenue this year is not a cause for panic but it does send a strong message that it’s time for us to make the tough choices that we know we need to make,”  said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. 

The report said that the deficit is expected to shrink substantially for 2011 and to return to small surpluses for years 2012-2014 due to the improving economy.   But as the baby boomers begin retiring in larger numbers in 2014 the number of beneficiaries grows substantially more rapidly than the number of covered workers.

So we’re beginning to hear a lot more –from both political parties – about the need to tackle the issue of retirement age. It’s unlikely that it will impact the benefits of baby boomers – most of whom will reach full retirement at age 66.

But for those younger, the role of Social Security is likely to change as is the nature of retirement planning and work.

It’s a very difficult environment for people who are good planners when it comes to their finances. 

The best advice baby boomers can give their children: count on long and varied careers.  Keep funding that 401(k) plan as much as you can.

 Learn from our mistakes : plan better; rely on your own savings; live within your means (that one’s from your grandparents) and find work you enjoy

You’re going to be counting on your own resources more than your parents or grandparents!

Written by Laura Rossman

August 9, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Medicare Supplement Plan Changes Coming June 1

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If you buy your own Medicare insurance or soon will be, you should know about the changes  coming to Medicare Supplement, often called Medigap, plans beginning June 1, 2010.  But you don’t necessarily have to DO anything.

There will be two new Medicare Supplement plans – Plan M and Plan N and four plans will no longer be offered: Plans E, H, I and J. 

So what do you need to do?  

  • If you currently have a Medigap plan, you don’t have to change anything. But you might want to take a look at the new plans if you have experienced significant premium increases. 
  • If you are purchasing a policy that will be effective after June 1, your choices will be limited to these plans, – Plan A, B, C, D F, G, K, L, M, N.
  • If you are interested in purchasing Plan E, H, I or J, you must do it before June 1, 2010. 
  • If you have a Medicare Advantage plan now and think you might want to switch to a Medicare Supplement plan, you’ll generally have to wait until the open enrollment period begins Nov. 15. 

These changes aren’t the result of the recent health care reform bill, but from a law passed in 2003 that happens to take effect June 1, 2010.  And, don’t confuse this with Medicare Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D.  Those “parts” refer to Medicare itself.  These “plan” changes are for Medicare supplement plans sold by private insurance companies.

Not all insurance companies offer all plans.  And some of the companies are still in the process of getting rates approved for the new plans. 

There’s always been a pretty clear line between Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement plans.  Generally, Medicare Advantage required you to use a network and included cost-sharing (you pay co-pays when you visit the doctor and deductibles.)  Medicare Supplement pretty much covered the gaps left by Medicare – Medicare paid 80%, Medigap paid 20% — the plans differed by benefits covered but co-pays weren’t part of the deal. 

Plan N is a new plan that has some features that tend to be more associated with Medicare Advantage plans.  Plan N requires you to pay the Medicare Part B deductible ($155 in 2010) and up to $20 per office visit and up to $50 per emergency room visit.  That cost sharing may result in lower premiums, but if you frequent the doctor often, the premium savings will be offset by co-pays for visits to the doctor. Do the math to compare costs, and recognize that health can change in a minute – Are you prepared to pay the higher costs that could result? 

These changes make it more important than ever to shop and compare plans, benefits and total cost. If you are a member of the sandwich generation helping an older adult with their health care choices, make sure you ask a lot of questions before you consider a change to their plan just because of price.  Switching to a new plan may require underwriting.  If you speak with an agent who wants to switch you to a new plan from a different company than your current insurer, ask some questions.

Remember, the benefits of a Medicare supplement plan are the same no matter which insurance company you purchase a policy from — they are standardized.  But the price differences can be different and are from the prices I’ve seen so far for these new plans that start June 1.  Ask questions before you switch companies – about the stability of the company and its history on increasing rates and whether your application will be underwritten for medical conditions. 

Resources

To find out more about the changes in Medicare supplement plans,  you might want to read the free white paper “What’s all the noise about new Medicare plans” from Longevity Alliance. 

Buying A Medigap Policy booklet from Medicare– changes described

Written by Laura Rossman

May 4, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Watch Out For Medicare Scams

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There’s a lot of confusion among seniors about what the health care reform does and does not do regarding Medicare.

 And where there is confusion, there are scams.

 Door-to-door and on the phone the scam artists are trying to get Medicare numbers and bank account numbers from seniors,  telling them they need the information to sign them up for new benefits or to make sure their benefits will continue.

 “There is nothing called “Obama Care” and the government doesn’t sell insurance,” Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging, emphasized in a webchat today on seniors and health care reform. “If they say they are from the government they are scam artists.” 

These scammers are aggressive.  Reports are that on the phone, the caller asks for personal data like social security number, so a new Medicare card can be issued. Refuse and a second person posing as a supervisor gets on the line and says the information must be provided to remain in the Medicare program. Once they have the info, they use it to steal identities and tap into bank accounts.  Hang up! 

At the door, they say they are from the government selling the new Obamacare insurance that is required.  No one from the government comes knocking on your door selling insurance.  Close the door! (and don’t worry about being polite)

 Pass the word on to Medicare beneficiaries you know so they don’t get scammed.  The threat of losing Medicare can make people hand over information they normally wouldn’t.  Seven states –and increasing – are reporting scams.

 Scams should be reported to your state insurance department or office of attorneys general.

 Here are a couple other questions and answers from the session. (A recorded version will be posted at Healthcare Reform.gov

A. What decisions do Medicare recipients need to make now because of health care reform? 

There are no decisions that have to be made right now.  In the fall Medicare beneficiaries will have the opportunity to change plans (Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D just as they do each year.  The only immediate impact is the $250 rebate that will be provided to Part D policy holders who enter the “donut hole.”  The $250 rebate is automatically issued.  No forms.  No phone calls necessary.

 Q. Will Medicare Advantage be gone by 2014? 

Absolutely not true, Greenlee said.  There will continue to be choices in the future including private plan options. 

Q.  When do the annual wellness exams begin? 

January 1, 2011.

 There are more questions and answers at Healthcare.gov site regarding seniors, retirees under age 65 and Medicare recipients.

Best advice I heard today was to remind seniors that health care reform doesn’t require them to do anything new today, much less on their doorstep.  There is a lot of misinformation swirling around and especially targeted at the older generation.  If you know someone at risk, alert them to the potential scams.

Written by Laura Rossman

April 22, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Compare Medicare Part D Costs Before the Deadline

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We’re coming to the end of the Medicare Part D open enrollment period for prescription drug coverage.  If you or an elder you are watching out for has a Medicare Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage Plan with prescription drug coverage, the Dec. 31 is coming soon.

 I help my mom with her coverage and to tell you the truth I didn’t think there was any reason to make a change this year.  At least until she got her bill yesterday for 2010. 

The premiums almost doubled!  And while she does not take a lot of prescription drugs, I thought I better do what I tell others to do and check the options available to her.

I was surprised to find out how much the Medicare Part D landscape has changed.  Fewer plans, higher rates, shifting tiers (the level of payment the plan will cover according to it’s formulary).

I see the TV ads promising average savings of $400, $600 and wonder how can that be.  Well, now I see and it doesn’t take long to add up.  An increase of $10-15 per month in the cost of the plan, a shift in the formulary leading to even just $10 more per month adds up in no time at all.

 So, if you haven’t done it, take the time to compare.  Don’t assume the plan you have is the best value for 2010. And don’t get caught feeling bad for switching.  Even Medicrae tells you to shop and compare!

Go to Medicare.gov prescription drug comparison tool and take the time to put in the prescriptions that you or the person you are helping is currently taking (you’ll need the name of the drug, the dosage and frequency).  If you have their Medicare number you can have it compare against the current coverage.

You can purchase directly from the site, go to the health care plan itself or an insurance agent or broker who handles that plan.

If you aren’t sure, try a insurance broker that represents a number of companies and offers to help you compare plans.  The only caution here is if they are commission based, remember that they may receive more if the plan they sell you is more expensive.  So ask.  Some companies pay their agents a flat fee no matter what plan is selected which helps assure that your interests and theirs are aligned.

Looks like we’ll save about $300 by switching to a different part D plan.  Not that we were unhappy with them — just didn’t make financial sense to stay.  Nice way to start 2010.

Did you have a similar experience with part D this year?

Written by Laura Rossman

December 15, 2009 at 5:03 pm