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Guest Post by Danielle Roberts If the thought of retirement ignites thoughts of leisure, liberty, and a chance to give your mind and body a break from the restraints of routine, join the club. Still, as you reach this stage of life, it becomes increasingly clear that there is a lot to learn before you make the leap into retirement. You must start making major life decisions that involve tax-advantageous retirement account withdrawals, Social Security distributions, and the big one — enrolling in Medicare. But really, how hard can it be? Whether you are on an employer health plan or have an individual ACA plan, your coverage through Medicare is an entirely different ball game. The enrollment periods, rules, and plan options that Medicare offers can make the transition process appear daunting. Good news — if you follow three steps, you will be on your way to reaping the benefits of a national healthcare system that you have likely been paying into your whole working life. Step 1: Sign up for Original Medicare Original Medicare consists of Medicare Part A and Part B. You’ll enroll in Original Medicare through the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you start taking Social Security benefits four or more months before turning 65 years old, you will be auto-enrolled in both Part A and Part B. In this case, your Original Medicare will start on the 1st of your 65th birthday month. If you are not yet receiving Social Security benefits, you will need to apply for Original Medicare. The earliest you can apply for Original Medicare is three months before the 1st day of your 65th birthday month. That day is the start of your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) — this period lasts for a total of seven months, running an additional three months after your 65th birth month. Example If you turn 65 in June, your IEP starts March 1st and ends September 30th. During this time, you can apply for Original Medicare online at SSA’s website. If you do so during the first three months of your IEP, your Medicare will start on the 1st of your 65th birthday month. Apply any time after that but still during your IEP, and your coverage could be delayed one to three months. Failure to enroll in Original Medicare during your IEP could result in lifelong late penalties. However, if you plan to work past 65 for an employer who has 20 or more employees and plan to stay on their group health insurance, you will likely be able to delay signing up for Original Medicare beyond your IEP. Step 2: Pick a Medicare route There are two paths you can choose once enrolled in Medicare – Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage. Many Medicare beneficiaries choose the Original Medicare path. If you choose Original Medicare, you should consider enrolling in a Medicare Supplement plan to help offset the cost-sharing expenses such as deductibles and coinsurance. How to sign up for a Medicare Supplement Medicare Supplement plans (also known as Medigap plans) pay secondary to Original Medicare and cover things like your Part A deductible, Part A coinsurance, and Part B coinsurance. Without a Medigap plan, you will be responsible for all cost-sharing amounts Original Medicare throws your way, without any maximum out-of-pocket limit. Your Medigap Open Enrollment window will start the same day as your Medicare Part B effective date. This window lasts six months and is the best time to enroll in a Medigap plan as there are no health questions. In this time, you cannot be denied a Medigap plan due to pre-existing health conditions. After your Medigap Open Enrollment window has ended, you can still apply for a Medigap plan but will likely have to answer health questions. Medigap plans are labeled from A to N. These plans are standardized by Medicare so that regardless of the insurance carrier you go through, your coverage is the same. Example A Plan G offered by ABC Company for $199 per month will have the exact same coverage as Plan G offered by XYZ Company for $129 per month. These plans are sold by private insurance carriers but always standardized by Medicare. Once you have determined which letter plan is the right fit for you, find a Medicare broker who can compare all or most carriers in your area by premium, average rate increase history, and financial rating. It can be tempting to pick a plan and go with the first option you see or with a company you’ve known for years. Since these plans are standardized, it is in your best interest to compare companies by more than just their brand recognition. How to sign up for Medicare Advantage plans Now, if you’re like 39 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, you may decide a Medicare Advantage plan is the most cost-effective path for you. If so, you’ll still need to sign up for Original Medicare but instead will get your coverage through a private insurance carrier. Medicare Advantage plans, also called Part C plans, are an alternative to Original Medicare, and like Medigap plans, are sold by private insurance carriers. This type of plan works similarly to group health plans. They generally have networks, copays, and built-in drug benefits. The earliest you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan is during your Initial Election Period, which coincidentally is usually identical to your Initial Enrollment Period mentioned above. While your Initial Enrollment Period is dependent upon your 65th birthday month, your Initial Election Period is dependent upon your Part A effective date. Unlike Medigap plans, Medicare Advantage plans never have any health questions to answer when applying for coverage. However, also unlike Medigap plans, you can’t apply for Medicare Advantage plans at any time throughout the year. If you miss your Initial Election Period, you’ll have to wait until the fall Annual Election Period (AEP) to sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan. The AEP runs from October 15th–December 7th every year. A Medicare broker can help you compare several Medicare Advantage plans from several carriers to help you find one that your most important doctors accept, covers your medications, and offers the benefits that are most important to you. Step 3: Sign up for Medicare Part D The third step to signing up for Medicare is to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan. If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that includes a Part D plan, you can bypass this step. A Medicare Part D plan will provide you with prescription drug coverage. The initial window to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan is the same as your Medicare Advantage Initial Election Period. If you miss this election period or want to change Part D plans later, you’ll have to wait until the AEP unless you qualify for a special election period. You should consider enrolling in a Part D plan during your Initial Election Period, even if you aren’t currently taking prescription medications, so you can avoid a lifelong late penalty. Stay on top of your coverage Make it through these three steps and you are that much closer to the leisure and liberty that retirement can offer. That said, if anyone tells you it is smooth sailing ahead once you’ve signed up for Medicare, they aren’t painting the full picture for you. The truth is issues do come up with Medicare and premiums do increase. Each year, you’ll want to compare your Medicare plans, such as Medigap, Medicare Advantage, and Part D plans, with others in your area. Medigap plans can change their premiums, and Medicare Advantage and Part D plans can also change their premiums and benefits from year to year. Therefore, you’ll want to shop other plans annually to ensure you’re always enrolled in the most cost-effective plans available to you. Danielle Roberts is a Medicare expert and the co-founder of Boomer Benefits, a licensed insurance agency that helps baby boomers navigate their entry into Medicare in 48 states. She and her team have helped more than 50,000 Medicare beneficiaries make their transition to Medicare at retirement. She is also the author of the best-selling book 10 Costly Medicare Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make, which helps beneficiaries avoid critical but all too common Medicare pitfalls. Danielle is a member of the Forbes Finance Council and a past president of the Fort Worth chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters. She now serves on the state board as its Medicare chairperson.
One of the two Medicare enrollment periods that start the new year is Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment. (The other is the General Enrollment Period.) We've gathered the information you need to know about this enrollment period to help you determine whether or not you can participate and what action you want to take. Key Facts Eligibility: Currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage planEnrollment Dates: January 1 through March 31 annuallyCoverage Start Date: New coverage starts the first of the month after new plan receives notificationAction to Take: Choose a different Medicare Advantage plan or switch to Original Medicare with the option to enroll in a prescription drug plan. What to expect This enrollment period allows you to make changes if your current Medicare Advantage plan no longer meets your needs. Medicare Advantage plans are subject to change, and you may have switched to a new Medicare Advantage plan during the Annual Election Period without realizing the full implications. Fortunately, you have from January 1 through March 31 to make one change. You can either enroll in a new Medicare Advantage plan or switch to Original Medicare. As you decide whether or not to make a change, HMS director of quality programs and Medicare strategy Anne Davis suggests considering the following questions: "How has your experience been with your plan to date? Often the first few experiences will have been with your medications and prescription drug plan (if you enrolled in one) – are all of your medications covered? Are you having any trouble with accessing the care you need? Have you interacted with customer service or care management? How were those experiences? Did you experience a positive care transition? (Think about your relationships with your providers, medication transitions, any provider network changes). Have you reviewed your plan materials and had any questions answered?" How to make changes If you're switching to a new Medicare Advantage plan, you'll need to communicate with the private insurer sponsoring your plan. You can also work with a trusted insurance agent to help you with this process. If you're switching to Original Medicare, you can work with your current Medicare Advantage plan to drop coverage or call Medicare. When you make this change, you're also able to enroll in a prescription drug plan. Original Medicare does not offer prescription drug coverage, so purchasing a prescription drug plan can be a good idea. (Medicare Advantage plans offer qualifying drug coverage.) Prescription drug plans are offered by private insurers. You can work directly with the insurance company offering the plan or with a trusted insurance agent to enroll. Coverage offered Medicare Advantage plans cover the same services Original Medicare does. These plans also offer qualifying prescription drug coverage, so you don't have to buy another plan. If you're planning to switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan, use our checklist to help you find a plan that meets your needs. Original Medicare consists of two parts: Part A and Part B. Part A is hospital insurance. Part B is medical insurance. When you switch to Original Medicare, you'll want to look at Medicare prescription drug plans offered by private insurance companies to ensure coverage for medications. Check out our guide to evaluating a prescription drug plan. Unlike Medicare Advantage plans, Original Medicare does not have annual out-of-pocket limits. Out-of-pocket limits help you control your spending on health care. Instead, you can purchase a Medigap plan from a private insurer to help with out-of-pocket costs for Original Medicare. Since you're applying for Medigap coverage outside of its unique open enrollment period, your policy will go through underwriting to determine insurability. Best Medicare Companies Learn more about top Medicare companies by reading customer reviews. Learn More
Medicare's many enrollment periods can be confusing, which makes it easy to miss an enrollment opportunity. Missing a timely enrollment can lead to higher premiums and leave you without needed coverage. The beginning of each year brings two simultaneous Medicare enrollment periods: General Enrollment and Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment. We'll cover everything you need to know about the General Enrollment Period here. For more information on Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment, read our other article. Key facts Eligibility: Missed your Initial Enrollment Period and are not eligible for a Special Enrollment PeriodEnrollment Dates: January 1 through March 31 annuallyCoverage Start Date: July 1Actions to Take: Enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B Note: The 2020 BENES Act made changes to the General Enrollment Period. These changes will start January 1, 2023. The new General Enrollment Period dates will be October 1 through December 31. Your coverage will start at the beginning of the month after the month you enroll. Learn more about these changes from BoomerBenefits. What to expect If you're enrolling in Medicare during the General Enrollment period, be prepared to see higher prices for premiums. These higher prices result from financial penalties for not enrolling in Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period to prevent people from only buying coverage when they need it. With Part A, your premium may increase 10 percent for late enrollment. Fortunately, you won't have to pay the higher premium for as long as you keep Part A. You'll only pay the higher premium for the number of years you didn't have Part A times two. So, one year without Part A means two years of paying a higher premium for Part A once you enroll. Part B premiums can increase 10 percent for each year you didn't have Part B. In this case, years are 12-month periods, not necessarily calendar years. Unlike the Part A penalty, the Part B penalty is permanent. How to enroll You'll need to work with Social Security to enroll in Part A and Part B. You can apply online, over the phone, or in-person. If you just need to add Part B enrollment, you'll need to complete form CMS-40B, the Application for Enrollment in Part B. Coverage offered If you're enrolling in Original Medicare, keep in mind that there aren't annual out-of-pocket maximums. Out-of-pocket maximums help control your medical costs because once this limit is reached, the insurer will take responsibility for costs of covered care. Since Original Medicare doesn't have these out-of-pocket limits, you'll want to consider enrolling in a Medigap plan. Medigap plans also don't have out-of-pocket limits. However, these plans offer additional cost-sharing beyond what Medicare Part A and Part B do. As you apply for a Medigap plan, keep in mind that you will likely have to go through underwriting before being issued a policy. Depending on your circumstance, you may not pass underwriting. Original Medicare also doesn't cover prescriptions. You'll need to buy a prescription drug plan from a private insurer for this coverage. You can buy a prescription drug plan April 1 through June 30th after your Part A and Part B sign-up during General Enrollment. As you consider prescription drug plans, use this checklist to ensure that your needs are met and don't forget to read customer reviews. Some Medicare beneficiaries opt for a Medicare Advantage plan instead of signing up for Original Medicare. While you can only sign up for Original Medicare during General Enrollment, you can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan April 1st through June 30th following your enrollment in Part A and Part B. Best Medicare Companies Learn more about top Medicare companies by reading customer reviews. Learn More
Guest Post by Lindsay Engle Technology offers increased access to health care via telehealth and telemedicine. For years, expanding telehealth has been a priority in the United States, especially to improve health care in rural areas. Yet, due to the global health crisis, these services are more widely available than before through Medicare. Beneficiaries should be aware of what types of virtual care receive coverage. What's covered Telehealth is a broader term that includes telemedicine, which refers to virtual, clinical services. Its use began as a way for people who live in rural areas to access medical professionals whose care was previously unavailable to them. Further, utilizing this technology reduces the burden on health care workers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, and even before, Medicare has been expanding telehealth coverage. As the goal is to replicate an in-person office visit as much as possible, telehealth visits must happen in real-time. The visits most commonly take place over video conference. The only exceptions are in Alaska and Hawaii, where Medicare pays for the use of asynchronous store-and-forward technology. One of the first questions participants have is what virtual services Medicare covers. Telehealth services that receive coverage from Medicare include: Doctor visits, including preventive health visits Evaluations for physical therapy and occupational therapy Speech therapy Psychotherapy and other mental health services Treatment for substance abuse disorders COVID-19 evaluation To receive this care, the patient must be at home or in a permitted facility. However, there is no location restriction for the practitioner. The practitioner then determines whether subsequent care is necessary. Telehealth receives coverage through Part B of Medicare. Part B is outpatient coverage, which also pays for standard doctor visits. The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2017 expanded telehealth under Medicare. Telehealth is part of Medicare's chronic care management program, which provides care for such conditions as cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. Virtual services offer patients a way to check in easily with their physicians and prevent future hospital stays. As of 2019, CMS made some changes that made telehealth more widely available, including the ability for those in need of renal dialysis to receive these services at a facility or home. Additionally, the services are available to those suffering from an acute stroke no matter their location. Medicare also covers remote patient monitoring for chronic and acute conditions. Remote patient monitoring utilizes technology to obtain patient data, such as heart rate and blood pressure. Physicians can review and analyze this data to make recommendations for health care. Medicare telehealth costs Those with Original Medicare pay 20 percent while Medicare covers the remaining 80 percent. If you have a Medigap plan, that 20 percent also receives coverage. Before scheduling a telehealth appointment, make sure Medicare covers the service that you need. The cost of telehealth services varies due to several factors. The best way to find out how much you'll be paying is by speaking to your provider. To keep telehealth costs low, make sure your provider accepts Medicare assignment. If you have an Advantage plan, make sure they are in your network. The amounts that doctors charge vary, and the type of facility where your doctor practices can also influence the price. Although telehealth is convenient, its costs are comparable to those for in-person health care. Thus, the pricing is consistent with the contention that telehealth is an equivalent form of care. Yet, some health care providers have been waiving their telehealth costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicare Advantage plans and telehealth Since 2020, Advantage plan participants have access to a wide range of telemedicine benefits. These plans may offer more of this type of benefit than Original Medicare, meaning that they include services not covered by Part B. However, what's covered may differ by plan. The best way to find out what your Advantage plan offers is to check with your carrier. Expansion of telehealth coverage during COVID-19 During the global health crisis, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is increasing its coverage for telehealth services. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act makes this possible. Due to temporarily relaxed HIPAA guidelines, beneficiaries and doctors can now use their smartphones and tablets to communicate. Audio-only telehealth services are allowed under these waivers, which will continue until the end of the public health emergency. Generally, Medicare will only reimburse a live videoconference. The waiver also makes these remote services available to new patients, rather than only established patients, as outlined previously. Adjustments such as these increase the number of people telehealth can help at this time. This expansion is essential to slow the virus's spread, as it protects the patient and others with whom they might otherwise come into contact. Many providers waive fees for telehealth appointments to screen for COVID-19. Several changes will be here to stay beyond the pandemic to make health care more accessible. These include telehealth for group psychotherapy, neurobehavioral status exams, and home visits with patients and/or family. Medicare covers virtual check-ins and E-visits during the pandemic to treat COVID-19 and for other medically necessary purposes. These are not technically telehealth services, but they involve technology and receive coverage through Part B of Medicare. Through a virtual check-in, you can use audio or video to communicate, and your practitioner can respond via phone, secure text message, email, patient portal, or audio/visit. E-visits involve the use of a patient portal to talk to providers. It's necessary to speak with your practitioner before starting either virtual check-ins or E-visits. Also important to note is that virtual check-ins cannot be related to visits from the past week or lead to an appointment the next day (or soonest available). Practitioners can also remotely assess images or videos provided by the patient. Both virtual check-ins and E-visits are only for established patients, unlike telehealth visits, which new patients can access during the pandemic waiver. The future of telehealth and Medicare Medicare beneficiaries are generally at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, so the program must offer protections. As technology improves and the pandemic continues, telehealth will become a mainstay in health care. The convenience of remote health care is sure to leave its mark on the population, and Medicare will likely adjust to accommodate more of these services in the near future. Lindsay Engle is the Medicare expert for MedicareFAQ. She has been working in the Medicare space since 2017. She is featured in many publications and writes regularly for expert columns. She has a passion for sharing her expertise about Medicare to beneficiaries so they can better prepare for health care costs after retirement. You can find her on YouTube where she is featured on a channel for Medicare beneficiaries to become educated on all their options. For more on telemedicine, visit these BestCompany.com articles: What to Expect from Telemedicine Telemedicine: What You Need to Know
If you opted for Medicare Part A and Part B, you don't have coverage for prescriptions. Fortunately, you can purchase a separate plan from a private insurer to cover your medications. If you delay enrollment in a prescription drug plan or lapse in coverage, you'll be charged higher premiums for the delay. If you anticipate needing medications in the future, it can be smart to buy and maintain a plan sooner rather than later. As you look for the best fit, here are five things to evaluate before choosing a prescription drug plan: Pharmacy Network Drug Formulary Cost Medicare Star Ratings Customer Reviews 1. Pharmacy Network Prescription drug plans have pharmacy networks. Be sure that there's an in-network pharmacy in your area before you buy a plan. If you fill prescriptions out-of-network, you may not have coverage for your medications. Generally, prescription drug plans also cover mail delivery. Opting into this service makes getting your medications convenient and saves you a trip to the pharmacy. "Coverage for mail delivery of prescription drugs has become an important plan feature in 2020 with the elevated risks of going inside a pharmacy due to potential COVID-19 exposure," says Christian Worstell, licensed health insurance agent. 2. Drug Formulary Checking the drug formulary is perhaps the most important part of evaluating a prescription drug plan. The drug formulary is the list of medications that your plan covers, so you need to check to see if your medications are covered by the plan. "To make this process easier, write down a list of your drugs that you use regularly or ones that you may need if you have a medical episode. Also, consider any potential changes in your health this year that may require medication next year. Drug Name Dosage (750 mg, 1 mcg, etc.) Frequency (2 times per day for 30 days = 60 pills per month) Optional — Why do you take this medication? Optional — Which doctor prescribed this medication? Keep this list in a safe place and try to remember to update it when your meds change. This is also useful for a family member should you need help picking up or managing your medications," says Bethanie Nonami of Real Talk Medicare. Multiple medications treat the same illness or symptom. Medicare categorizes medications based on what they treat. Plans are not required to cover every drug that treats a diagnosis, but must cover at least two of those medications. "Every year, Medicare defines a list of covered drugs. But every plan doesn’t offer every drug that is available to us or approved by Medicare. Every year the list of formularies change. You should do your due diligence to verify with your plan or proposed plan for 2021, if your drugs are covered," says Nonami. If you have prescriptions that are working for you, you'll want to be sure that your prescription drug plan covers these specific medications. Even if you plan to keep your current prescription drug plan during an Annual Election Period, double-check the formulary because the drug list can change. "You can search online to verify the Formularies that your Medicare Insurance plan covers. The Formulary List is a list of what drugs are covered. This comprehensive list that often breaks the drugs out by Tiers, Drug Dosages, Requirements, and Limits. Your insurance company has their own version of a Formulary List, which may also be called a Prescription Drug List (PDL). In fact, many insurance companies have multiple Formulary Lists. Before you look for your drugs triple check the Formulary List for two critical components: First, make sure you are looking at the PDL for the next plan year of 2021, not the current year. Second, please make sure that you are viewing PDL for your plan for your state. Plans, coverages, and limitations may vary by state," says Nonami. If there are prescriptions that are not covered by your plan that you'd like to have covered, you can look for another plan or work through your plan's prior authorization for step therapy. You may have to start with a less expensive, generic medication to see if it's effective first. Your doctor can also work with your insurer for an exception to allow you to start directly with the more expensive medication with coverage if the generic one would cause adverse health effects or if it's medically necessary to start with the more expensive drug. 3. Cost Aside from evaluating the monthly premiums, you also need to consider the out-of-pocket costs. Medications are categorized in tiers, and each tier has different cost-sharing rules. Look for how your prescriptions are categorized under your plan and project your out-of-pocket costs for your medications. "Do you prefer a higher monthly premium in exchange for a lower deductible or cost-sharing? Or would you rather pay less upfront per month but pay a little more for each prescription? There's no universal right or wrong and each plan shopper should ask themselves how they would most prefer to spend their money," says Worstell. You'll also need to consider the coverage gap. Your plan has limits on the amount it contributes to your prescriptions. When the insurer has reached its limit, you'll be charged higher copays for your medications until the gap is closed. 4. Medicare Star Ratings The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rate Medicare prescription drug plans each year. These ratings score the quality of prescription drug plans by considering clinical recommendations and plan member feedback. Five is the highest rating. New plans are not rated. "Plan quality should not be ignored either. Each year, plans are rated on a scale of one to five stars for quality and customer experience. Shoppers should pay attention to a plan's rating before buying," says Worstell. 5. Customer Reviews Customer reviews also offer insight into the customer experience with Medicare prescription drug plans. While reviews are sorted by company, reading reviews can help you understand how an insurer treats its Medicare plan members. Pay attention to what plan reviewers mention. Private insurers offer Medicare Advantage, prescription drug, and Medicare supplement (Medigap) insurance plans. Weigh what reviewers writing about prescription drug plans say over what Medicare Advantage or Medigap members say. Note what year the reviews are from. Prescription drug plans can change, so the most recent reviews are the most helpful, even though the plans may change each year. You can trust the reviews on Best Company because we do not repress reviews. All reviews that pass our verification process are published — positive or negative. Our verification process helps prevent the publication of fake reviews. Medicare Customer Reviews Learn more about Medicare companies by looking at the customer ratings and reviews. Learn More
When you become eligible for Medicare, you have lots of decisions to make. You can opt for Original Medicare, which is managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or a Medicare Advantage plan offered by a private insurer. If you're looking for a Medicare Advantage plan — whether it's your first time enrolling in Medicare or you're participating in Medicare's Annual Election Period — here are six things you need to consider before buying in a Medicare Advantage plan: Provider Network Drug Formulary Cost Additional Coverage Medicare Star Rating Customer Reviews 1. Provider Network Unlike Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans have set provider networks. These networks can be specific to your plan and to your area. "The first and most important factor are networks. You want to make sure your regular doctors accept your plan and your preferred healthcare facilities nearby are also in their network. You should compare PPO and HMO plans to see where you have the best access to care," says Adam Hyers, Hyers and Associates, Inc. If your Medicare Advantage plan has an Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) network structure, you'll only have insurance coverage when you visit in-network providers. If you have a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network structure, you'll have the flexibility to visit out-of-network providers with higher out-of-pocket costs. If you're considering a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure to check your provider network to make sure there are doctors in your area who can give you the care you need. Most insurers offer an online "Find a Provider" tool that allows you to search for doctors in your area that accept your plan. Since networks can change, it's worth reaching out directly to doctor's offices to double-check that they'll continue to accept your plan in 2021 before you enroll in it again. 2. Drug Formulary Most Medicare Advantage plans include qualifying prescription drug coverage. If your Medicare Advantage plan offers this coverage, you don't need to purchase a separate plan to cover prescriptions. As you evaluate Medicare Advantage plans, check the drug formulary to make sure that the medications you need are covered. Even if they're covered on your current plan, they may not be covered for 2021. If there's a medication that you think may work better than your current medication, you should also look for that drug to be listed on the formulary and how cost-sharing works. "Some Medicare Advantage plans will give you better pricing on your prescriptions than others. All other things being nearly equal, prescription costs can be a differentiating factor," says Hyers. In addition to checking that your medications are listed on your plan's formulary, you should also pay attention to what tier they fall under. Each tier has different cost-sharing rules. Some tiers have higher out-of-pocket costs. Understanding how your drugs are categorized will help you anticipate costs. The insurance company should provide you with the drug formulary before you enroll in a plan. You may be able to find it online as you learn about plans online. 3. Cost As you look at Medicare Advantage plans, you'll want to consider the out-of-pocket costs and any monthly premium amounts you'll have. "Many Medicare Advantage plans these days are offering a $0 premium, so the deductible and copayments or coinsurance requirements are deserving of a closer look," says Christian Worstell, licensed insurance agent. Low monthly premiums are especially friendly when you're on a fixed income dealing with a rising cost of living. "Before you enroll in an Advantage plan, it’s important to understand why these plans have low to zero dollar premiums. They come with many additional out of pocket costs in the form of copays, deductibles, and coinsurance. Medicare pays the Advantage carrier around $1,000 per month to take on your risk. Then they collect cost-sharing from the beneficiary as they use the benefits," says Lindsay Engle, Medicare expert. Knowing that you'll likely be taking more responsibility out-of-pocket for your care, project your prescription and medical services costs based on what you predict you'll need. Consider the copays or coinsurance, the annual deductible, and out-of-pocket maximum. Understanding these costs will help you find a plan that will protect your budget and meet your needs in the long-run. 4. Additional Features Medicare Advantage plans are required to cover the same services that Medicare does. With prescriptions, Medicare groups similar medications and plans have to cover at least one drug per group. Medicare Advantage plans often include additional coverage. Some plans offer some dental, vision, and hearing coverage. Medicare Advantage programs may also include fitness programs, access to telemedicine, and other features. Keep in mind that the additional coverage offered by Medicare Advantage may not be as robust as choosing a separate dental or vision plan. However, the additional coverage and features can be nice perks of choosing a Medicare Advantage plan. Some Medicare Advantage plans are Special Needs plans. These plans are tailored to meet the specific needs like dual eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid or chronic illness. If you have specific needs, looking into a Special Needs plan may be beneficial. 5. Medicare Star Rating The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rates Medicare Advantage plans annually for the quality of their services. These ratings consider clinical recommendations and plan member feedback. These quality ratings can help you understand the care quality offered through Medicare Advantage plans. New Medicare Advantage plans are not rated. 6. Customer Reviews Customer reviews can also help you evaluate how well insurers treat their members. Each member's experience will vary based on their personal needs, location, and plan; however, reviews can also help you gauge the quality offered by an insurance company. You can trust reviews posted on Best Company because we have a verification process to ensure that reviews are left by real people. We also don't suppress reviews, so you can get an unfiltered understanding of the customer experience with insurers. As you read customer reviews, pay attention to what reviewers say about their plan. Private insurers offer Medicare Advantage, prescription drug, and Medigap plans. Give more weight to reviewers that have a similar plan to the one you're looking for. This will help you get a better sense of how good the plans you need are from the insurer. Medicare Customer Reviews Learn more about Medicare companies by looking at the customer ratings and reviews. Learn More
The Medicare Annual Election Period is coming up. You'll receive an Annual Notice of Change (ANoC) in September to notify you of any changes to your current Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan. The Annual Election Period (AEP) for 2021 Medicare plans starts October 15, 2020 and ends December 7, 2020. To help you have a successful AEP, BestCompany.com worked with MedicareFAQ to create a guide with everything you need to know. In the guide, you'll find the following: A refresher on Medicare, including how it works and key terms An overview of what you can do during the AEP Questions you should ask Steps you should take A Medicare AEP checklist Tips on what to look for in an insurance company Customer reviews 2020 Medicare Annual Election Period Guide Use our cobranded guide to help you be confident when you go through this year's Annual Election Period for Medicare. Download Guide
Guest Post by Jan Dubauskas Seniors are technologically savvy and engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors are connecting with their health care and are thoughtfully considering which Medicare plans are right for their needs. In a recent survey of Medicare eligible seniors from Healthinsurance.com, respondents revealed, among other things, that they are concerned with the costs of health care and are avid readers of internet research. In fact, seniors are far more tech savvy than we may have expected. An incredible 78 percent of the survey’s seniors research their Medicare options online where they can find information on all of their top priorities, such as: Are my doctors in the insurance company’s network? What are the costs for prescriptions, copays? What is the monthly premium? And does the plan offer dental, vision, hearing, or fitness benefits? Researching online gives seniors the ability to thoughtfully research Medicare options, at their own pace, and find the right plan to fit their budget and needs. While an overwhelming number of seniors research their Medicare options online, we might expect that the same amount of seniors buy their plan online as well. However, it is interesting to note that only 44 percent of respondents actually purchase a plan online. Instead, seniors still favor the opportunity to work with an agent to make their final purchasing decisions, so much so that 56 percent either purchased a Medicare plan in-person with their agent or over the telephone. The coronavirus pandemic has caused seniors to carefully consider their in-person social interactions with family and friends as well as their exposure to crowds; and this is impacting their medical care. Many seniors have deferred medical treatment to avoid catching the virus at the doctor’s office. To maintain social distancing and stay healthy, six in ten seniors have only left their homes to go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy during the pandemic. And more than half of seniors have put off a dental appointment due to the pandemic. Fortunately, for seniors who had been avoiding the doctor’s office, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently expanded telemedicine services to cover those with Medicare. By expanding telemedicine services, CMS gave seniors greater access to telemedicine to help them continue to receive the routine care that they need, at a price they can afford, from the comfort and safety of their homes. In an compelling twist, seniors are making use of CMS’s Medicare expansion of telemedicine. During the pandemic, 44 percent of the survey’s seniors have taken advantage of the opportunity to speak with their provider over the telephone or via video for routine matters. Considering that only 10 percent of seniors used telemedicine before the coronavirus pandemic, an incredible 340 percent increase in telemedicine use among seniors is an example of how seniors have adapted to the circumstances and embraced technology to help take care of their health care needs. As the health care debate continues in Washington, D.C., seniors are concerned about rising health care costs. Two-thirds of the survey’s seniors are worried about out-of-pocket medical costs, in spite of the cost limitations of their Medicare plans. And more than just out-of-pocket costs, 35 percent of the survey respondents are worried about contracting COVID-19 because they may be hit with a surprise medical bill. Seniors are users of prescription medications and have an acute awareness of the prices for prescriptions. Although Medicare covers many prescriptions, 89 percent of the survey’s respondents believe that prescription drug costs are too high, and one-third of respondents spend more than $50 per month on prescription drugs. In response to concerns with rising prescription costs, President Trump recently introduced four Executive Orders that, if enacted, would reduce kickbacks, allow for importation of drugs, and importantly for seniors, would ensure pricing parity with similarly situated countries for our Medicare Part B prescriptions. One of the benefits of a Medicare plan is that the costs of health care providers who accept Medicare are limited to Medicare’s schedule and have a limit on billing to seniors. In spite of these plan provisions, six in ten seniors are concerned about unexpected medical bills so much so that 36 percent of seniors have put off seeing a doctor because of cost. However, as far as future costs are concerned, only 50 percent of respondents say they have money set aside for their family to use for their future health needs. Generally, seniors are pleased with their Medicare plans, so much so that 51 percent of respondents believe that the age to be eligible for Medicare should be lowered to 60. And of those who have a Medicare Advantage plan, more than two-thirds are happy with their plan. Seniors are becoming more tech savvy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors are using technology to research Medicare plans and conduct telemedicine visits. And although seniors are social distancing, they are technologically connected and thoughtfully engaged with their health care. Jan Dubauskas is a health care expert, enthusiastic insurance pro, attorney and mom serving as Vice President of healthinsurance.com.
Guest Post by Dennis Ho The COVID-19 crisis has many people concerned about long-term care, whether they will need care for an age-related condition or one that strikes at random. If a person becomes too ill or disabled to care for themselves and needs long-term care, costs could add up quickly. According to the 2019 Lincoln Financial Cost of Care Survey, the national average cost for a home health aid is $25 per hour. Having an aid visit a few hours a week might be manageable, but if you need someone for 40 hours per week, costs could run $52,000 per year on average. According to the same survey, an assisted living facility averages $58,464 per year and a nursing home averages a whopping $110,595 per year. What most people do not know is that private health insurance and Medicare do not generally cover such care, and Medicaid will only pay when a person has depleted the vast majority of their assets, potentially leaving their spouse or family living in poverty. The good news is that long-term care insurance (LTCi) remains a viable option. LTCi provides benefits to help pay for care if you need help with your daily living activities such as getting around, dressing, bathing or eating. LTCi offers the flexibility to pay for care without burdening one’s family, physically or financially. And because people who need long-term care get care on average for about three years, having insurance can mean protecting hundreds of thousands of dollars of your hard-earned retirement assets. When you purchase a policy, you decide on the monthly benefit amount you’d like to receive if you need care and also a total benefit pool. For example, you might choose a policy that pays up to $6,000 per month for care with a total pool of $216,000. If you qualify for benefits, you can draw up to the monthly amount until your total benefits are exhausted. In the policy above, this means you could draw up to $6,000 per month to pay for care. If you used this full amount every month, you would have three full years of coverage before the $216,000 was exhausted. If you used less in any month, the difference would remain in the benefit pool and you could use it in the future. To help people learn more about long-term care insurance and to get a sense for the cost, Saturday Insurance offers a free online long-term care insurance assessment that’s available here. Shopping for coverage If you’re interested in exploring insurance, LTCi is available all the way up to age 79. Here are some tips to help you find coverage that’s right for you: Assess your coverage goals. How much does care cost in your area? What are your goals for insurance: Do you want maximum coverage so you could afford a nursing home or just basic coverage that will pay for home care? There are a range of insurance products available, so having a clear sense for your goals will make it easier to assess which products fit and which don’t. Set aside a clear budget. It’s easy to be scared into buying as much coverage as possible, but insurance won’t do you any good if you can’t afford to keep the policy. Also, you want to keep enough funds to support other retirement needs. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 10%–15% of your retirement savings on LTC insurance. Be open to a range of solutions. The two most popular types of LTCi policies are “Traditional Policies” and “Hybrid Policies.” The long-term care benefits work the same way, but how you pay for the policies, what benefits you receive if you don’t need care, and various other guarantees are different. Which one is right for you will depend on your personal situation and preferences, so make sure to explore both initially. This will give you the best chance of finding the right coverage for your situation. Related to this, make sure to work with an independent agent that can show you multiple options and not one that only offers products from one insurer. Buy from a reputable insurer. Since you might hang onto your LTCi policy for 30 years or more, it’s worth reiterating that you should only purchase from reputable and financially strong insurers. Don’t drag your heels. Long-term care planning is one of those topics that’s easy to put off. Yes, waiting a year or two probably won’t change the price dramatically, assuming insurers leave their current pricing unchanged. However, that’s a big assumption. Due to low interest rates and concerns about the risk, insurers across the industry have been raising their prices over the past few years. Buying earlier will give you the best chance of locking in the lowest prices. In addition, underwriting is fairly strict. If you develop certain health conditions, insurance might not be available at any price. Perhaps the most important thing to know about LTCi is that it can be incredibly valuable for individuals and families in that the right policy will allow them to make their own decisions about how they will be cared for when help is needed. Dennis Ho is a life actuary and chief executive of Saturday Insurance, an independent, online insurance agency that helps people shop for life, disability, and long-term-care insurance. Prior to co-founding Saturday Insurance, Dennis spent 20 years in the insurance industry in a variety of actuarial, finance and business roles. He has been a contributor to Humble Dollar, Kiplinger, and other publications.
Guest Post by Lindsay Engle COVID-19 has made an impact on the world over the last couple of months, especially here in the United States. As if choosing a Medicare plan before wasn't complicated enough, we now have a new monkey wrench — a global pandemic. It's time to pay attention when choosing Medicare coverage to ensure you’re making the decision that’s best for you long-term. 2020 Medicare Annual Election Period Guide We worked with MedicareFAQ to create this guide to help you be confident when you go through this year's Annual Election Period for Medicare. Download Guide Choosing coverage Understanding your Medicare coverage can be cumbersome. Like all major life decisions, there are a plethora of considerations to take, especially now with the pandemic looming overhead. While it’s easy to impulsively choose the plan that seems to provide the best coverage at the lowest cost, you'll want to remember these seven things when beginning your Medicare journey and weigh all options thoroughly: Cost Quality of care Coverages Prescription coverage Extra coverage Travel Doctor and hospital choices Costs Like most people, you’ll need to budget your finances accordingly. Health insurance is generally known to be costly, and many people who enroll in Medicare are on fixed incomes due to retirement. Cost becomes an even larger factor now, considering the drastic changes we’ve seen with our economy over the last several weeks and millions of Americans have lost their income as a result. But with the continued spread of the coronavirus, health insurance costs are incredibly crucial right now. You'll want to consider how much you'll be paying in copays, deductibles, and premiums, and if you’ll have an annual limit. To help reduce some of your expenses, you can opt into buying a Medicare Supplement plan. Another option is looking into a Medicare Advantage policy — once you reach a specific limit each year, you won't be responsible for extra charges for the rest of the year. However, there is a drawback to buying into an Advantage policy. Medicare Advantage plans have their own networks of doctors and hospitals, and if you end up seeing a doctor out of network, you could be on the hook for all costs. Considering all possible costs before making a decision can help save you hundreds of dollars. Quality of care Another important thing to consider in times like these is the level of care you'll be receiving. You'll want to work with an insurance company that is taking the initiative to help its members. Many insurance companies are waiving fees for COVID-19 telehealth appointments right now, and doctors and hospitals are also taking many steps to help protect their patients. The quality of the care you receive can make all the difference in a stressful situation. Coverages How comprehensive is your Medicare coverage? With many different plan options, this will be one of your biggest considerations. COVID-19 can have a detrimental effect on people of all ages, but particularly those who are over 65. Should you wind up getting seriously ill, will your coverage be able to cover days or weeks in the hospital? By choosing a plan with comprehensive coverage, you'll likely save yourself money. If you need a two-week stay in your local hospital, you could quickly rack up tens of thousands in bills. Part A and B don't generally cover everything you may need coverage-wise, so it’s usually a smart investment to buy a supplemental plan. Prescription coverage While there may not be any medications available for COVID-19 right now, that could change. Plus, you may already be on certain medications that need coverage. Medicare won’t cover your prescription costs, so there are a couple of different routes you can take. You may choose to buy a Part D prescription drug plan, or you may decide to buy a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage. Perhaps you decide to forego a prescription plan. But if you end up skipping the drug coverage, you may regret that decision. Prescription drug costs can be abundant — some of the medications in today's market end up costing thousands every single month. If you're not in the position to pay enormous amounts in drug costs, a drug plan is the best way to go. Extra coverage Not everyone who joins Medicare only has Medicare health coverage. Many people have prescription or health coverage through their employers. If you are still working, there is the option to remain on your employer’s group health insurance plan, and how your Medicare benefits coordinate with this coverage depends on the size of the company. If you work for an employer with over 20 employees, your group plan will be primary, meaning they pay first, then Medicare, and if you work for a company with less than 20 employees, your Medicare plan will be primary. Regardless, it’s advised to enroll in Part A once eligible as the premium is free if you’ve paid enough Medicare taxes and it can help keep costs lower if a hospital stay becomes necessary. If you have small group insurance (fewer than 20 employees), you’ll also want to enroll in Part B to cover any outpatient costs. You’ll always want to compare the cost of your group insurance to the cost of Medicare + Medigap + Part D to see what makes the most sense in terms of coverage and price, and keep in mind that it’s illegal for employers to contribute to Medicare premiums. For additional information on choosing between Medicare and group insurance, visit this resource. Travel Traveling right now isn't what it used to be with the requirement of face masks, sanitizers, and temperature checks. While many have halted their travel plans for the foreseeable future, it’s a matter of time before we’re able to travel comfortably again. When that time comes, it’s important to ask yourself if your health coverage will help to cover you if you were to get sick overseas. Medicare doesn't cover health care out of the United States, but that's not to say that supplemental coverage won't help ease some of those costs. Doctor and hospital choices Finding a doctor that accepts your health coverage is paramount. In addition to doctors who take your insurance, health facilities need to accept it as well. When you have a Medicare Supplement plan, you can go to any doctor that takes Medicare. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you'll have to stay within the network. Despite being in the middle of a health crisis, doctors are continuing to see their patients. But it may not be in a traditional appointment setting. Many doctor's offices are implementing telehealth appointments, and although you may not be physically going to see the doctor, you'll still need to be sure they take your insurance. Preparing for the future For most of us, 2020 is unlike anything we've ever imagined, much less seen before. You may take some comfort knowing that many insurance companies are waiving fees. Companies are going the extra mile to ensure all Americans have access to medical care, but hospitalizations can quickly deplete any health savings you may have. By considering a few things, you can prepare yourself for any turns this pandemic may bring. COVID-19 is proving its strength every day. Arming yourself with excellent health coverage can make all the difference to the future of your health. Lindsay Engle is the Medicare expert for MedicareFAQ. She has been working in the Medicare space since 2017. She is featured in many publications and writes regularly for other expert columns. She has a passion for sharing her expertise on Medicare to beneficiaries so they can be better prepared for healthcare costs after retirement. You can find her on YouTube where she has a featured channel for Medicare beneficiaries to become educated on all their options.