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Medicare Matters: Looking at mid-year Medicare savings

With so many health insurance changes occurring at the end of the year, it is fun and exciting for me to bring you a money-saving option mid-year.

In Washington we are blessed with the ability to, with very few exceptions, change our Medicare Supplement programs at any time, for any reason, with no health questions asked and no pre-existing health condition restrictions.

This is totally unlike the Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans, where rules dictate they only can be reviewed and changed during the limited timeframe of Oct. 15-Dec. 7 each year.

The ability to shop around for plans year-round is very important as Medicare Supplement insurance companies have the ability to change their premiums at any time. For example, in recent years AARP has made adjustments in April, Mutual of Omaha in June and Premera Blue Cross and Regence BlueShield around March.

So now here we are in the beginning of June and all the premiums for the major insurers are known and stable. Over the years with rules changes many insurance companies have at least two different versions of the same basic plans available and a number have three if they have been selling plans for over 20 years.

Traditionally the most popular Medicare Supplement policy had been Plan F. Plan F is very easy to explain as it covers 100 percent of every Medicare co-pay and deductible, as well as Medicare Part B excess charges and foreign emergency travel. There: That is how easy to explain the benefits of a Plan F, after  all, 100 percent is a pretty strong and easy to understand statement.

Now let me give you an example of a drastic savings we recently were thrilled to be able to provide to a longtime Sequim native. She was in her late 80s and had been a very loyal Regence BlueShield subscriber forever, and had been on the same supplement since going on Medicare at age 65.

Due to the changes in rules and plans we were able to switch her from her old 100-percent plan with a massive price tag of $312 per month to a new 100-percent plan at $169 per month. This was a savings of $143 per month.

The crazy thing was that the new plan also was with Regence BlueShield. I had to get on the phone with Regence with the client and her son in my office to let them hear it first hand that they could in fact save over $1,700 per year for similar coverages.

The only thing that ticked the clients off was that Regence never had notified them that they had the ability to change their plans and save a large sum of money each month.

In the defense of Regence, I will tell you why their rates on that old plan are so high. When they stopped selling that old plan in 1992, 22 years ago, they stopped having any new clients added to their risk pool. So, the youngest person with that policy is now 87 years old. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that on average 87-year-olds are going to have higher medical claims than a 65-year-old.

Now I do not see folks every day who are in that situation but we do see many, many people who are paying over $200 per month for Plan F, and in many cases even a lesser plan like Plan G. So, if you are paying more than $200 for your Medicare Supplement, I think you will be pleasantly surprised if you shop around to see what savings you could enjoy.

The three lowest monthly premiums for Plan F in the state are Stonebridge $165, Regence $169 followed by Premera $170.

The Regence Plan even comes with an additional benefit of a Silver Sneakers membership. Silver Sneakers is a gym membership and it is accepted at least two local gyms. More details can be found at www.silversneakers.com.

Another money-saving tip might be to consider which Medicare Supplement is appropriate both for your pocket book as well as your health needs.

This is where a relatively new plan is well worth considering. Plan N has been available for four years and the majority of folks turning age 65 have found this to be a better value proposition to Plan F.

Plan N does have a few minor co-pays and deductibles but those are generally more than offset by the premium savings a person will enjoy.

The three lowest monthly premiums in the state for Plan N are as follows, AARP $119.75, Stonebridge $126 and Secure Horizons $130.

More information on plan benefits and pricing can be found at www.insurance.wa.gov, the local SHIBA office at 411 W. Washington St. as well as many local insurance agents.

 

Phil Castell is the owner of Castell Insurance and can be reached at phil@castellinsurance.com or 683-9284.

 

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