October 9, 2018
Switching Medigap Plans is Tricky
When Thomas Uttormark turned 65 in 2010, he researched his Medigap options on the Medicare.gov website and chose a plan with a premium of around $100 a month.
As his premium inched up over the next two years, he decided to apply to another insurance company to see if he could reduce the cost of his policy. Since the federal government dictates the coverage amounts under each of the 10 Medigap plans, he reasoned, his existing insurer’s Plan N provided exactly the same coverage as any other insurer’s Plan N – and the new plan might be cheaper.
“I thought it was no big deal to switch,” said the 73-year-old Uttormark.
However, switching did prove to be a big deal. His application was denied. He suspects it was due to his pre-existing conditions, which included a routine gallbladder surgery before he retired, and his cholesterol, blood pressure and acid reflux conditions, which are fully controlled with medications. The insurer didn’t give him a reason for the denial.
Uttormark ran headlong into a maze of federal regulations that determine whether, when, and how a retiree can transfer from one insurer’s Medigap plan to another insurer’s Medigap. One in four people enrolled in traditional Medicare have Medigap supplemental insurance – about 10 million retirees – and are affected by these restrictive regulations.
They are “particularly confusing,” said Casey Schwarz, the senior counsel for education and federal policy for the Medicare Rights Center in New York and Washington.
She said that people who’ve just signed up for Medicare Parts A and B routinely call her organization because they are having trouble sorting out their options and what they will be permitted to do in the future if they choose either Medigap, which is supplemental coverage for traditional Medicare, or Medicare Advantage private insurance after initially signing up for Medicare Parts A and B.
A handful of states have looser regulations than the federal rules – California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Oregon – and allow retirees to move more freely among various Medigap plans, though the states also have their own restrictions.
Schwarz explained that the insurance company denied coverage to Uttormark because he did not qualify for what the federal government calls “guaranteed issue.”
Under guaranteed issue, there is only one time when every Medicare beneficiaries is assured access to a Medigap policy: when they first sign up for Medicare Part B. At this time, insurers can neither deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition nor charge a higher premium if an applicant has a specific health condition.
Another guaranteed issue period applies to limited numbers of retirees. It gives retirees the right to buy a Medigap policy – even people with pre-existing conditions – if they lose their previous coverage through no fault of their own. Perhaps their current Medigap or Medicare Advantage insurer went bankrupt or left the state, or their employer ended its Medicare supplement for retirees. When this occurs, however, the retiree must select a new policy within 63 days of losing their old coverage.
Uttormark didn’t qualify for guaranteed issue because he was choosing to drop his Medigap policy for a less expensive one. Insurers can rightly “refuse to sell him a policy, can charge him more for pre-existing conditions, or refuse to cover his pre-existing conditions,” Schwarz said.
The federal rules also provide an opportunity to switch plans if retirees selected Medicare Advantage as their first form of insurance when they enrolled in Medicare. In this case, they are permitted to move into any Medigap policy sold in their area but they, too, have a restriction: they must do so within the first year of their initial Medicare enrollment.
“Medicare beneficiaries who miss these windows of opportunity may unwittingly forgo the chance to purchase a Medigap policy later in life,” the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a recent policy brief detailing the federal and state regulations.
The Medicare.gov website describes the circumstances in which beneficiaries qualify for federal guaranteed issue. …Learn More
September 4, 2018
Granny Pods: Financial and Care Solution
Kathy Barker already was having concerns that her elderly father’s dementia made it increasingly difficult for him to manage his life. When his doctor said he could no longer drive, Barker had to do something.
A contractor was hired to build a 448-square-foot cottage in the backyard of her Tampa home. Her father enjoyed it for just 10 days before going into the hospital, where he died. But the house was still a great solution – this time for her mother, JoAnn George. (Her parents divorced long ago.)
Last November, George was moved into the backyard “granny pod,” which has a front porch, living room, bedroom, bathroom, and small refrigerator – but no other appliances. Granny pods, which come in a variety of architectural styles, from Victorian to modern, aren’t cheap. George’s cottage cost $90,000 to build, putting it in the higher end of the price range for these dwellings, according to Home Care Suites, which built it. [Here’s the virtual tour of the house.]
The 88-year-old George had been living in nearby Plant City, Florida, close to another daughter. But as she slowly declined, Barker decided that moving her into the backyard made sense. A flood in her mother’s home, caused by a broken pipe, provided a convenient opportunity to take matters into her own hands.
Now Barker, who runs a web development business with her husband out of their home, can keep a close eye on her mother. Although George is developing cognitive issues, she still takes care of herself, is healthy, and takes no medications.
The beauty of separate living quarters, Barker said, is that her mother can “keep [her] own independence.” …
August 28, 2018
Medigap Premiums Differ by Thousands
- A 65-year-old woman in Houston can pay $5,300 a year for Medigap’s Plan C policy or she can buy a policy with exactly the same coverage from another insurance company for $1,700 a year.
- A 65-year-old Hartford, Connecticut, man can spend anywhere from $2,900 to $7,400 annually for the most popular and comprehensive Medigap policy – Plan F.
- The price disparity for Plan A for a 75-year-old man in Manchester, New Hampshire, is also large: anywhere from $1,820 to $6,301.
These are fairly typical of the enormous differences in the premiums that consumers across the country are paying for their Medigap policies.
The price disparities are “extraordinary and unable to be justified purely by the coverage that they’re offering,” said Gavin Magor, director of ratings for Weiss Ratings Inc., a consumer-oriented company that assesses insurance companies’ financial stability.
A nationwide analysis by Weiss shows that the premiums vary widely within each group of plans – Medigap Plans A, B, C through N – despite the fact that the coverage in each group is dictated by the federal government and does not change from one insurer to the next. Every company selling a Plan F policy, for example, must offer exactly the same coverage. (The exceptions are Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, where the states regulate their Medigap plans.)
If two people are buying a Chevrolet Camaro in Houston, “you would not expect one person to pay two or three times more than the other one,” Magor said.
Medigap is an added layer of insurance to supplement Medicare for people over 65. The additional coverage helps them with the copayments, deductibles, skilled nursing, and other charges that Medicare does not pay for.
Weiss supplied the data for this article by comparing Medigap premiums sold in each zip code and separately for men and women and for different age groups. The company based the analysis on premiums at more than 170 insurance companies.
There are a few viable explanations for the disparity in premiums. Urban and rural zip codes in the same state may be priced differently, in part because medical costs tend to be higher in the cities. And some insurers might be able to offer lower premiums, either because they are more efficient or are trying to be more price competitive to gain market share.
But Magor said that none of these explanations can fully account for the enormous price differences within zip codes. Many insurers are overcharging for their Medigap policies, he said.
A spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents health insurers, said she could not comment on Weiss’ information without the organization doing its own analysis of the data.
Paying too much for a Medigap plan can have a material impact on a retiree’s life. …
August 23, 2018
Maybe You Can Slow Cognitive Decline
After decades of study devoted to describing the negative effects of dementia, a new generation of researchers is pursuing a more encouraging line of inquiry: finding ways that seniors can slow the inevitable decline.
One vein of this research, still in its infancy, considers whether seniors could reduce the risk of dementia if they engage in volunteer work. Several studies focus on volunteering, because most of the population with the greatest risk of dementia – people over age 65 – is no longer working.
There’s no suggestion that volunteering can prevent dementia. However, one new study, by Swedish and European researchers, found that Swedes between 65 and 69 who volunteer had a “significant decrease in cognitive complaints,” compared with the non-volunteers. The seniors answered a survey questionnaire at the beginning and end of the 5-year study that gauged whether they had experienced any changes in each of four complaints: “problems concentrating,” “difficulty making decisions,” “difficulty remembering,” and “difficulty thinking clearly.”
The study didn’t go so far as to claim that volunteering actually caused the improvements either. But it highlighted how volunteering might reduce the symptoms, possibly because it keeps older people more physically and mentally fit.
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
Indeed, the cognitive benefits of exercise have been understood for so long that they’ve become a perennial topic in the mainstream media. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, has become the poster child for elderly exercisers, with a personal trainer overseeing her push-ups and turns on an elliptical machine in a CNN Films documentary, “RBG.”
The research confirms that she’s doing what she needs to do to stay sharp for her beloved job: aerobic exercise in particular protects seniors’ brain matter from deterioration; weight training and stretching exercises do not.
A research team’s 2014 review of 73 prior studies on volunteer work found multiple benefits: “volunteering in later life is associated with significant psychosocial, physical, cognitive, and functional benefits for healthy older adults.” The paper, which appeared in the Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association, defined psychosocial well-being as having greater life satisfaction, higher executive function, being happier and having a robust social network. …Learn More
August 2, 2018
Boomers’ Employment Options Improving
It’s not difficult to find baby boomers out in the job market who will tell you that they have fewer employment options than they used to.
The turning point occurs around age 55. According to a recent study, only 4 percent of people in their early 50s who find a new job are moving into what the researchers label as “old-person jobs” – that is, jobs in occupations that disproportionately employ older workers. The share in these jobs increases sharply, to 13 percent, by the time they reach their late 50s and to 22 percent in their early 60s.
Given the more difficult job market, this cloud has a silver lining. Older workers are actually better off today than they were in the late 1990s and have experienced a “broadening of occupational opportunities,” concluded researchers Matt Rutledge, Steve Sass, and Jorge Ramos-Mercado of the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.
Specifically, the situation has improved for two of the three age groups they analyzed. The share of new hires who are in their early 50s and end up in old-person jobs has fallen by more than two-thirds since the late 1990s. For people in their early 60s, it has fallen by nearly one-fifth.
Various possible reasons for the improvement include an aging labor force – managers included. As managers age, they may become more amenable to hiring older workers.
The study also found that things have improved for both educational groups: those who have spent at least some time in college and those who never attended college. …Learn More
July 19, 2018
Work v. Save Options Quantified
One of Americans’ biggest financial challenges is proper planning to ensure that their standard of living doesn’t drop after they retire and the regular paychecks stop.
A new study has practical implications for baby boomers in urgent need of improving their retirement finances: working a few additional years carries a lot more financial punch than a last-ditch effort to save some extra money in a 401(k).
This point is made dramatically in a simple example in the study: if a head of household who is 10 years away from retiring increases his 401(k) contributions from 6 percent to 7 percent of pay (with a 3 percent employer match) for the next decade, he would get no more benefit than if he instead had decided to work just one additional month before retiring.
Of course, this estimate should be taken only as illustrative. To get their retirement finances into shape, many people should plan to work several more years than is typical today. Baby boomers tend to leave the labor force in their early- to mid-60s, even though more than four out of 10 boomers are on a path to a lower retirement standard of living. …Learn More
July 5, 2018
Boomer Bulge Still Impacts Labor Force
A theme runs through the infographic below: aging baby boomers are still a force of nature.
Created by Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives, the infographic uses demographic data to show that boomers remain important to the labor market even as they grow older.
More than 9 million people over 65 work – a steep 65 percent increase in just a decade.
Two things primarily explain this increase. One reason is hardly surprising: the post-World War II baby boom that created the largest generation in history also created the largest living adult population (though Millennials will soon catch up).
On top of this, baby boomers are working longer for myriad reasons – among them, better health, inadequate retirement savings, and more education – which drives up their participation in the labor force.
To see boomers’ other impacts on work, click here for the entire infographic.