Posts Tagged "Medigap"
March 2, 2023
Advantage Plans Deny 6% of Treatments
Here’s something you should know about Medicare Advantage plans: the vast majority of these insurance policies require prior approval before a person can receive some medical treatments and services.
Historically, that was not the case, and prior authorizations are still very unusual for people who are enrolled in original Medicare and a Medigap supplement.
But in the case of Medicare Advantage plans, physicians submitted more than 35 million requests for prior authorization to insurers in 2021, and more than 2 million of them – or about 6 percent – were fully or partially denied, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s new report on more than 500 Advantage plans.
Only about 11 percent of the denials were appealed, but the vast majority of those appeals succeeded in getting a full or partial reversal of the original denial.
“The high frequency of favorable outcomes upon appeal raises questions about whether a larger share of initial determinations should have been approved,” Kaiser said. The American Medical Association reports that a third of physicians say the lengthy and difficult process of seeking a prior authorization from an insurance company caused “a serious adverse [medical] event in a patient.” …Learn More
January 19, 2023
What’s Up with Medicare Advantage Ads?
Starting months before my 65th birthday, my mailbox has been swamped with advertisements for Medicare Advantage insurance plans. The ads are still coming in.
And then there are the television commercials with promises of Advantage plan benefits that original Medicare doesn’t cover – vision, dental and hearing services, rides to doctors’ appointments, zero premiums. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
The advertising blitz surely has contributed to the doubling in Advantage plan enrollment since 2013, to 28 million last year. The plans are overtaking Medigap plans, which the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund estimates do not bring in as much profit for brokers as Advantage plans.
It is true that the vast majority of Advantage plans provide some type of vision, dental and hearing coverage. And retirees with these benefits in their Advantage plans spend slightly less for the services than other retirees, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a healthcare non-profit, found.
But the devil is in the details.
For example, the average dollar limit for vision benefits in Advantage plans was $160 in 2021, said Meredith Freed, Kaiser’s senior policy advocate. That $160 probably wouldn’t be enough to pay for an exam and buy the prescription glasses. The television and mailed advertisements are short on these details.
Or consider dental coverage for preventive services, such as cleanings and X-rays. This coverage might be useful, but the plan might not cover cavities, root canals and caps. Or, if they are covered, a $1,000 limit is fairly common and insufficient for many expensive procedures, Freed said. And what about the two out of three Advantage plans that do not charge a premium? The ads touting “zero premiums” aren’t usually clear that you’re still responsible for Medicare’s Part B premium of $164.90 per month.
“I’m hesitant to use the word misleading,” Freed said. But when choosing a Medicare Advantage plan, “Unfortunately, it’s on the consumer to dig more when they’re interested in a plan” to understand not only how the specific plans work but also how Medicare’s underlying benefits work, she said.
An analysis of Google search data has found that older Americans are not finding the kind of information online that they are seeking about their Medicare options. Instead, they are being bombarded with advertising by insurance companies, agents, and brokers, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
Older people search for Medicare information online from a diverse range of sources – patient advocacy groups, the media, and federal agencies including Social Security and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). A minority of the searches are for insurance industry information.
But online advertisements by agents, brokers, and insurers are prevalent in the top links in their Google searches and account for 87 percent of all online Medicare ads. …Learn More
November 22, 2022
Tis the Season to Shop for Medicare Options
Americans are fighting back against soaring food prices by shopping at discount grocers, buying lower-cost store brands, or giving up their favorite gourmet items.
Yet Medicare beneficiaries usually don’t shop around for a less expensive insurance policy or a higher quality one. It’s also advisable for retirees to review their current plans to make sure they still include the right doctors or prescription drugs for treating any new medical conditions. Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans started Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7.
Over their lifetimes, retirees will spend an average $67,000 out-of-pocket for medical care – and that does not include the monthly premiums. The least healthy retirees will pay twice that much.
Yet only three in 10 people surveyed in 2019 by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they compared their existing Medicare insurance policies with the new policies that came on the market during open enrollment for 2020. Three groups who would probably benefit most had the lowest rates of shopping around: low-income and minority retirees and people over 85.
Given retirees’ reluctance to comparison shop, it should not be a surprise that the vast majority stay put and don’t change their policies. The share of people who do change a plan bounces around from year to year but not by much, Kaiser found. …Learn More
August 23, 2022
Good Riddance Medicare Donut Hole!
Medicare’s donut hole is the bane of existence for retirees with expensive medications.
They will get substantial relief in 2025, when the Inflation Reduction Act, signed by President Biden last week, will cap all retirees’ annual drug copayments at $2,000. Monthly drug plan premiums are not included in this cap.
The cap will effectively eliminate the donut hole that currently requires retirees to pay 25 percent of the cost of their prescription drugs until they reach a threshold amount. The threshold increases every year and hit $7,050 this year.
A relatively small group of about 1.5 million retirees pay more than $2,000 for their prescriptions. But many of them are spending $5,000, $10,000 or more.
“It’s going to be an amazing thing” if the cap is implemented as Congress intended, said Ashlee Zareczny, compliance supervisor for Elite Insurance Partners, a Medicare health insurance broker outside Tampa.
Some of her firm’s retired clients pay so much for their medications that they have to make difficult choices between medications and food or other essential items. People who rely on Social Security “shouldn’t have to make those choices,” Zareczny said.
The cap will apply to all Medicare beneficiaries, whether they get their prescription drug coverage through a Part D plan or Medicare Advantage insurance plan, she said.
Under the current system, insurers that sell Medicare drug plans have a $480 maximum they are permitted to charge for the deductible. After meeting the deductible, retirees make their predetermined copayments under the insurance plan. They enter the donut hole after they spend $4,430 out of pocket, and then they are required to pay 25 percent of the cost of their drugs until they reach a threshold that pushes them into the catastrophic phase of Medicare’s drug coverage.
Once the catastrophic coverage kicks in, however, they are still responsible for 5 percent of the remaining drug costs. In 2024 – a year before the $2,000 cap goes into effect – the new healthcare law will eliminate the 5 percent copay.
The cap on total spending will protect any retiree who develops a medical condition requiring them to take very expensive medications. Currently, there is no limit on how much they may have to spend.
And, Zaraczny said, “They’re not prepared to put forth this money.” …Learn More
June 9, 2022
Get Help with Medicare Coverage Denials
The United States has a notoriously complex healthcare system, and Medicare is no different.
In the early months of the pandemic, the Medicare Rights Center received a large number of calls to its telephone help line from people over 65 who had suddenly been laid off and lost their employer coverage. Even when there isn’t a crisis, the center’s staff and volunteers answer all manner of questions about Medicare enrollment rules, insurance options, and what to do when an insurance company denies them coverage.
Sarah Murdoch is the center’s director of client services and oversees the helpline. She spoke with Squared Away about the common issues retirees face and how they can address them.
Question: Your helpline fielded 42,000 questions about Medicare in 2020 and 2021. How does that compare to past years?
It’s in that ballpark year to year – around 20,000 questions. But we saw, within that 42,000, a shift in the actual trends.
Throughout the pandemic, particularly in 2020 when there were lockdowns and people were getting laid off left and right, we got a lot of calls from people who unexpectedly had no income. We heard from people who had insurance through their job and that was not an option anymore. Or they were already on Medicare and were trying to figure out how to pay their costs, or they were laid off and had to figure out how to get into Medicare. That has eased up but was a big thing we saw in the beginning of the pandemic.
We also had questions related to benefits for low-income people. We told people who suddenly had zero income about the income requirements for the Medicare Savings Program, Medicaid, and the state pharmaceutical assistance programs – anything that can lessen the hardship.
In 2020 and 2021, nearly a third of the complaints on your helpline were about service denials by insurers that provide Medicare Advantage or Part D drug plans. Start with Advantage plan denials – are they a big issue for retirees?
The Medicare Advantage plans often have doctor and hospital networks, whereas original Medicare doesn’t have networks. People may be denied coverage by an Advantage plan if they have an out-of-network provider. It could also be a denial of a medical service or a prescription medication. We do see it more but it’s hard to tease that out from the fact that more people are just enrolled in Medicare Advantage.
Do Medigap supplements to Medicare have similar issues with denial of coverage?
Medigap is different – the plans are never making their own claim determinations. If something is approved by original Medicare, then Medigap is going to pay for it as long as the retiree has a Medigap plan that has that type of coverage. In the Medicare Advantage policies, however, insurers are making the claims determination. All of the insurance companies have their own claims adjusters making those decisions – as opposed to contractors who process claims for the Medigap plans on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Medigap insurer isn’t making any decisions as to whether something is covered or not – it has already happened at the government level. …Learn More
March 31, 2022
Using Home Equity Improves Retiree Health
Retirees spend $1,500 more per year, on average, for medical care after a diagnosis of a serious condition like lung disease or diabetes.
Often, the solution for individuals who can’t afford such big bills is to scrimp on care or avoid the doctor altogether. But older homeowners can get access to extra cash if they withdraw some of the home equity they’ve built up over the years.
While the money clearly provides financial relief for retirees, a new study out of Ohio State University finds that it is also good for their health. Every $10,000 that Medicare beneficiaries extracted from their homes greatly improved their success in controlling a chronic or serious disease.
Among the retirees who had hypertension or heart disease, for example, one standard used to determine whether the condition was under control was whether blood pressure levels stayed below 140/90, which the medical profession deems an acceptable level. The people who tapped their home equity were more likely to stay below these levels than those who did not.
This is one of several studies in recent years to tie financial security to home equity, a resource many retirees are reluctant to tap. A study in 2020 found that older homeowners were less likely to skip medications due to cost after they had extracted equity through a refinancing, home equity loan, or reverse mortgage.
But this new research is the first attempt to connect the strategy to retirees’ actual health. The analysis followed the health of more than 4,000 homeowners for up to 15 years after they were diagnosed with one of four conditions – lung disease, diabetes, heart conditions, or cancer. …Learn More
March 8, 2022
Medicare’s Tricky if You’re Employed
I’m employed (obviously), turning 65 in June, and writing this blog to answer a question that is nagging at me and probably many of our readers in the same situation: do I have to sign up for Medicare, and if so which parts?
No one is actually required to sign up for Medicare. But everyone will need the health insurance eventually and failing to follow the rules can subject retirees to a lifetime of higher premiums.
And that surcharge can be substantial. Medicare adds 10 percent onto the Part B premium for every year a 65-year-old worker who should’ve, under the rules, signed up for the coverage for doctors and medical services but did not. Late enrollment in Part D drug coverage also triggers a penalty. More on the penalties later.
Part A is easy. Go ahead and sign up for Medicare’s Part A hospital coverage if you have employer health insurance, says Richard Chan, chief executive of CoverRight, an insurance broker with a consumer-friendly website. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agrees.
Part A won’t incur a late penalty if you paid your Medicare taxes for 10 years while working, because, in that case, Medicare does not charge a monthly premium – and Part A is added financial protection. “It’s free, and if you go to the hospital, Medicare can help cover the gaps that your work insurance doesn’t,” Chan said.
Eligibility for Part A begins three months before the 65th birthday. A couple of important caveats. People who didn’t put in 10 years of work will pay a fairly large Part A premium. And, under federal tax law, people who sign up for Part A are not allowed to contribute to a Health Savings Account, or HSA, which the government views as a health plan.
Part B is trickier. Older workers who have health insurance from a large employer – 20 or more employees – do not have to sign up for Part B until they retire and give up their employer’s coverage.
However, it’s good practice to confirm with the benefits office that the coverage does, in fact, meet Medicare’s requirement that the employer has at least 20 workers because employers with fewer than 20 employees are subject to completely different rules. And it’s not always clear cut whether the threshold has been met if, for example, the company has contractors or part-time employees.
When you eventually do sign up, you’ll need documentation, which is provided by your employer, to prove to Medicare that you were eligible to defer Part B without penalties. …Learn More