Buying Medicare Plans Invites Headaches But May Save Minnesotans Savings

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If you’re not thrilled every fall shopping for Medicare health plans, you’re not alone.

Not only can it be complicated, but the sheer amount of health insurance coverage choices can leave seniors feeling overwhelmed, said Tricia Neuman, a researcher at the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation.

A report released by the foundation on Wednesday shows just how bad it has gotten – about 71% of Medicare beneficiaries surveyed over the 2018 open enrollment period said they hadn’t even considered other plan options.

Such widespread avoidance “deserves attention,” the Kaiser report warned, “given the potential consequences of year-to-year plan changes for their coverage, access to care and out-of-pocket costs.”

Minnesota consumer advocates are urging seniors to cover their noses and shop during open enrollment, which began Friday and will run through Dec. 7, as finding the right plan to fund care is critical medical requirements.

“Every year we see major changes in provider networks and forms coverage,” said Kelli Jo Greiner, Medicare product manager at the Minnesota Board on Aging. The same is true for this year. For this reason, we strongly encourage all Medicare beneficiaries to review their current plan and consider other possible options to ensure they have the best plan for 2020 that will provide the better coverage. “

Minnesotans face a set of changes that make it difficult to generalize exactly what awaits the state’s roughly 1.1 million Medicare-eligible residents, but there could be some pleasant surprises.

The average premium for a Medicare Advantage plan drops nearly 5% to $ 76.92 per month, according to federal government estimates. This is the third year in a row that premiums for the most popular plans have remained “stable” as insurers continue to offer stronger coverage, said Chad Levis, president of CAL Financial Inc. at Edina.

New for 2022: Sanford Health Plan debuts in Medicare in Minnesota, and the range of no-monthly premium health plans continues to expand.

Comparative shopping also helps consumers be aware of potential pitfalls. For example, most “Part D” stand-alone plans that cover prescription drugs are getting more expensive.

A few health plans are disappearing in some counties, including a big seller of Medicare Advantage plans in St. Cloud, which will force seniors to scramble to find new insurance. And two of the three insurers that sell Medicare Cost plans in greater Minnesota are reducing their offers.

The devil, of course, remains in the details. To get the best deal, it’s not enough to look at premiums, consumer advocates point out, as costs can add up when a medicare plan changes the drugs or the doctors and hospitals it needs. will cover.

It is especially important to be mindful of changes in drug coverage, as drugs can move from one “tier” to different “tier” on Part D plan formularies, with significant financial consequences.

“It makes a huge difference,” said Tom Peterson, owner of Twin City Underwriters, an insurance agency in Roseville. Especially for those taking five or more medications, “you should check back every fall.”

Medicare is the traditional health insurance offered by the federal government to most people 65 years of age and over as well as to younger people with certain disabilities. Beneficiaries can choose to obtain their hospital and medical benefits from private insurance companies through the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Cost plans.

As of September, about 504,000 people in Minnesota were covered by the original Medicare program, including about 369,000 who purchase Part D plans to cover prescriptions.

Another 504,000 were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, where insurers typically bundle medical and hospital benefits as well as prescription drugs.

About 62,000 Minnesotans were enrolled in Medicare Cost health plans, which are available in 21 counties. Medicare Cost plans are sold by private health insurers, but generally differ from Advantage plans by offering a wider choice of doctors, hospitals, and Part D coverage.

The number of Part D drug plan options in Minnesota will increase from 28 to 23, according to a Star Tribune review. Choice of health care, the annual e-book for Medicare beneficiaries from the Minnesota Board on Aging. Of the plans to return to the market, 18 will increase premiums by 3-48%.

“It’s the [prescriptions drug plans] who are experiencing the biggest premium increases, ”Greiner said of the State Council on Aging via email.

Options are dwindling due to business mergers between companies that previously offered competing drug coverage plans, said Shawnee Christenson, owner of Crosstown insurance agency in New Hope.

Still, several Part D options remain “with excellent drug coverage,” Levis said, including one that costs less than $ 7 per month.

Medicare Advantage insurers will offer 83 different plan options in Minnesota next year, up from 75 this year, although not all plan options will be available in all counties.

Premiums will remain stable in about 39 of the 71 Medicare Advantage plans that return in 2022, according to a Star Tribune market research. About 15 of the health plans will see their premiums drop.

“I think people in general are going to be very happy this year,” said Peterson.

As Medicare Advantage enrollment has increased in Minnesota and across the country, some consumer groups are concerned about this trend as original Medicare provides access to all physicians, health care providers, hospitals, and facilities. who accept Medicare nationwide.

“We encourage Medicare beneficiaries to choose carefully between traditional Medicare and joining a private Medicare Advantage plan,” the Connecticut-based Center for Medicare Advocacy said Thursday. newsletter. “This is particularly important, as consumer marketing protections have been reduced and public promotions for Medicare Advantage increase, including on television and in the mail. “

Here’s a look at some of the titles in the Medicare market:

  • Medica based in Minnetonka reduces the premiums for most of its Medicare Advantage plans and in any case lowers the maximum a consumer would pay in out-of-pocket expenses. The insurer is also adding Advantage plans in some areas, as part of a strategy “to become more competitive statewide,” said Ann Kinsella, vice president of Medica and general manager of Medicare.

Among its Medicare Cost plans, Medica is dropping two options for 2022, a change that affects around 750 registrants who will automatically be enrolled in the insurer’s other plans.

  • Humana based in Kentucky says it continues to invest in the benefits offered by its Medicare Advantage plans while introducing a new offering in northern Minnesota and another in the Big Twin Cities. But Humana is also abandoning 12 Minnesota counties from its service area, including several in the St. Cloud area. The move comes a year after St. Cloud-based CentraCare, the region’s leading healthcare provider, abandoned Humana’s network of doctors and hospitals. Members began receiving notification letters in early October, the company said.
  • Competing insurers estimate that some 7,000 beneficiaries in central Minnesota covered by Humana will seek a new plan. This helps explain why Eagan-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota opened a new sales office this fall in St. Cloud. Bloomington-based HealthPartners and Minnetonka-based UnitedHealthcare have also expanded to some of the counties Humana is leaving, said Mark Maloney, a Minnesota National Agency insurance broker in Sauk Center.
  • Blue Cross is reducing co-payments and deductibles for drugs while expanding “preferential pricing” status to include almost all drugstores, including Walgreens, said Jeff Snegosky, vice president of medicare markets from the insurer based in Eagan. Premiums remain stable or decrease for nine Medicare Advantage options at Blue Cross, while increasing for four more.
  • At Minneapolis-based UCare, premiums will increase by 4-8% for a few plans, but the monthly costs for most options will remain stable. UCare is also adding a $ 0 premium health plan in some counties. He will shut down a plan called M Health Fairview Care Advantage, which has around 300 members.
  • HealthPartners is reducing the service area of ​​its Medicare Cost plan to just 11 counties, which means more than 300 people will need to find new coverage. At the same time, the Bloomington-based insurer is expanding significantly from 14 to 58 counties in Minnesota where it sells Medicare Advantage plans. “As we gain more experience and work with the Medicare Advantage product, we see a real opportunity,” said Dr. Pat Courneya, Chief Medical Officer of HealthPartners.
  • UnitedHealthcare is removing two counties from Minnesota while adding six more, generating a net expansion of the insurer’s Medicare Advantage service area to 54 counties. Allina Health Aetna will increase from 20 to 21 counties.
  • Consumers will once again have the option of Lasso Healthcare’s Medicare Advantage medical savings accounts. A Wisconsin-based insurer called Quartz will continue to sell Advantage plans in five counties in southeastern Minnesota. And new for 2022, the South Dakota-based Sanford Health Plan will launch Medicare Advantage coverage in six counties in western Minnesota.

Consumers can compare plans using the plan search feature on Medicare.gov, the federal website that lists all of the options. Insurance agents and operators of the state’s Senior LinkAge Line (800-333-2433) can help individuals sort through their choices. The Council’s eBook on Aging, Choice of health care, also summarizes what is coming for the new year.


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