Thursday, May 17, 2018

IBM Medicare Via Benefits the Disadvantage of Medicare Advantage Plans

There are two ways for the government to get rid of Medicare.  The obvious way is to repeal the law enacting Medicare that was passed in 1965.  That would be political suicide.  The subtle way is to privatize it and then turn it into a voucher system.  That effort has been in play since the mid 1980s and the process is accelerating in sneaky, stealth, legislative and non-legislative actions (by Health and Human Services).
   
The legislative actions to affect Medicare rarely come as direct "Medicare Legislation".   The actions are buried in bills that have no hint of  having anything to do with Medicare.  The actions are buried in crazy places, like a farm bill or a budget bill.  For example, in the Budget Act of 2018 (H.R.1892) bill there was a significant increase for higher income Medicare recipients' part B premium "tax", (but don't call it a "tax" call it something incomprehensible like IRMAA to disguise it). It's a sneaky way of attacking Medicare. Sometimes, journalists pick up on these changes and citizens are able to push back on the proposed actions.  Mostly, it doesn't happen.  Ergo, medigap plan F will no longer be available in 2020 even though it is a popular plan, because the legislative body decided people who have it go to the doctor too much. WHAT?  Seriously, that is the reason.
 
The non-legislative actions are just plain stealth.  They are harder still to find, follow and understand.  These slow motion actions are also sinister because no journalist will have the tenacity to investigate and do ongoing reporting of the impact of  negative changes dribbling out over years. The biggest changes that are not obvious are the elimination of many services like the closing of local Social Security offices making it more difficult for people to resolve problems when they sign up for Medicare or the reduced staffing and increasing turnover of 1-800-MEDICARE client service representatives because of low bid contracts, making the help available for complex problem resolution worthless.  Even the website is deteriorating and has not been updated in 18 months because the contract to do any upgrades has been "held up" in the HHS bidding process.
   
The biggest non-legislative actions happen because insurance company lobbyists push legislators who in turn push HHS to expand the options available in Medicare Advantage Plans. There is currently a plan to expand those fringe options, such as adding acupuncture. There are already services included in Medicare Advantage Plans, such as dental coverage, that are not included in original Medicare even though the government is subsidizing both ways of getting coverage.  Why add more?

If  Medicare eligible recipients move to Medicare Advantage (MA) Plans then the government can get out of the insurance pool business. That is, get rid of original Medicare.  The next step will then be to provide a fixed amount of money (aka vouchers) to Medicare recipients to buy MA policies and further disengage by gradually removing government oversight and pushing complaints back to the insurer to resolve.  Better still, the voucher money will never increase (think IBM HRA), making the cost burden of Medicare shift back to the recipients and off of general tax payers. It thereby ends Medicare.

Maybe that's the most dire scenario.  The less dire scenario is the government just pushes everyone onto Medicare Advantage Plans and kills original Medicare with a medigap. What's the big deal?  Well, Medicare Advantage Plans are MANAGED CARE policies.
   
As some of you know, I do Medicare counseling.  In the last month, I tried to help two people who were locked into Medicare Advantage plans. Neither could go to an advanced cancer treatment center, like City of Hope in California, to get treatment for rare forms of cancer.  One policy holder had an HMO policy that did not allow out-of-network coverage, another had PPO coverage but could not afford the co-pays of out-of-network services.

Reminder, Medicare recipients who have original Medicare can go to any Medicare doctor or clinic anywhere in the country.  Beware shiny objects being flashed by Medicare Advantage Plans.  Having Silver Sneakers won't help you if you need to remedy a potentially life ending health crisis which requires treatment from a top notch specialist.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

IBM Medicare OneExchange Via Benefits part D drug doughnut hole costs

Recently a few people have asked for help understanding the rules surrounding the part D doughnut hole costs, and what is meant by "closing" the doughnut hole. They have tried to work with their insurance plans to understand the computations but have not been able to get answers.

First off, I am no expert.  It's really hard to find an expert who can simply explain part D coverage because it is so complex.  I recently looked at Wikipedia and whomever wrote that description made some mistakes.  The government's Center for Medicare Services even posted that it needs to be updated.  That's a generous way of saying it is wrong.  If you really want to understand the structure of the part D insurance it requires a lengthy history lesson of the machinations that the legislative body went through to arrive at providing prescription drug insurance coverage for seniors.  The following link provides the history:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690175/

The explanations provided by Medicare to the public are moment in time descriptions.  They do not go back in history to explain terms like "coverage gap" nor the legislation arguments.  Mostly, it is general and skips the reasons why the computation is so convoluted.  Some terminology meaning also morphed as the program was legislatively changed. Then there is the dilemma rarely discussed, that prices for drugs can change as often as every two weeks in medicare.gov plan finder.   I am guessing that happens as each insurance plan renegotiates prices with pharmaceutical companies as their contracts renew throughout the year.  Nowhere in plan finder do they issue a warning that the prices are not guaranteed for a calendar year.

With that as a back drop, there are two publications that might help you, the first of which is much easier to read than the above link:

  1. This publication is from Medicare.  It has some examples which are helpful.  However, they do not truly explain the language that the geniuses decided to use to regarding the doughnut hole: https://www.medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/11493.pdf
              
  2. This publication is from Kaiser Foundation.  They are NOT affiliated with Kaiser Health Insurance.  They are a wonderful source of highly technical analysis of Medicare coverage.  However, they are writing for the Medicare professional.  The publication is difficult to read (at least for me) but worth a try: https://www.kff.org/medicare/fact-sheet/the-medicare-prescription-drug-benefit-fact-sheet/

Here's my crack at a simplistic part D description. First, there are, and will always be three phases to your part D insurance plan which are:

  1.  initial coverage, 
  2. "gap" coverage (albeit this name might change), and 
  3. catastrophic coverage.

    Again, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE THREE PHASES. 


History helps you see why the second phase is currently called the coverage gap or doughnut hole.

In 2006, when part D insurance first became available, there was initial phase insurance but in the second phase, that is the doughnut hole, there was NO insurance assistance to a policy holder for prescription drug coverage until the policy holder's out of pocket drug cost exceeded $5000. Then insurance coverage would kick back in and provide catastrophic coverage. Ergo, the policy holder was responsible for 100% of the drug cost during the second phase or coverage gap.

In 2011, the ACA or Affordable Care Act or Obamacare legislation included gradually phasing in policy holder insurance coverage during the coverage gap such that, on average, in 2019, a policy holder might receive about the same insurance benefit as in the initial phase for brand name drugs. However, it would not have been politically expedient to change the name of the second phase until the ACA implementation is complete so it continues to be called the coverage gap.

Before 2011, part D insurers had almost no role in the second phase of coverage.  The policy holder was paying 100%.  The insurer was merely an administrator  and jumped back in as insurer a little bit (at a 15% level) in the third phase.

Here's how it currently works.

The insurer is a major payer during initial phase of coverage (where the split between your copay and the insurance coverage is, "on average", 25% and 75% respectively for brand name drugs).  In 2018, the initial phase lasts until the total cost of all your drugs (that is paid by both you the insurance company) equals $3750.

In the second phase (aka doughnut hole, aka coverage gap) your copay percentage increases and the  insurance coverage drops.  It pays about 15% which is the same percentage it has always paid in catastrophic coverage. However, the policy holder copay has been gradually declining since 2011. Reminder, before 2011 seniors paid 100% of the drug cost.

In 2018, in the coverage gap, you pay 35% and, as previously mentioned, your insurance pays 15% of the drug cost. Wait - that's only 50%! So who pays the other 50%?  It's the pharmaceutical company who discounts the brand name drug 50%.

In 2019 the coverage gap copay percentage decline ends and the policy holder copay percentage will be 25% which is "on average" what it is in the first phase BUT the actual dollars you pay might be different. Hold on to that thought.

The third phase of coverage is the catastrophic coverage. You enter this phase when the sum of what you paid in the first two phases plus the drug company discounts in the second phase totals $5000.
In the catastrophic phase, the insurance company percentage is still 15%. However, the pharmaceutical company is no longer involved. Instead, the federal government becomes the major payer at 80% and your copay percentage drops to 5%.  Actually, catastrophic level is the easiest level to understand and its structure has been the same since 2006.

The terminology of coverage gap and  "doughnut hole closing" is, to put it bluntly, currently idiotic but politically expedient. What the creators were trying to describe by saying "the doughnut hole is closing" is that the "average" copay of 25%  for a brand name drug will be the same in the initial coverage phase and in the second phase.  Ergo, the average percentage of your copay in the initial coverage phase and in the "coverage gap" will be 25% and therefore the copay percentage in the first two phases will be equal in 2019 .   That's what they mean. It's about PERCENTAGE, not absolute dollars. Clear as mud, right?
    
It turns out there is no "average 25%" copay for a brand name drug in the initial phase of part D plans.  The insurance plans often put expensive brand name drugs in much higher tiers so your copay percentages can be significantly more than 25% . Insurers are allowed to define tier percentages and put brand name drugs in whatever tier they want. It is true that once you go to the second phase, your copay will be 25% but 25% of what number? Is it the same as the number in the initial phase?  It depends on the price used in the second phase. Therefore, the actual dollar amount copay of a drug can be different in the second phase. It will depend on the price the pharmaceutical company uses to discount the drug which might be more or less than the price in the initial phase and/or you might have been paying more or less than 25% of the drug cost in the initial phase.

I will not try to explain more. I just wanted to help you understand the structure of the part D plan and try to get away the the idiotic terminology that surrounds it.  I urge you to read the publications and also try to get your part D insurance to explain your costs (good luck with that).  

I also urge you to keep badgering your elected officials to both simplify part D and to protect Medicare. Medicare has been a political football since its inception in 1965. In addition to legislative actions, there are many subtle HHS non-legislative actions being taken to cause Medicare to be substantially more expensive for seniors, by doing such things as increasing part B premiums and part A deductibles and co-pays.  Over the last 10 years those costs have increased by about 40%. That, in turn, increases the premiums of Medicare Supplements (medigaps) and Medicare Advantage premiums or reduces MA plan in-network options. There is also conservative pressure to privatize Medicare by pushing seniors to Medicare Advantage plans which are managed care plans that limit access to a wide network of health professionals. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

IBM Medicare Towers Watson, Extend Health, One Exchange, Via Benefits

This is cruel.  Why does the organization name keep changing?  Aren't human resources people supposed to be knowledgeable about how human memories work?  Particularly, do they know NOTHING about senior humans?  They have just guaranteed most older retired employees will not remember any name and will keep calling the IBM Employee Service Center to ask how to file claims - if they even remember to file claims. 

Oh, wait, but this is such a memorable name!  Via ... isn't that a road?  This is the road to benefits? It's more likely the road to forgetting about benefits. 

Maybe HR saw how successful they were getting people to forget SHAP - which stands for Special Health Assistance Provision.  Isn't that descriptive?  That's a benefit for IBM people who retired before 1997 and reimburses $900 of their Medicare part B premiums.  It is so memorable that I personally know 5 people who did not realize they had the benefit and did not file claims for years. This might be HR's attempt to do the same thing for the HRA/FHA.

Write down the new organization name - Via Benefits.  Say it 100 times.  Then print it on a piece of paper and tape it to your forehead.  That way you will remember, whenever you look in the mirror, who has your retiree health benefits money.
 
I couldn't help but write this brief post because it is too silly to let it alone. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

IBM Medicare OneExchange Another Year of Medicare Supplement K plan

For those of us using Original (aka Traditional) Medicare A and B insurance (and NOT a Medicare Advantage managed care plan) this is a good time to reevaluate all your health insurance choices. Although it is not the time of year to change to a different Medicare Supplement plan, it is a good time of year to reevaluate everything.  Even the dental or vision insurance you have needs an annual  cost/benefit analysis.
 
I never could find a dental nor vision insurance plan that provided coverage for the providers I use so I "self insure" for those services.  Sadly, my spouse did not registered with the VA before 2003, after which all benefit eligibility became income base.  That means we cannot buy a wonderful private dental insurance plan offered through the VA.  We naively assumed IBM would always provide that insurance.  Still, every year or so I look to see if there is a dental policy worth the premium and deductible price.
 
The Medicare Supplement plans aka medigaps absolutely need reevaluation IF you live in a state that allows you to switch plans.  Ask you State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) about the rules.  If  there is no switching allowed, I urge you to lobby your state legislators to fix that limitation.  State legislators are allowing the insurance industry to hold seniors hostage in your state if there is no ability to switch.  Basically, it enables insurance companies to force seniors into Medicare Advantage plans by limiting access to medigaps.  It's very hard for people to realize the plan they pick the "first time" is the only plan they can have for the rest of their lives.
 
There is another aspect to medigap plans that is interesting.  If you buy a policy in one state (e.g., New York) and then move to another state (e.g., Florida), you get to keep the NY policy and the NY policy rate structure.  NY policies are community rated.  That means everyone in a given zip code pays the same amount no matter their age.  If you lived in a NY zip code that had better prices (e.g., Syracuse), you get to keep the rates associated with Syracuse when you move to a different state.  Sometimes I joke with people when I do counseling who cannot change.  I tell them to move to New York for a few months, get a better medigap, and then move back to their home state!

However, it's not all rosy in New York. The rates in New York for some medigap plans have dramatically increase going into 2018.  In New York City the cheapest medigap F plan available is now close to $300.  That  truly deserves a cost/benefit analysis to determine if  paying $3,600 per year is worth  the cost.
 
The first question I ask people when I do counseling is WHY did you buy an F plan.  Way too many people tell me it is the "most popular plan".  I then ask them if they have chronic conditions that require a lot of medical care.  Even when people do have chronic conditions, they typically go to the doctor about once a month.  A N plan in New York is about $200/month and would be fine for them.

Do the math!  Look at your Medicare Summary notices for 2017 and add up the deductibles, co-insurances and co-pays you would have to pay if you did not have a medigap.  Then look at the annual premium amount you pay for that medigap.   Are you over insured?  The only reason to be over insured is you have money to burn and do not want the burden of needing to write a check to pay a provider.  You are buying the convenience of that service.

This year, I did the math and my K plan continues to be good to me.  I paid $912 in annual premiums for my K plan.  The K plan paid out $250 in benefit.  That mean's my K plan cost me $662 for the year.  It also provided me with a "safety net" of knowing the maximum out of pocket cost I would face for 2017 is $5120 + $912 or about $6000 should I have a catastrophic event.  So I look at it as if I have a $6000 deductible if something health wise goes very wrong.  I have a $5000 deductible on my house insurance if my house burns down so it's about comparable. But I also live in a state that allows me to change medigaps whenever I want without preexisting penalties.  If I become chronically ill, I will switch to another plan that provides more comprehensive coverage.
 
What would I do if I lived in a state that doesn't allow easy switching?  I would buy a F high deductible plan.  It has a low premium and a deductible of $2200.  A relative in California has had that plan for 5 years for about $60/mo.  She knows her maximum out of pocket would be $2920 if she has a catastrophic event.  That's about the annual premium for a F regular plan in California but she only pays that much if she is sick! Most years, she has only needed to pay $720/year.

If you need more information, there is an excellent Medicare Supplement Guide published by Medicare.  I urge you to read it:
   
https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/02110-Medicare-Medigap.guide.pdf
 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

IBM Medicare One Exchange Medicare Fall Enrollment Time for 2018

Medicare Fall Enrollment is about a month away.  It starts October 15 and ends at midnight Dec 7.
   
As usual, I strongly urge you to make sure your 2017 health insurance policy choices will provide the best coverage for you in 2018.  Insurance companies CHANGE their policies every year. They add or remove doctors.  Doctors quit accepting plans.  Drug costs change and/or some drugs will no longer be covered.  Companies must update All plan information on October 15th. There is no point checking before that day because companies wait until then to do it. Use the plan finder option on medicare.gov to determine which plan is best for you.
   
Also, a reminder for those of you who have Medicare supplemental insurance or medigaps, this enrollment period DOES NOT apply to that type of insurance.  Change windows for medigap insurance are determined by the state you live in and range from "never" to "whenever you want". Consult your state department of insurance to find out the rules.
 
If you have traditional or original Medicare, your action in October is to examine the prescription drug insurance plan (PDP) coverage for 2018.  If you bought the PDP through One Exchange to qualify for your HRA/FHA benefit, then look at the plans they offer to determine if there is a better plan available.  You might find it is cheaper to forego the HRA/FHA funds because the subset of plans they sell will cost you substantially more in copays versus having the funding.
               
Reminder, the set of insurance plans One Exchange sells are EXACTLY the same plans that are available to anyone on Medicare in your zip code but they don't sell ALL the plans that you could buy. They only sell the plans for which they get commission as an insurance agent.  It may actually happen that there is a better plan available in your zip code for your drug coverage not sold by One Exchange.  You have to weigh the benefit of staying with One Exchange and having funding from your HRA/FHA and IBM catastrophic drug coverage versus NOT using One Exchange because you might actually pay less out of pocket by using a non-One Exchange plan and fore-fitting the subsidy. If you face that situation, tell someone at One Exchange what is happening.  They might have an exception process.

If you have a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan that does not include prescription drug insurance then you have to look at both your MA plan and your PDP plan.  Make sure your MA doctor network is still giving you access to your providers.  If not, ask your provider what plans they will accept in 2018 as the first step to information gathering.  Then look to see if One Exchange sells that plan. Once again, if the MA plan is how you gain access to your HRA/FHA you have to make a decision over what takes priority.  Is it the doctors or the HRA/FHA money.
 
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan that does include prescription drug insurance (MAPD) you may have to switch to a different plan if there are drug coverage changes or if there are doctor changes. This is the hardest plan to change since it involves trying to find a better plan that includes both components and buying it through One Exchange. It might be, that you decide to revert to traditional Medicare with a supplemental policy.  BE CAREFUL because state rules apply.  You might not be able to get a supplemental policy.  Once again, you also need to decide if the money you get from your HRA/FHA is worth you sticking with an MAPD plan that does not meet your needs.
 
Take action in October!  It's important to your health!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

IBM Medicare OneExchange Lowering Prescription Drug Copay Cost

We are almost half way through the year and often at this point Medicare recipients encounter cost or coverage problems for new prescriptions or price increases on existing prescriptions that significantly drive up the cost of their medications.  Here are a few suggestions on how to cope with unexpected drug costs:


1. Don't assume a prescribed drug is the only drug available to treat your condition.  If a prescription is expensive, ask your doctor if there is a generic alternative or another drug that will do the same thing.  Better still, show the doctor your drug plan's entire formulary and ask if any of those drugs will be suitable for your condition.

2. If there is no flexibility in the drug you need to treat your condition but the cost is high or there was a price increase, try to appeal to your plan for a pricing exception and/or ask them to lower the pricing tier for the drug for the rest of the year.  If you get an exception or a tier change it will only last until the end of the year.  Be sure to pick a "better" part D plan during fall open enrollment.

3. Make sure you are getting your drugs from a "best price" pharmacy if you buy drugs from a pharmacy.  Ask the insurance plan what pharmacies provide the best prices for their plan.  These are called preferred pharmacies.  You might have to travel a few more miles to get a prescription filled but the price difference can be significant. Even if there are no preferred pharmacies in your plan, the prices will often vary - particularly for independent pharmacies - but also for the chains so ask different pharmacies in your area what they will charge to fill a prescription before you fill it.

4. Ask your pharmacy if there is a  prescription discount card that can provide a lower copay. However, if you do use a prescription discount card, the cost of that prescription will not be included in any doughnut hole calculations.

5. Ask your local pharmacy if they will provide a "better price".  Some pharmacies will sell you drugs at their cost if you do a lot of business with them - particularly if they are not part of a big chain.  Again, if you don't use your insurance to buy a drug, those costs are not included in doughnut hole calculations.

6. Many older people shy away from mail order suppliers and prefer to use local pharmacies.  Give mail order a try! Mail order (if available through your current plan) - often significantly lowers your copay.  However, you will likely have to buy larger quantities of drugs to get the lower price. If you can afford the cash flow it is worth it.

7. EVERY YEAR in October, look on plan finder in medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE and ask them to help you find a better plan

Thursday, March 16, 2017

IBM Medicare OneExchange Future Healthcare Legislation

   
Although the legislation to change the ACA (aka Obamacare) did not pass, it does not mean that legislative actions to modify the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare insurance will not occur.  There will  likely be modifications that will be embedded into other acts and budget proposals that will affect Medicare.
 
I urge you to pay REALLY close attention to ALL legislative actions to be sure you understand the impact to Medicare. As an example, the legislators, in 2013, enacted a "doc fee structure fix" which was good because doctors were increasingly not accepting Medicare.  But that legislation also included disallowing the sale of medicare supplement F plans after 2019 because it is a "first dollar pay"policy.  That means when someone buys an F plan Medicare Supplement they never pay a doctor bill in trade for paying a substantial insurance policy premium.  As I said in the past, legislators believe people who have F plans use doctors more than people who don't.  There is no data behind that assertion to determine if it is true and, if so, why.  Typically people who buy F plans have more health issues.  Nonetheless, it was included as a bargaining chip.

I believe a good way to stay informed about healthcare legislation is to look at nonpartisan advocacy agency analysis (albeit no group is purely nonpartisan). Many do an excellent job of analyzing pending legislation and executive orders about healthcare.  The agencies I suggest are AARP, Medicare Rights, AMA, the American Hospital Association, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Links to their websites follow:
         

https://press.aarp.org/press-releases

https://www.medicarerights.org/newsroom/press-releases
                                               
https://www.ama-assn.org/

http://www.aha.org/press-center

http://kff.org/medicare/


Tell your legislators how you feel about pending and/or enacted changes.


Monday, March 13, 2017

IBM Medicare OneExchange Over 65 Still Employed

People who continue to work past the age of 65 often keep using employer insurance as primary insurance instead of using Medicare.  Typically, employer insurance is more comprehensive (for example it might include acupuncture coverage which is not covered by Medicare) and is also subsidized by IBM.   However, if you leave IBM and join a company with fewer than 20 employees you must enroll in Medicare to have primary coverage.
     
Generally, there is no advantage to enrolling in Medicare if you work for IBM past 65.  Some people do choose to enroll in Medicare part A (hospitalization coverage) because there is no premium payment for part A and it might provide secondary coverage in some circumstances (e.g., part A might permit an overnight stay in a hospital for a given procedure where IBM's insurance might not).  However, if you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)  DO NOT enroll in Medicare part A if you want to be able to contribute to your HSA.  Contributions stop as soon as you enroll in part A.
         
Also, be careful of when you start taking Social Security if you have an HSA. Enrolling in Social Security causes up to a six month retroactive enrollment in part A if you also enroll in Medicare.  You will pay a tax penalty for any HSA contributions you made in the prior six months if you were Medicare eligible. I know, it's complicated.  If you want to keep it simple, just remember to stop contributing to an HSA six months before you retire if you plan to immediately collect Social Security.  The good news is the money remaining in your HSA will be available to use tax free for your Medicare expenses until it is depleted.
     
When you (or IBM) decide it is time to retire there a a few things you must do to guarantee a smooth transition.  Generally, I recommend you enroll in Medicare part A & B a month before you leave your job to be sure you have no enrollment problems. It will cost you a month worth of your part B premium payment but that's a whole lot better than having no insurance coverage while you try to sort out a problem.
                             
You actually have 8 months from the last day of your employment to enroll into Medicare.  DO NOT take 8 months to do it.  Also DO NOT take COBRA unless the COBRA coverage includes something that Medicare does not cover and you need that coverage.  COBRA is expensive SECONDARY insurance coverage if you are over 65.  That means if you get sick, it will only pay your co-pays  and you will be responsible for the bulk of the provider costs if you do not have Medicare.
 
There are two forms you need to bring to Social Security (which is how you enroll in Medicare) when you are about to retire.  Yes, I am recommending you physically go to a Social Security office. You can easily find the forms online:

  • Form CMS 408 (Application for Enrollment into Medicare) to be filled out by you
  • Form CMS L564 (Request for Employment Information) to be filled out by IBM HR.

    The second form is the proof  you had continuous employer health insurance after you turned 65 so that you will not have late enrollment penalties.  Why do you have to "walk it in"? Social Security has been significantly impacted by federal budget cuts. Mailing it in is a little risky because of the cuts. If it gets lost you will have no proof of who actually processed the form.

    When you walk it in, get the name of the agent who takes the forms and the date they processed your application.  That is important information to have in case any mistakes are made.   

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

IBM Medicare OneExchange Medicare Supplement F & F-HD GONE after 2019

In 2015 there was a "Doc Fix" law passed by congress to improve the fees paid to doctors (which hadn't been raised in years so doctors were starting to opt out of Medicare).  The congress decided to counterbalance that remedy by eliminating medigap plan F effective 2020.  I wrote about this when it happened: http://ibmmedicare.blogspot.com/2015/10/ibm-oneexchange-medicare-doc-fix-law.html

There is a subtle consequence of this change.   I didn't realize the F High Deductible plan will also no longer be available in 2020 because it is a derivative of the F plan.
 
I really like the F-HD plan.  The K plan is good but I think an F-HD plan from a solid insurance company is better.  I will probably switch to an F-HD plan in 2018.  I don't know what I will do.


Added 2/2/17:
 
I did a little more reading on and thinking about the F plan longevity.  Even if I do enroll and have the F or F-HD before 2020, over time it is highly likely the premium for F plan types will increase more rapidly than for other medicare supplement plans,  I write that because the insurance pool for the F or F-HD plan will shrink after 2020 as people die and the age demographics in the pool will keep increasing without "younger people" in the pool.  Also, there might be new Medicare Supplement options available that are better price performance.

In the comments section of this post, a viewer was kind enough to provide information about what is being proposed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.  In particular the "G" plan is being proposed to have a G-HD option:

http://www.naic.org/documents/committees_b_senior_issues_exposure_medigap_plans_sold_after_200101.pdf
   
This is a proposal.  It could change.  I also urge you to also pay really close attention to the new administration's actions regarding Medicare and make your voice heard if you do not like what is being proposed.  Paul Ryan has for years championed a Medicare "voucher" system and is eager to make that change.  If this administration adopts such a plan, it essentially means we will be given a stipend to go buy insurance.  The government insurance pool (aka original Medicare) might be one of the options to buy but it's not known. If it will be offered, it's not known at what cost.  If there is no government insurance pool, there is no need for Medicare Supplement insurance. I wince as I write that last sentence and will shout out loud and long to my representatives if it is proposed.
 
I have no crystal ball. I am keeping my K plan because it is a good price performer for me for right now and I will intently watch this evolution.  I also live in a state that allows me to change my medigap any time  to be effective the first of the next month. If your state doesn't, take action and press your state legislators to change the state laws regarding Medicare supplement plans.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

IBM OneExchange Medicare Supplement K plan working well

This is the second year I used a "K" Medicare Supplement plan with original Medicare.  I am pleasantly surprised with the "K" plan. I have written extensively about the benefit of original Medicare and a Medicare Supplement plan (aka medigap) in other posts if you want to know more about the kind of insurance I recommend.

When I first bought a Medicare Supplement plan (in 2013 when IBM threw us out of their group health insurance), I was sure the best option was an "F High Deductible" plan.  I had a low premium for a policy that would only provide benefit when my out of pocket coinsurance costs went beyond about $2100. Some people call this "disaster insurance".  It turns out it was "disaster insurance" because the insurance company made many mistakes and it took an act of congress to get them to "activate" the policy.  I won't relive that story but if you are interested here's a link to that post:

http://ibmmedicare.blogspot.com/2014/11/ibm-oneexchange-medicare-supplemental.html

After that experience I decided to try the K plan in 2015 because I wanted a reliable insurance company and AARP UHC has a good reputation.  Unfortunately they didn't sell a F-HD plan in my zip code. Turns out maybe that's not a bad thing. The K plan provides some insurance benefit (10% of coinsurance) until my out of pocket expenses are $4960 - then it covers all my coinsurance for the rest of the year.  That's a high deductible and it resets every year.  It takes a whole lot of being sick to reach that amount.  However, it took a whole lot of sick to reach the "F-HD" deductible of $2100 too. By the time it was met in 2014, the medigap year was almost up so there wasn't a huge amount of insurance benefit from the F-HD plan before it reset.

The premium for the "K" plan in New York is about the same as the "F HD" plan premium I purchased in 2014 and is about $80/mo.  However, this year the K plan paid about $500 of my coinsurance cost.  That's about $40/month I didn't have to pay out of pocket making the effective rate of my disaster policy about $40/mo. If I had used an "F-HD" plan I would have received NO benefit because my coinsurance and part B deductible costs for the year were about $1200 which is well below the F-HD deductible amount.
   
If you buy an F-HD deductible medigap it is likely your policy deductible will reset before you get much benefit unless you start accruing medical bills in the beginning of the plan year or you are chronically ill.  If you are considering something like hip or knee replacement, do it in the beginning of the F-HD medigap year to maximize your chances of receiving benefit for that year.  There is sometimes confusion over WHEN a medigap deductible year resets. It is on the anniversary of when you buy the policy.  (this was wrong - the deductible resets in January no matter when you buy the policy).

If you are reasonably healthy, the K plan is a nice option. However, if I could buy an F-HD medigap at the same premium price from a reliable insurance company I would switch back to it. I still think it is the best medigap policy to get unless you are chronically ill.  The bottom line is do the math to make sure you have the right policy and are not overpaying for medigap insurance.