Typically, you can join a Medicare Cost plan anytime the plan is accepting new members. If you’re newly eligible for Medicare, you can enroll anytime during your seven-month Initial Enrollment Period as long as you are enrolled in Medicare Part B. However, if you’re currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan or a Part D drug plan, you must first disenroll from that plan before enrolling in a Cost plan.
As a result, an estimated 320,000 Medicare Cost enrollees in Minnesota needed new coverage for 2019. There are 21 counties where Medicare Cost plans continue to be available, but Medicare Cost enrollees in the rest of the state were not able to keep their Cost plans. Instead, they had the option to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan (some were automatically enrolled in a comparable Medicare Advantage plan, although they had an option to pick something else instead), or select a Medigap plan to supplement their Original Medicare. Enrollees whose Medicare Cost plans ended have guaranteed issue rights to a Medigap plan, so they can purchase one even if they had pre-existing medical conditions. But that guaranteed-issue right only lasts for 63 days, which means Monday, March 4, 2019 is the last day these individuals can purchase a Medigap plan without having to go through medical underwriting.
The annual open enrollment period for people selecting a Medicare health plan ends Friday, but that doesn’t mean the shopping season is over for more than 300,000 Minnesotans who are losing their Medicare Cost coverage next year. Beginning Saturday, people losing Cost plans will be eligible for a special enrollment period where they have until month’s end to buy replacement coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, and enrollment options that stretch into 2019. (Snowbeck, 12/6)
In addition to Medical Assistance Medicaid, the state also provides Minnesota Care (MNCare) for residents with incomes above 138 percent of poverty, up to 200 percent of poverty. MNCare has existed in Minnesota since 1992, but it became a much more robust program in 2014. And as of January 2015, MinnesotaCare transitioned to a Basic Health Program under the ACA. BHPs are a provision of the ACA that any state can implement, but Minnesota was the only state to do so for 2015. New York has now also established a BHP, effective January 2016.
1) Medically Needy Pathway – In a nutshell, one may still be eligible for Medicaid services even if they are over the income limit if they have high medical bills in comparison to their monthly income. In Minnesota, this program is referred to as a “Spenddown” program. Basically, persons must pay down their “excess income,” (their income over the Medicaid eligibility limit, which is often referred to as a deductible) on medical bills. This may include health insurance costs, such as Medicare premiums, as well as bills to cover medical services. Once one has paid down his or her excess income to the Medicaid eligibility limit, he or she will receive Medicaid benefits for the remainder of the spenddown period. This program, regardless of name, provides a means to “spend down” one’s extra income in order to qualify for Medicaid.
Medigap is the only form of private coverage for Medicare beneficiaries that has no federally mandated annual open enrollment period. Medigap coverage is guaranteed issue for six months, starting when you’re at least 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B. During that time, enrollees can select any Medigap plan available in their area, with no medical underwriting.
One of the reasons Medicare Cost has been so popular in Minnesota is that the state has a large population of “snowbirds” — retirees who live in Minnesota during the summer, but head south to warmer climes in the winter. With Medicare Cost plans, the enrollee still has Original Medicare — including the large nationwide network of providers who work with Medicare — in addition to the Medicare Cost coverage. Medicare Advantage plans, in contrast, tend to have localized networks that might not be suitable for a senior who lives in two different states during the year. A Medigap plan plus Original Medicare will allow a person in that situation to have access to health providers in both locations, although Medigap tends to be more expensive than Medicare Advantage. There are pros and cons to both options, and no one-size-fits-all solution.
Original Medicare does not limit out-of-pocket costs, so most enrollees maintain some form of supplemental coverage. Nationwide, more than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries get their supplemental coverage through an employer-sponsored plan or Medicaid. But for those who don’t, Medigap plans (also known as Medicare supplement plans, or MedSupp) will pay some or all of the out-of-pocket costs they would otherwise have to pay if they had only Original Medicare.
January 1, 2019 – March 31, 2019 Medicare Advantage Enrollment Period (new for 2019). Any senior with a Medicare Advantage plan can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan; drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare; sign up for a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan (if returning to Original Medicare); or drop their stand-alone Part D plan.