Among those losing Cost plans, about 142,000 people are being automatically enrolled in new MA plans from their current insurer, although they are free to make a different choice. Some of those being automatically enrolled in an MA plan are finding their doctor is not in the new health plan’s network, Greiner said, and there are cases where the new MA plan’s drug coverage brings much higher copayment requirements.
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In February 2013, Governor Mark Dayton signed HF9, a bill that expanded access to Medicaid Assistance (Minnesota’s Medicaid program) under the ACA. News reports in 2013 widely reported that Medicaid expansion was expected to provide health coverage for 35,000 newly-eligible Minnesota residents. But Families USA projected estimated in April 2017 that 222,900 people were enrolled in Medicaid in Minnesota due to expansion.

The donut hole is being eliminated in 2019 for brand-name drugs, one year ahead of schedule. The gap in prescription drug coverage (the donut hole) starts when someone reaches the initial coverage limit ($3,820 in 2019), and ends when they have spent $5,100 (these thresholds are each slightly higher than they were in 2018). Prior to 2011, Medicare Part D enrollees paid the full cost of their medications while in the donut hole. But the ACA has been steadily closing the donut hole, and it will be fully closed by 2020, when enrollees in standard Part D plans will pay just 25 percent of the cost of their drugs all the way up to the catastrophic coverage threshold. But the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA 2018) closes the donut hole one year early for brand name drugs. As a result of the BBA, enrollees will pay 25 percent of the cost of brand-name drugs (down from the 30 percent that was originally scheduled) and 37 percent of the cost of generic drugs (down from 44 percent in 2018). The cost of closing the donut hole one year early for brand-name drugs is being shifted onto drug manufactures. The Medicare Part D maximum deductible is $415 in 2018, up slightly from $405 in 2018.


You can only sign up for Part D coverage during the first three months of the year if you’re switching from a Medicare Advantage plan back to Original Medicare. You cannot, for example, be enrolled in Original Medicare with a Part D plan and then switch to a different Part D plan during the January – March enrollment period. Instead, you’d need to make that change during the fall election period (October 15 to December 7).

Make note, the Medically Needy Pathway does not assist one in spending down extra assets for Medicaid qualification. Said another way, if one meets the income requirements for Medicaid eligibility, but not the asset requirement, the above program cannot assist one in “spending down” extra assets. However, one can “spend down” assets by spending excess assets on ones that are non-countable, such as home modifications to improve safety and make the home wheelchair accessible. Examples include adding wheelchair ramps, stair lifts, pedestal sinks, roll-in showers, widening the doorways, and replacing carpet with vinyl or laminate flooring. One may also use excess assets to prepay funeral and burial expenses and pay off debt. As mentioned above, one cannot simply give away assets or sell them for significantly less than their value, as Minnesota has a 5-year Medicaid Look-Back Period that prevents applicants from doing so. If one is found in violation of the look-back period, this may result in a period of ineligibility.


Medicare MSA Plans combine a high deductible Medicare Advantage Plan and a trust or custodial savings account (as defined and/or approved by the IRS). The plan deposits money from Medicare into the account. You can use this money to pay for your health care costs, but only Medicare-covered expenses count toward your deductible. The amount deposited is usually less than your deductible amount, so you generally have to pay out-of-pocket before your coverage begins.
Between January 1 and March 31 each year, if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can leave your plan and return to Original Medicare, and buy a Part D prescription drug plan to supplement your Original Medicare. Starting in 2019, you also have the option to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan during this time. From 2011 through 2018, there wasn’t an option to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan outside of the fall open enrollment period unless you had a circumstance that allowed you a Special Enrollment Period. But the 21st Century Cures Act (Section 17005) expanded the timeframe of the window (from one and a half months to three months) starting in 2019, and allows people to switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another.
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Residents may still qualify to receive MA benefits even if they already have other private insurance. When applying for Medicaid, they simply must state in their application that they have other insurance or could get insurance through an employer or military service. Often, MA can pay the cost of the other insurance, allowing the candidate to keep the same coverage.
“It’s important for consumers to review their Medicare coverage  and make sure the plan is both affordable and provides access to doctors, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies they want and need,” said Kari Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging, which operates the Senior LinkAge Line. “Line specialists can help by providing comprehensive, unbiased Medicare counseling.”
Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.
Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, is another way to receive Original Medicare benefits and is offered through private insurance companies. At minimum, all Medicare Advantage plans must offer the same Medicare Part A and Part B benefits as Original Medicare. Some Medicare Advantage plans also include additional benefits, such as prescription drug coverage. You must have Original Medicare, Part A and B, to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan through a private insurer.

Minnesota also prohibits Medigap insurers from basing premiums on an enrollee’s age. Premiums for Medigap plans in Minnesota only vary based on tobacco use and where the enrollee lives. These rating rules also apply to people who are eligible for Medicare before the age of 65, which is somewhat unusual; most of the states that have guaranteed access to Medigap for under-65 enrollees do allow the insurers to charge those enrollees higher premiums.
If you’re automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B, but do not wish to keep it you have a few options to drop the coverage. If your Medicare coverage hasn’t started yet and you were sent a red, white, and blue Medicare card, you can follow the instructions that come with your card and send the card back. If you keep the Medicare card, you keep Part B and will need to pay Part B premiums. If you signed up for Medicare through Social Security, then you will need to contact them to drop Part B coverage. If your Medicare coverage has started and you want to drop Part B, contact Social Security for instructions on how to submit a signed request. Your coverage will end the first day of the month after Social Security gets your request.
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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.


If you are a Minnesota resident enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), you have options to also enroll in a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan in Minnesota (also called Medigap or MedSupp) to cover health costs not covered under Original Medicare. Costs not covered under Original Medicare might include deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and other out-of-pocket costs. Most states, including Minnesota, offer Medigap policies with letters corresponding with different Medicare Supplement Insurance plans with certain standardized benefits.
You’re eligible for Medicare if you’re age 65 or older, receiving disability benefits, or have certain conditions, like end-stage renal disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). You must be either a United States citizen or a legal permanent resident of at least five years. In some instances, you may not have to take any action in order to enroll. This may happen if you’re turning 65 and already receive Social Security benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits.
You’ll have the opportunity to disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare during the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period, which runs from January 1 to February 14. You cannot use this period to switch Medicare Advantage plans or make other changes. However, if you decide to drop your Medicare Advantage plan, you can also use this period to join a stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan, since Original Medicare doesn’t include prescription drug coverage.

The Minnesota Medicaid program is for people with low income and is known as Medical Assistance (MA). Low income residents of Minnesota that qualify for Medicaid get health care through various health plan providers serving different counties. Minnesota residents that do not get health care through a health plan receive care on a fee-to-service basis. With this option, the health plan providers bill the state directly for the services they offer… Read More
Special enrollment periods remain for most beneficiaries who live in one of the 66 Minnesota counties that are losing their Cost Plans as of Dec. 31 due a change in federal law. As of Jan. 1 Medicare beneficiaries whose Cost Plan ended Dec. 31 and who did not enroll in a new plan will return to Original Medicare (Parts A and B only). Returning to Original Medicare could be costly so these beneficiaries should know that through Feb. 28 they can enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan and a Part D prescription drug plan or through March 4 they can purchase a Medigap policy without a health screening.
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Not surprisingly, the popularity of Medicare Advantage plans varies significantly from one state to another, with only one percent of the Medicare population enrolled in Advantage plans in Alaska (there are no individual Medicare Advantage plans available at all in Alaska; people with Advantage coverage there have employer-sponsored Medicare Advantage plans), versus 56 percent in Minnesota.
If you don’t want Medicare Advantage, think about a Medigap policy (Medicare Supplement Insurance). If you get Original Medicare, you can pay an extra monthly premium to get a private Medigap policy that covers some of the expenses that Medicare Parts A and B won’t cover, such as co-insurance, copayments, and deductibles. Medigap policies do not cover prescription drugs (you need Part D for that). Learn more about Medigap policies or find one in your area.
The open enrollment period for Medicare runs from October 15 through December 7 on an annual basis, however, this is not the case for individuals interested in Medigap (Medicare Supplement) coverage. The open enrollment period for a Medigap policy is the six month period that starts the first day of the month that you turn 65 or older and enrolled in Part B. After this period, your ability to buy a Medigap policy may be limited and it may be more costly. Each state handles things differently, but there are additional open enrollment periods in some cases.
If you are a Minnesota resident enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), you have options to also enroll in a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan in Minnesota (also called Medigap or MedSupp) to cover health costs not covered under Original Medicare. Costs not covered under Original Medicare might include deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and other out-of-pocket costs. Most states, including Minnesota, offer Medigap policies with letters corresponding with different Medicare Supplement Insurance plans with certain standardized benefits.

Besides the income limit for Medical Assistance in Minnesota, there is an asset limit. Assets are personal possessions that have value, such as cars, checking and savings accounts, real estate and investments. The asset requirements for Medicaid in MN do not apply to children who are younger than 21 years of age, adults without children, pregnant women and certain other groups. Parents and any caretaker relative who are eligible for MA with a spenddown have certain asset limits. Seniors and people who are 21 years of age and older who are disabled or blind have to adhere to an asset limit as well. Assets that do not need to be noted toward the Medicaid asset limit requirements include the applicant’s place of residence, household goods, personal items like clothing and jewelry and special items owned by an American Indian.

Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, is another way to receive Original Medicare benefits and is offered through private insurance companies. At minimum, all Medicare Advantage plans must offer the same Medicare Part A and Part B benefits as Original Medicare. Some Medicare Advantage plans also include additional benefits, such as prescription drug coverage. You must have Original Medicare, Part A and B, to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan through a private insurer. 

Eagan-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota says it's seen a net increase in Medicare enrollment of about 4,500 people during 2019, with most activity coming from people moving into Medigap plans. The insurer says that many Cost plan enrollees found the closest fit to their old coverage is original Medicare plus a Medigap supplemental plan plus stand-alone Part D drug coverage.
The federal government paid the full cost of covering the newly-eligible Medicaid population through 2016. Starting in 2017, the state began paying a portion of the cost, but the state’s share will never exceed 10 percent. A few weeks prior to passage, an amendment had been added to HF9 that would allow Medicaid expansion to expire if the federal government ever defaults on its promise to always pay at least 90 percent of the cost of covering the newly-eligible population. But that amendment was removed from the bill prior to passage.
The state of Michigan launched a new subsidy program in 2017 that will reduce the cost of Medigap premiums for its residents. It offers considerable savings — up to $125 per month — for certain Medigap beneficiaries who are under 65 and have a disability. For more information, including the online application, visit https://michiganmedigapsubsidy.com.
A federal law passed in 2003 created a “competition” requirement for Medicare Cost plans, which stipulated the plans could not be offered in service areas where there was significant competition from Medicare Advantage plans. Congress delayed implementation of the requirement several times until a law passed in 2015 that called for the rule to take effect in 2019.

More than 44 million individuals in the U.S. are enrolled in Medicare, and Medicare eligibility in Minnesota is high, with more than 746,500 people receiving Medicare benefits. That means approximately 14 percent of the state’s total population is eligible for Medicare, with over 237,000 individuals enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and 753,000 people receiving Medicare Part D to help cover the cost of their prescriptions.
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