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.
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)

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.
If you did not enroll during the IEP when you were first eligible, you can enroll during the General Enrollment Period. The general enrollment period for Original Medicare is from January 1 through March 31 of each year. Keep in mind that you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part A and/or Part B if you did not sign up when you were first eligible.
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.

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.


In addition, both Minnesota Medigap plans and Medicare plans usually come with a package of membership benefits. These extra benefits may help members save money on such non-Medicare expenses as memberships to fitness clubs, dental care, glasses, and even over-the-counter vitamins and medicine. These membership benefits aren’t insurance, but they may offer the same sort of discounts that people enjoy when they have to pay for in-network services with insurance.
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.
On September 12, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new partnership with the State of Minnesota to test new ways of improving care for Medicare-Medicaid enrollees. Building on the state's Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) program, CMS and Minnesota will work together to improve the beneficiary experience in health plans that maintain contracts with both CMS as Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans and with the state to deliver Medicaid services.   
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Medicare Savings Programs help people on Medicare pay for some of their out-of pocket Medicare costs. The costs paid depend upon your income but can include Medicare Part A and B premiums, co-insurance, copayments, and deductibles. You need to have countable income that is 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) or less ($1,366/month for an individual, $1,852/month for couples) to qualify for a Medicare Savings Program.
Medigap plans can be considered when looking for an alternative to Medicare Advantage plans for 2019.  Unlike the no monthly premium or low premium option that you might be used to with Medicare Part C plans in Minnesota, you will have to pay for a Supplement plan. Your plan will make healthcare costs more affordable in the long run, however. This is because your chosen insurance company will pay most of the expenses like deductibles and coinsurances of Original Medicare Part A and B.
American Indians can continue to use tribal and Indian Health Services (IHS) clinics. We will not require prior approval or impose any conditions for you to get services at these clinics. For elders 65 years and older this includes Elderly Waiver (EW) services accessed through the tribe. If a doctor or other provider in a tribal or IHS clinic refers you to a provider in our network, we will not require you to see your primary care provider prior to the referral.
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.
MA enrollees who qualify for Medicare must enroll in Parts A and B as a condition of their MA eligibility. When an MA eligible person does not qualify for automatic payment of Medicare premiums, the person may be required to enroll in Medicare if the premiums are found to be cost effective. See Referrals to Medicare to determine who must be referred to apply for Medicare and the steps in the referral process.
Minnesota’s Medicaid program has utilized estate recovery (required under state and federal law) since 1967 as a means of recouping Medicaid costs after an enrollee dies. The estate recovery program applies to people who were 55 or older at the time they incurred Medicaid claims, and the program allowed the state to place leins against the enrollees’ estates, so that some or all of the money would be paid back to the state.Prior to the ACA, it was
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.
“What is Medicaid eligibility?” This question may be on your mind if you are new to the program. MN Medicaid eligibility is generally determined by the income level of the individual or household applying for Medical Assistance (MA). Individuals and families that fall within the allowable income range are eligible to receive benefits. In order to qualify for the program all applicants must meet all income and any other requirements.
We have worked with two of Minnesota’s most respected health care companies to bring you two new Medicare Advantage plan options for 2019. Our new plans are set up in an accountable care model: an extra level of coordination between these insurers and our health system to ensure quality coverage, great value, and an exceptional experience. Both plans offer two coverage options to give consumers more choice. Learn more about these plans:
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.
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.
In the fall of 2013, prior to the launch of the ACA’s exchanges, Minnesota’s total Medicaid/CHIP enrollment stood at 873,040. There were 144,481 new Medicaid enrollments through MNsure, the state-run exchange, from October 2013 through April 2014, and total enrollment in Minnesota’s Medicaid program had grown to 1,066,787 by August 2014, an increase of more than 22 percent over the enrollment total prior to October 2013. Many of these enrollees were already eligible prior to 2014, but were not aware of their eligibility.
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.
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