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.
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.
A Special Needs Plan is a type of Medicare Advantage plan limited to people with certain chronic conditions and other specific characteristics. Typically, you must receive care from health care providers and hospitals within your SNP network, except for in cases when you need emergency or urgent care and when someone who has End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) needs out-of-area kidney dialysis.
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.
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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.
Medical Assistance (Medicaid) coverage is available for adults if household income does not exceed 138 percent of poverty (MinnesotaCare, with a small monthly premium, is available for those with income up to 200 percent of poverty), for infants with household income up to 283 percent of poverty, for children 1 – 18 with household incomes up to 275 percent of poverty, and for pregnant women with household incomes up to 278 percent of poverty.
Even when you enroll in Medicare, your out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, co-insurance and co-pays can be significant. This is especially true in Minnesota where health insurance premiums vary based on location and population density. It is important to consider options that can help reduce your out-of-pocket costs. Medicare supplements (also known as Medigap), Medicare managed-care style health plans (Advantage and Cost plans) and Part D plans can provide you the coverage and protection you may need. These additional plans must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Insurance, so you can rest assured that all plans meet the established criteria.
Medigap coverage can be priced in one of three ways: community rating, issue-age rating, or attained-age rating. As of 2018, eight states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington) require carriers to use community rating. The remaining states were simply listed as not requiring community rating, thus leaving it up to the insurer to allow for any rating type, including issue-age or attained-age.