The 2019 elimination of most Medicare Cost Plans is uniquely confusing for Minnesota Medicare enrollees.
Who knew you could lose your favorite Medicare plan – unless you had no other choice? That’s what is facing more than 300,000 Minnesotans who are enrolled in a Medicare Cost Plan. Every Medicare Cost Plan will be eliminated starting 2019 in most Minnesota counties.Current Medicare Cost members must join a new plan in 2018 to keep uninterrupted supplemental Medicare protection. Click To Tweet
Surprisingly, while Medicare Cost has been the choice of about 630,000 beneficiaries throughout the U.S., 402,000 of those, or 64 percent, reside in Minnesota. Which is what makes Medicare Cost changes a peculiarly Minnesotan problem.
(In 21 Minnesota counties, approximately 100,000 people will retain their coverage due to a continued lack of other options where they live. There, Medicare Cost will remain available through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners and Medica.)
What’s Happening to Medicare Cost Plans in Minnesota?
It’s not just in Minnesota. Medicare Cost Plans throughout the U.S. are being eliminated. They were targeted as early as 2003 as a result of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which also created Medicare Part D and spurred the growth of Medicare Advantage plans. Once sufficient Medicare Advantage choice existed, Medicare Cost Plans would automatically have to close.
Snowbirds Will Need a New Plan
Reports of the Minnesota Cost Plan issue have been reported as far as Florida, for a very good reason: the Cost Plan has been the coverage of choice for snowbirds. Without it, the former beneficiaries may be struggling to find adequate coverage during the winter months.
“Cost Plans were very popular with the snowbirds in our state,” said Kelli Jo Greiner, part of the Consumer Choices Team at the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Minnesota Board on Aging, “because they would have access to much larger networks that those of Medicare Advantage plans. A Cost Plan, Greiner explained, was a managed-care type option where beneficiaries retain Original Medicare Parts A and B but are able to go outside of the network, should they choose. “That is not how it works with Medicare Advantage,” she added.
The automatic change is something that healthcare communicators like Greiner have been trying to get the word out about since 2017.
Getting the Word Out: The real campaign started in June 2018, starting first with letters mailed to Medicare recipients, then expanding to include print and radio ads and outreach through social media and community outreach. Beginning in November, the real fun begins as people begin to switch plans.
Problems With New Plans? U-betcha
Overall, about 125,000 Medicare beneficiaries will be automatically switched (or, more precisely, “deemed”) to a Medicare Advantage plan. If that is the case with your coverage, you won’t necessarily be switched to the plan with the most doctors, your current hospital, or the cheapest coverage. You may still want to check price quotes to see if the Medicare Advantage that has been selected is the right plan for you.
For approximately 200,000 remaining seniors who were not switched, the hard choices start right now. And those who have grown comfortable with the Medicare Cost Plan will find that making new healthcare choices by the December 7, 2018 deadline is fraught with uncertainty.
“It’s very complicated,” acknowledged Greiner. “They need to look at many things. Does their provider participate in the new plan they’re looking at? Does their pharmacy participate? Are their prescription drugs covered? There’s all these complicated questions that people have to answer to make sure they’re making the right decision for 2019.”
The worst thing to do, however, is nothing. “If they do nothing,” said Greiner, “they’ll return to Original Medicare A and B for January 1, but won’t have anything coverage to pick up the copay and the cost sharing. If they were enrolled in a separate Medicare Part D plan, they would have drug coverage, but our concern is that if a significant amount of people do nothing, chances are they’re not going to have drug coverage.”
Following Up On Your Minnesota Medicare Cost Coverage
It’s important not to delay coverage for 2019. The Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) – when you can choose your own supplemental coverage company and plan – is almost over.
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