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Consider health, budget when picking Medigap plan

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    If you plan to enroll in original Medicare, a supplemental policy (Medigap insurance) is a smart idea. It will help pay for things that aren’t covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: Can you provide advice on choosing a Medicare supplemental policy to help cover things outside of Medicare? I’ll be 65 in a few months and could use some assistance.

— Looking for Help

DEAR LOOKING: If you plan to enroll in original Medicare, a supplemental policy (Medigap insurance) is a smart idea. It will help pay for things that aren’t covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

MEDIGAP PLANS

In all but three states (Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin), Medigap plans, sold by private health insurers, come in 10 standardized benefit packages labeled with the letters A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M and N.

Plan F is the most popular, followed by Plan C, because they provide comprehensive coverage. Plans K and L are high-deductible policies that have lower premiums. Plan F also offers a high-deductible version in some states. And a popular middle-ground policy that attracts many healthy beneficiaries is Plan N.

For more information, see Medicare’s “Choosing a Medigap Policy” guide, or call 800-MEDICARE and ask them to mail you a copy.

HOW TO CHOOSE

To help you decide, consider your health, family medical history and budget. The differences in plans can be small and rather confusing.

For information on plans, visit medicare.gov and click on “Supplements & Other Insurance,” then on “Find a Medigap policy” and type in your ZIP code. Contact the carriers directly for specific pricing.

You can also compare Medigap prices on most state insurance department websites (see NAIC.org/state_web_map.htm for links) or order a personal report from Weiss Ratings for $99 at WeissMedigap.com.

Since all Medigap policies with the same letter must cover exactly the same benefits, you should shop for the cheapest policy.

You’ll get the best price if you sign up within six months after enrolling in Medicare Part B. During this open-enrollment period, an insurer cannot refuse to sell you a policy or charge you more because of your health.

You also need to be aware of the pricing methods, which will affect your costs. Medigap policies are usually sold as one of the following: “community-rated,” where everyone in an area is charged the same premium regardless of age; “issue-age-rated,” which is based on your age when you buy the policy but will increase only due to inflation, not age; and “attained-age-rated,” which starts premiums low but increases as you age. Community-­rate and issue-age-rated policies will save you money in the long run.

You can buy the plan directly from an insurance company, or you can work with a local insurance broker.

Note that Medigap plans do not cover vision, dental care, hearing aids or long-term care. They do not cover prescription drugs, either. If you don’t have drug coverage, consider buying a separate Medicare Part D drug plan, too. See medicare.gov/find-a-plan to compare plans.

ALTERNATIVE OPTION

Instead of getting original Medicare, a Medigap policy and a separate drug plan, you could sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan for all-in-one coverage. To compare plans, visit medicare.gov/find-a-plan.


Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.


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