What’s going on with Medicare in Minnesota and how to find help

Changes are on the horizon for many Medicare beneficiaries in Minnesota – and the time is now to explore options and make a decision for 2019. Whether you are an enrollee or have an older loved one faced with these changes, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the options and use the helpful resources available to make an informed choice.

We asked Kelli Jo Greiner, health policy analyst at the Minnesota Board on Aging, to offer some advice on how to pick the best plan.

Q: What are these changes and what do they mean for seniors in Minnesota?

A: We have over 400,000 Medicare cost plan enrollees – it’s a popular option in Minnesota for Medicare beneficiaries. These plans are ending in most Minnesota counties due to a change in federal law, which requires that cost plans can no longer be available in counties where there are two or more Medicare Advantage plans that meet the enrollment threshold. This takes effect on January 1, 2019, so Medicare cost enrollees are making decisions about how to get coverage starting in January 2019.

They have three options:

1) Return to Original Medicare and purchase a Medigap policy to fill in the gap.

2) Purchase a Medicare Advantage plan that has a network of providers that they can use to get the maximum amount of coverage.

3) Return to Original Medicare.

We’re concerned about this last group of people in particular. There is high cost sharing with all the Medicare deductibles and copays they would have to pay out of pocket.

Q: What are some common concerns you have been hearing from seniors?

A: People are not happy to have to make this change. They like the cost plan they are enrolled in. We’re also hearing a lot about how complex and confusing this whole process is. It’s further complicated by more plans and more companies coming into Minnesota who have never been here before.

People need to look at their options and make the decision that is best for them based on a number of factors, not just one or two things. There are pros and cons to every option. There’s not one option that’s best for everybody.

Q: What’s the most important thing you could share with seniors about these changes?

A: What I want to tell every senior is it’s so important they look at their options and what is going to change for 2019. Studies at the national level show that very few Medicare beneficiaries review plans and make changes. So take the time to look at and understand the options. Cost plan enrollees should keep every piece of mail they get from their current cost plan because that will give them information on their options.

Other important considerations when exploring plans:

  • Does your provider participate in the plan?
  • Does the plan cover your prescription drugs?
  • Do you have a preferred pharmacy where out-of-pocket costs will be less under the plan?
  • Can you afford the plan’s premiums?

Q: What resources are available to Minnesotans looking for help?

A: We encourage people to call 1-800-MEDICARE for help enrolling in plans and to call the Senior LinkAge Line for comprehensive, objective assistance. Because we are concerned about longer than normal hold times, we extended hours for the Senior LinkAge Line (1-800-333-2433) to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. and 8 a.m. to 4:30 pm. on Friday.

In addition to that, if you have an agent or broker you trust, talk to them. Also, call your current plan; they can assist you if you stay with the company. Or you can call the plan you’re changing to and they can help you.

Q: What are key dates Minnesotans should keep in mind?

A: Upcoming key dates for Medicare-related events are as follows:

  • Oct. 15-Dec. 7, 2018: Medicare Open Enrollment. Any Medicare beneficiary can choose a new plan during this time.
  • Nov. 2, 2018-March 4, 2019: Beneficiaries who lost their Cost Plan and switched to Original Medicare for 2019 can buy a Medicare Supplement policy without any health screening.
  • Dec. 8, 2018-Feb. 28, 2019: Beneficiaries who lost their Cost Plan can choose a different Medicare Advantage Plan or Part D prescription drug plan.
  • Jan. 1, 2019: Medicare beneficiaries whose Cost Plan ended Dec. 31, 2018, and who did not enroll in a new plan will return to Original Medicare (Parts A & B only).
  • Jan.1-March 31, 2019: Medicare Advantage Enrollment Period for all Medicare beneficiaries (new for 2019) allows someone with a Medicare Advantage plan to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan, or drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare or add or drop a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan.

Q: How can family members help their older loved ones navigate these changes?

A: We have a number of beneficiaries who are residents of skilled nursing facilities. We’re really concerned about long-term care residents understanding these changes and if not, getting the help they need through a caregiver or significant other to make sure they make the change that’s best for them in 2019. We want to make sure loved ones are in tune to what’s going on.

They should read the mail their loved one receives from his or her plan to understand what is happening. And realize that although there is extra time to make a decision for people affected by cost plan changes, if they want to have coverage January 1, they need to make a decision. And there’s help available. They should seek out that help.

Right now, the Senior LinkAge Line is busiest between 10-11:30 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m. But we’re finding that between 4:30 and 6 p.m. are quiet call times. So maybe caregivers who are working could call later in the day.

Q: As Minnesota’s senior population grows rapidly, the need for services like the Senior LinkAge Line will also grow. How have you seen increased demand and how do you see this evolving in the future?

A: What we are going to see is expanded use of technology as time goes on. This year, we knew call volume would be higher than normal. We have six contact centers located at Area Agencies on Aging around Minnesota. We routed calls differently this year to ensure that all the calls are being routed statewide to all call centers. So, for example, there could be a call placed in Rochester sent to Warren. We’re maximizing the use of all our staff and infrastructure and our phone system. It seems to really be working. We’re still really busy but we’re finding that all staff members are taking calls, and are busier than usual at all call centers.

We now have more than one million Medicare beneficiaries in Minnesota. We’re seeing more people use our services, and I think a factor of that is we don’t sell or market anything. We provide objective, unbiased information and a lot of people are looking for that.

The Senior LinkAge Line® (1-800-333-2433) is the Minnesota Board on Aging’s free statewide information and assistance service to help connect Minnesotans to services in their communities. It is provided by six Area Agencies on Aging that cover all 87 counties of Minnesota. The Senior LinkAge Line has extended its hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. and 8 a.m. to 4:30 pm. on Friday. Learn more here.

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