An important update on what Medicare changes mean for Minnesotans

The Medicare enrollment period for 2019 coverage has been marked by confusion and angst for many beneficiaries in Minnesota and across the country as a new federal allow is eliminating Cost plans, leaving consumers to choose between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans.

More than 300,000 Minnesotans are affected by the changes. State officials are working to make sure beneficiaries who are losing Cost plans don’t revert to Medicare without buying Medigap and Part D coverage. Those who have major health needs would face large medical bills without the coverage because original Medicare usually covers only 80 percent of medical costs and doesn’t cover most drugs.

Beneficiaries who are affected by the cost plans ending have until midnight Dec. 31 to enroll in a plan and have it take effect Jan. 1.

With that deadline looming, we thought it would be a good time to check in with Kelli Jo Greiner, health policy analyst at the Minnesota Board on Aging, for an update on how the enrollment process has been going. (Excerpts edited slightly for length.)

Q. How have people been interacting with the enrollment process? Are they finding their way?

 A. I would say that there are a lot of angry, frustrated cost plan enrollees. They loved their plan and did not want to change. People are slowly finding their way through the maze of options. The options are very different than the cost plans, and they’re trying to figure it out.

There are a lot of people looking at Medigap policies as an option. The Senior Linkage Line has had more requests for information about Medigap policy than we have ever had in our 25-year history of existence.

Q. What have been the major questions enrollees have had?

A. The biggest questions are from Medicare cost plan enrollees that live in one of the 66 counties where they could no longer have their cost plan in 2019.

Does their provider participate in the new plan that they’re going to enroll in? What is the cost going to be? Can I travel with this plan? Will my plan cover me if I’m outside of the state of Minnesota?

QWhat have been the main concerns thus far?

A. The people we are most concerned about are the people that aren’t going to do anything, and they lose their cost plan and they’re not auto-enrolled into another plan. Starting January 1, all they’re going have is original Medicare with cost sharing, deductibles, co-insurance and co-pays that they will have to pay for the month of January.

They can enroll in a plan in January, but it won’t take place until February. 1. They have until February 28, to enroll in a plan and they have until March 4, to purchase a Medigap policy without any health screening.

Q. What is some advice for late enrollees?

A. I would encourage them to call The Senior Linkage Line at 1-800-333-2433 for help. We have extended hours through December 31 — from Monday through Thursday until 6 pm.

Our call volume has decreased tremendously since December 7, so people will not have to wait on the phones as long as they had to previously. We’re encouraging people to call and get the help they need including help with enrolling in a plan or selecting a Medigap option.

We want to help Medicare beneficiaries understand what their options are. We’re not going to make the decision for them, but we’re going to provide them with all the options available in Minnesota.

I encourage people to get a copy of our Health Care Choices publication that lists all of the options available in Minnesota and provides details. People can call The Senior Linkage Line, press number 4, and leave their name and address and a copy will be mailed out to them free of charge.

Q. As we head into 2019, what Medicare-related events should people look out for?

A. There is a brand-new Medicare Advantage enrollment period for all Medicare Advantage enrollees, not just the cost plan enrollees. If a beneficiary starts the New Year enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, they have from January 1 to March 31 to change plans, and they can either change to another Medicare Advantage plan or they can go back to original Medicare and purchase a standalone Part D plan.

The one thing they can’t do during that time period unless they’re an effective cost plan enrollee is purchase a Medigap policy without health screening.

Important dates to remember:

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.

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.

Aaron Roundtree is a regular contributor to Face Aging MN. If you want to reach her or have any questions, you can reach us at info@faceagingmn.org. Have your own story to share? We’d love to hear from you.

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