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Gail MarksJarvis: Why seniors should choose wisely when selecting Medigap supplement insurance

Gail MarksJarvis, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Senior Living News

A plan to shut the doors on the most popular insurance policies used by retirees on Medicare will soon present difficult decisions for people choosing Medigap supplement insurance.

In 2020, people who are on Medicare and don't already have what's known as Plan F or Plan C Medigap insurance won't be able to buy it because the federal government will close those plans to new participants. That means that when people go onto Medicare at 65, or if they switch Medicare-related insurance during the next couple of years, they are going to have to be diligent about scrutinizing insurance possibilities before some of those doors start to close.

Choosing Medigap insurance policies to cover the doctor and hospital costs Medicare doesn't pay has never been easy given numerous choices with names that simply use letters from the alphabet. But during the next couple of years, the decisions could be even more difficult.

In the past, people have tended to veer toward Plan F Medigap insurance when they wanted all retirement medical costs covered. Plan F is the most popular of the many Medigap insurance plans because it is the most comprehensive. It doesn't cover dental, vision, or medicine, but if retirees pay their monthly premiums they shouldn't have to pay anything else for doctors, tests or hospitals. Even medical care overseas is partially covered.

In other words, at a time in life when medical issues can pop up suddenly and cost a fortune, Plan F is predictable. Plan C is popular for the same reason, although it isn't as comprehensive as Plan F. Plan C doesn't pick up the "excess fees" doctors charge over Medicare limits. To compare plans see www.tinyurl.com/d4t7xlj.

"My mother has Plan F, and you wouldn't be able to pry it out of her dead hands," said Bryan Padget, an outreach coordinator for the U.S. Department of Aging Senior Health Insurance Program, which helps people choose Medicare-related coverage. "People love not having to worry about paying anything but premiums."

According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 53 percent of people who buy Medigap supplements choose Plan F or Plan C.

Yet, the popularity of Plans F and C made them unpopular with federal lawmakers and brought about the change that will happen in 2020. In 2015, Congress decided to shut the doors on Plan F and C in 2020 to reduce government spending on Medicare. Although Medigap plans are purchased from private insurance companies, people use them along with Medicare provided by the government. Critics argue that Plan F makes it too easy for people to go to the doctor without thinking twice about the cost.

So after 2020, all Medigap plans accepting new retirees will make seniors pay the extra medical cost of the deductible on Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the extra cost of paying a deductible would reduce federal spending on Medicare by about $400 million between 2020 and 2025.

With the 2020 change coming, insurance experts say it's crucial for people to act deliberately now so they don't end up locked out of a plan they'd want, or get stuck in a plan they don't want.

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