There are several Medicare supplement insurance providers operating throughout the country. Almost all offer policies with the help of agents in order to promote enrollment and reduce overhead.
First, it is very important to understand Medicare supplement prices are controlled by law. This means that agents cannot undercut one another by offering better rates than a competitor nor can the insurance company underwriting the coverage offer a different rate than the agents they use to help enroll members. Prices are the same no matter the source so there is no monetary advantage to buying direct or pitting agents against one another.
This is why it can be wise to develop a relationship with an independent insurance broker when shopping around for Medicare supplement policies. The price will be the same, but you will also get the knowledge and experience form someone who works with several different companies.
Medicare supplement rules and regulations are uniform in the benefits provided (a Plan F is a Plan F), but there can be significant variances in price, underwriting standards, discounts, etc. between insurance companies; and there are key regulations that will differ from state to state.
An Agent’s Perspective Into Medicare Supplement Insurance
Your broker plays an important role in the insurance transaction. Knowledgeable agents can provide insight into different rules and regulations in your home state.
It can be very helpful to know if your state offers supplemental coverage to those under age 65 – many do not. Or you might want to know if you are afforded an open enrollment window or anniversary each year where similar coverage can be purchased without underwriting.
One of the most common misconceptions with Medicare supplement coverage is that newer, less expensive coverage can be purchased each year during open enrollment from November 15th to December 31st. This is simply not the case. The annual open enrollment period is for changing prescription Part D plans, dis-enrolling from a Medicare Advantage plan, or changing to a new Medicare Advantage plan. It is not however a time when you can purchase a new supplement without medical underwriting every year.
There are a few states that offer open enrollment windows to Medicare beneficiaries every year when (like or lesser) coverage can be purchased without underwriting. For example, California and Missouri both offer open enrollment periods each year, but they include your birthday month and anniversary month respectively. Most other states however have no such rules and medical underwriting will usually be required.
If you live in a state without a yearly open enrollment window, then in many cases your have to be in reasonably good health to change plans. There will be exceptions to this rule as well however. Some insurance companies will relax their underwriting standards from time to time.
For example, there is one insurance company that offers Plan N with little to no underwriting. There is another that bases their eligibility on whether you are within 3 years of enrolling in Medicare Part B. There is still another that has temporarily allowed consumers to switch to like or lesser coverage with no underwriting at all – regardless of age, health, and/or any open enrollment restrictions.
Medicare Insurance Discounts and Perks
When you are enrolling in supplemental coverage, it is a good idea to let your agent know if a spouse might be joining you in the near future if s/he is not yet 65 or still employed. Some insurance companies provide valuable marital discounts that when combined will offer significant savings over a competitor.
Additionally, a few providers offer free or discounted gym memberships. This program is often referred to as silver sneakers and can help offset premiums that might otherwise be less attractive at first glance.
Additionally, some carriers underwrite to unisex rates while others have separate pricing models for males and females. And in some cases, supplement policies can be more or less expensive depending on your zip code.
As you can see from the state and insurance company specific rules and nuances listed above that the Medicare supplement marketplace is fluid. While the benefits will always be the same for like coverage no matter the carrier, most other variables can be quite a bit different – including underwriting which is one of the most important factors.
Again, this is why the agent is so important. If you are unaware of the often changing state and/or federal rules governing Medicare insurance or if you are not familiar with the many variables affecting underwriting, then you can be missing out on opportunities to enroll in more affordable coverage.
In summary, Medicare can be confusing especially if you have newly been approved for government provided Parts A and B. If you wish to purchase a supplement to fill in the general 20% gaps that are not covered, then an independent agent can be a valuable resource now and in the future.
A.M. Hyers has been working in the insurance and investment industry for over ten years. He owns and operates Hyers and Associates, Inc. an independent insurance agency doing business in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. His agency offers insurance products in the individual, family, and group markets. They have partnered with several nationally recognized and highly rated carriers to quote Medicare supplement insurance plans and Medicare Part D coverage for seniors.
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