Changes to Medicare supplement plans take effect
Changes to Medicare's supplemental health insurance plans that went into effect at the beginning of the month are leaving people confused and worried about skyrocketing premiums.
Sam Deibler. director of the town's Commission on Aging. which runs a free health insurance counseling program with Greenwich-based Family Centers. said he's already received more than a dozen calls about the changes.
While the changes don't affect people currently covered by the supplemental plans -- also known as "Medigap" plans because they fill gaps in Medicare -- they could down the road, Deibler said.
Four programs -- the E, H, I and J policies -- were eliminated. Seniors currently covered under those policies can continue with them, but their premiums are likely to increase because no new people are signing on, Deibler said.
The J plan, for example, has been very popular because it provided wide-ranging coverage, and was less expensive than other plans with less coverage, Deibler said.
"The J plan is one of those that will start to show increases in premiums down the road," Deibler said. "Our advice to people is you don't need to change right away, but pay attention to any increases you have in your premium rates."
Along with the four plans being closed to new members, two new ones have been added, and people may wonder if they should switch, Deibler said. There are now 10 supplemental plans, down from 14.
In addition, benefits for home recovery and preventive care will be eliminated from all plans. Since the health care reform bill passed by Congress in March makes preventive care, such as screenings for colon, prostate and breast cancer, free to Medicare beneficiaries, that change won't
have much of an impact. However, said Deibler, there is a "de facto increase in the premiums" because they lost two benefits. The at-home therapy benefit provided up to $1,600 in coverage.
While the Medicare Part D prescription drug program introduced in 2006 have caused a lot of confusion, the supplemental plans have been relatively stable since congress added them nearly 20 years ago, according to Deibler.
The current alterations stem from the 2008 Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act.
"These changes come as a real surprise to people because it's in a program that hasn't had a lot of change up until now," Deibler said.
In addition to the counseling program, Family Centers will be offering a conference call through its Friendly Connections program some time in September, during which people can ask questions about the changes. The changes have also been mentioned at the beginning of recent courses, which are offered to homebound seniors by telephone through Friendly Connections.
"We're geared up for letting people know about those changes," said Bob Short. a vice president at Family Centers who helps oversee the health insurance counseling program, which has been offered for the past 20 years.
The counseling program usually works with 400 people a year on Medicare Part D issues, while Deibler said only about 50 people a year need help with the supplemental insurance plans.
"We're going to be seeing half that number before the end of this month," Deibler said. "We expect to see a real uptick in this particular program."
Seniors with questions about the changes to Medicare's supplemental insurance plans can contact the Commission on Aging office at 203-862-6710 to arrange a free consultation through the Health Insurance Counseling program.