insurance

How to Save on Medicare Supplement Insurance

Your odds of qualifying for a cheaper medigap plan are best if you’re healthy and younger than 70.

I’m spending almost $3,000 per year for medigap Plan F. Can I save money by switching to another plan?

Probably. There’s a huge price range for Medicare supplement insurance (medigap) policies, and you may be able to cut your premiums by switching to another plan. But your options may be limited depending on your health and the state where you live.

Even though each medigap plan with the same letter designation provides the same coverage, the price can vary a lot by insurer. A 65-year-old man could pay from $1,092 to $6,519 in 2016 for Plan F (the most popular plan), depending on the insurer, according to Weiss Ratings, which provides financial-strength ratings for insurers and information about medigap plans. Those are nationwide figures, but prices can still vary a lot within the same zip code.

But switching to another policy can be difficult because insurers in most states can charge you more, impose a waiting period or reject you for coverage based on your health if more than six months have passed since you signed up for Medicare Part B. However, you may be able to switch to a lower-cost plan after that initial enrollment period in certain circumstances.

Apply for a new policy if you’re healthy. Even though medigap insurers can charge you more because of your age and health in most states, you may qualify for a new policy if you’re relatively young and healthy. “We’ve worked with people who were healthy and not too far past age 65, and they could get a new medigap plan,” says Aaron Tidball, manager of the Allsup Medicare Advisor, which helps people with their Medicare decisions. “But some insurance companies won’t even speak to someone over age 70.”

Most state insurance departments list prices for medigap policies available in their area (see NAIC.org for links to your state insurance department) or list insurers you can contact to get price quotes. Or you can get a personalized report from Weiss Ratings for $99 showing all of your medigap options.

Find out if your insurer will let you switch to a less expensive policy. Some insurers will let you switch to a less comprehensive policy without medical underwriting. If you have medigap Plan F, for example, your insurer may let you switch to a high-deductible Plan F without new underwriting. The average premium for traditional Plan F is $2,293 for a 65-year-old man, but the average price of the high-deductible version is $668. In return for the lower premium, however, you’ll have to pay the $2,180 deductible out of pocket before any benefits kick in. You can come out ahead if you have few medical expenses, but you may have larger out-of-pocket costs as you get older, when it may be more difficult to switch to a different plan.

You may also be able to save money with some newer policies, if your insurer lets you switch. Plan N, for example, provides similar coverage to Plan F, but you must pay the $166 annual Medicare Part B deductible, a $20 co-payment for each physician visit and $50 for each emergency-room visit. The average price of Plan N for a 65-year-old man is $1,548 per year, according to Weiss Ratings. You’ll come out ahead if you have few visits to the doctor and emergency room.

Before you switch to a different plan, calculate whether the premium reduction is worth the potentially extra expenses, especially as you get older and may have more health issues. See the Medicare Rights Center’s medigap table for a list of what each letter plan covers.

Find out if your state has special rules to let you switch policies. In New York, for example, you can switch medigap policies at any time regardless of your health. Most state insurance departments have buyer’s guides explaining the rules for switching plans and the prices by insurer. The New York Department of Financial Services, for example, has a consumer guide to Medicare supplement policies explaining the rules, listing the insurers and which plans they offer, and including a frequently updated list of monthly premiums from each insurer for each plan.

You may be able to change plans at certain times. In Missouri, for example, you can switch to another insurer’s version of the letter plan you currently have on the anniversary of your policy renewal date, says Tidball. In California, you can switch to a lower-level policy within 30 days of your birthday without medical underwriting. Check with your state’s insurance department for the rules where you live. You can also get help from your state health insurance assistance program (SHIP); see Shiptacenter.org for contact information by state and city.

You may also be able to get a medigap policy without medical underwriting under certain other circumstances, such as if your insurer leaves the business or if you’re switching from a Medicare Advantage plan in certain cases. See When Can I Buy Medigap? at Medicare.gov for more information.

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