One of the reasons Medicare Cost has been so popular in Minnesota is that the state has a large population of “snowbirds” — retirees who live in Minnesota during the summer, but head south to warmer climes in the winter. With Medicare Cost plans, the enrollee still has Original Medicare — including the large nationwide network of providers who work with Medicare — in addition to the Medicare Cost coverage. Medicare Advantage plans, in contrast, tend to have localized networks that might not be suitable for a senior who lives in two different states during the year. A Medigap plan plus Original Medicare will allow a person in that situation to have access to health providers in both locations, although Medigap tends to be more expensive than Medicare Advantage. There are pros and cons to both options, and no one-size-fits-all solution.
On September 12, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new partnership with the State of Minnesota to test new ways of improving care for Medicare-Medicaid enrollees. Building on the state's Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) program, CMS and Minnesota will work together to improve the beneficiary experience in health plans that maintain contracts with both CMS as Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans and with the state to deliver Medicaid services.
As an alternative to obtaining Original Medicare coverage directly from the government, you may want to consider Medicare Advantage (sometimes referred to as Medicare Part C) in Minnesota. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies that contract with CMS to provide all Original Medicare benefits except hospice care, which is paid by Medicare Part A. Many Medicare Advantage plans also include extra benefits such as routine dental and vision care.
People who aren’t yet 65 can enroll in Medicare if they’re disabled and have been receiving disability benefits for at least two years, and 13 percent of Minnesota Medicare beneficiaries are under age 65. Federal rules do not guarantee access to Medigap plans for people who are under 65, but the majority of the states — including Minnesota — have implemented rules to ensure that disabled Medicare beneficiaries have at least some access to Medigap plans. Minnesota law grants a six-month open enrollment period to anyone who enrolls in Medicare Part B, regardless of age (federal rules only grant this window to people who enroll in Part B and are also at least 65 years old).
Prior to 2014, Medical Assistance in Minnesota was available to parents with dependent children if their household income was up to 100 percent of poverty, and to adults without dependent children if their household income was up to 75 percent of poverty. Minnesota was already very progressive in providing Medicaid access for most of the state’s low-income population – in many states there was no coverage at all for childless non-disabled adults prior to 2014, and in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the ACA, there still isn’t.
Minnesota made history for kick-starting the Basic Health Program before any other state in the nation. People who are curious about “what are the Medicaid application guidelines?” will be interested to learn that prior to expansion, the process of learning how to qualify for Medicaid in MN was much more generous than it is now. The Medicaid benefits eligibility rules for adults with dependent children used to be up to 100 percent of poverty or 75 percent for adults without dependents.
Private managed care programs for Medicare beneficiaries are particularly popular in Minnesota. Fifty-six percent of all Minnesota Medicare enrollees were enrolled in private Medicare plans in 2017, as opposed to a national average of 33 percent. Minnesota has by far the largest share of its Medicare population enrolled in private plans; the next closest state is Hawaii, where 45 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have private coverage.
People who qualify for both Medicare and MA coverage are called “dual eligibles.” Most dual eligibles do not have to pay Medicare premiums, because either MA pays them or because the person also qualifies for a Medicare Savings Program (MSP). MA, including Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD), may also help pay for Medicare co-insurance and deductibles, as well as some services Medicare doesn’t cover. That’s why you shouldn’t decline Medicare Parts B or D if you also qualify for MA.
Medicare MSA Plans combine a high deductible Medicare Advantage Plan and a trust or custodial savings account (as defined and/or approved by the IRS). The plan deposits money from Medicare into the account. You can use this money to pay for your health care costs, but only Medicare-covered expenses count toward your deductible. The amount deposited is usually less than your deductible amount, so you generally have to pay out-of-pocket before your coverage begins.
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When you are eligible for Medicare you may sign up for Original Medicare (Part A & Part B), which cover hospital services and medical services, respectively, or you may enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan (Medicare Part C). If you sign up for Original Medicare you also have the option to purchase a separate or stand alone prescription drug plan (Part D). Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D insurance plans are sold by private insurance companies that have a contract with Medicare. Original Medicare offers its beneficiaries flexibility in choosing their providers and you are not limited to a network. However, there is no limit on out-of-pocket medical expenses and you must always pay 20% coinsurance for medical service costs. For most Medicare beneficiaries, Part A is already paid through paycheck deductions during their working years (or their spouse's) but most Medicare beneficiaries pay premiums for Part B unless they qualify for financial assistance. Medicare Advantage plans require you to stay in network but some plans will also cover out-of-network care at a higher cost. Many Medicare Advantage plans also include additional health benefits such as vision, dental, or hearing coverage and you have the option to purchase a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (MAPD) in almost all states.
You’re eligible for Medicare if you’re age 65 or older, receiving disability benefits, or have certain conditions, like end-stage renal disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). You must be either a United States citizen or a legal permanent resident of at least five years. In some instances, you may not have to take any action in order to enroll. This may happen if you’re turning 65 and already receive Social Security benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits.
Minnesota law prevents Medigap insurers from imposing pre-existing condition waiting periods if the enrollee signs up during their initial six-month open enrollment window. For those who apply after that, Medigap insurers are not allowed to impose pre-existing condition waiting periods if the enrollee wasn’t diagnosed or treated for the condition in the 90 days prior to enrolling in the Medigap plan.
If you don’t want Medicare Advantage, think about a Medigap policy (Medicare Supplement Insurance). If you get Original Medicare, you can pay an extra monthly premium to get a private Medigap policy that covers some of the expenses that Medicare Parts A and B won’t cover, such as co-insurance, copayments, and deductibles. Medigap policies do not cover prescription drugs (you need Part D for that). Learn more about Medigap policies or find one in your area.
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Local HMO plans may require referrals to see a specialist, but some Local HMO Medicare Advantage plans include a point-of-service self-referral option, which gives you some flexibility with going to out-of-network providers. Point-of-Service (POS) plans have an option that allows visits to out-of-network providers at an additional cost. If the POS plan offers Medicare Part D coverage, enrollees must get it from the POS plan. If you enroll in a stand alone plan, you will be disenrolled from the Local HMO Medicare Advantage plan.