A “Welcome to Medicare” packet is mailed out a few months before you turn 65. If you are not yet 65 but receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, or receive certain disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board, then you become eligible for Medicare as soon as you enter into the 25th straight month of receiving those benefits.
If you have questions you should call the Senior LinkAge Line – a trusted, unbiased resource sponsored by the Minnesota Board on Aging.  The Senior LinkAge Line can help you navigate the Medicare plan choices for 2019 so you can select the option that best meets your healthcare coverage needs.  All Medicare beneficiaries are encouraged to review their Medicare health and prescription drug coverage during open enrollment in the fall.
Original Medicare does not limit out-of-pocket costs, so most enrollees maintain some form of supplemental coverage. Nationwide, more than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries get their supplemental coverage through an employer-sponsored plan or Medicaid. But for those who don’t, Medigap plans (also known as Medicare supplement plans, or MedSupp) will pay some or all of the out-of-pocket costs they would otherwise have to pay if they had only Original Medicare.
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.
As a result, an estimated 320,000 Medicare Cost enrollees in Minnesota needed new coverage for 2019. There are 21 counties where Medicare Cost plans continue to be available, but Medicare Cost enrollees in the rest of the state were not able to keep their Cost plans. Instead, they had the option to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan (some were automatically enrolled in a comparable Medicare Advantage plan, although they had an option to pick something else instead), or select a Medigap plan to supplement their Original Medicare. Enrollees whose Medicare Cost plans ended have guaranteed issue rights to a Medigap plan, so they can purchase one even if they had pre-existing medical conditions. But that guaranteed-issue right only lasts for 63 days, which means Monday, March 4, 2019 is the last day these individuals can purchase a Medigap plan without having to go through medical underwriting.
Medicare Advantage (also called "Part C") and Medicare Cost plans are ways to get a single combined plan including Parts A, B, and D through a private company. With Medicare Advantage plans, you may have less flexibility, but your costs could be lower. With Medicare Cost plans, you have more flexibility, because you can still use Original Medicare to pay for out-of-network providers.
If you have more than one type of coverage, including MA, employer-sponsored coverage, Veterans (VA) health benefits, military (TRICARE) benefits, or any other health coverage, one coverage may pay for costs that your other coverage doesn't pay for, meaning you have to pay less out of your own pocket. If you are in this situation, make sure you understand how Medicare interacts with other types of coverage.
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MA plans feature a network of doctors and hospitals that enrollees must use to get the maximum payment, whereas supplements tend to provide access to a broader set of health care providers, said Shawnee Christenson, an insurance agent with Crosstown Insurance in New Hope. While that might sound good to beneficiaries, supplements can come with significantly higher premiums, Christenson said.

A federal law passed in 2003 created a “competition” requirement for Medicare Cost plans, which stipulated the plans could not be offered in service areas where there was significant competition from Medicare Advantage plans. Congress delayed implementation of the requirement several times until a law passed in 2015 that called for the rule to take effect in 2019.
A Special Needs Plan is a type of Medicare Advantage plan limited to people with certain chronic conditions and  other specific characteristics. Typically, you must receive care from health care providers and hospitals within your SNP network, except for in cases when you need emergency or urgent care and when someone who has End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) needs out-of-area kidney dialysis.
Original Medicare does not provide coverage for outpatient prescription drugs. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries nationwide have supplemental coverage via an employer-sponsored plan (from a current or former employer or spouse’s employer) or Medicaid, and these plans often include prescription coverage. Some Medigap plans that were sold prior to 2006 included coverage for prescription drugs, but sales of those plans ceased as of 2006, when Medicare Part D became available. Part D was created under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. 

Original Medicare does not provide coverage for outpatient prescription drugs. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries nationwide have supplemental coverage via an employer-sponsored plan (from a current or former employer or spouse’s employer) or Medicaid, and these plans often include prescription coverage. Some Medigap plans that were sold prior to 2006 included coverage for prescription drugs, but sales of those plans ceased as of 2006, when Medicare Part D became available. Part D was created under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
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.

Another wrinkle is that people who want a supplement might have a better chance of getting into the coverage during the transition out of their Medicare Cost plan, when the supplement is provided on a “guaranteed issue” basis. Later, insurance companies can ask questions about a senior’s health status and deny coverage depending on the answers, said Greiner of the Minnesota Board on Aging.


Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans: One of the most popular types of managed-care plans, this type of Medicare Advantage plan comes with a provider network that you must use to be covered by the plan (with the exception of medical emergencies). If you use non-network providers, you may have to pay the full cost for your care. You’re also required to have a primary care physician; if you need to see a specialist, you’ll need to a get a referral from your primary care doctor first.
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