Minnesota, with nearly 400,000 seniors enrolled in a Cost Plan, is most affected by this change. Cost Plans have been provided in Minnesota by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Medica and Health Partners. Your advisor and health insurance company are fully aware of the change and over the coming months will answer your questions. If you have a Cost Plan, your insurance company will have a new plan for you, ensuring your health insurance needs are covered in 2019 and beyond.
The state was the first to participate in a demonstration program to pilot Medicare Cost plans in the 1970s, and the plans have remained popular over the decades. They didn’t catch on in many other states, however, and Medicare + Choice came on the national scene in the 1990s, replaced by Medicare Advantage in 2003 (there are still Medicare Cost plans in Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, but their total enrollment was only about a third of the 625,072 people who had Medicare Cost plans in 2018 — the other two-thirds were in Minnesota).
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.
Private insurance companies must have contracts with Medicare to offer Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. Depending on the terms of the contract between the plan and Medicare, not every plan is available statewide or in all service areas. Each year, the plan must renew its contract with Medicare, so the availability of a plan in a specific service area is subject to change.
1) Medically Needy Pathway – In a nutshell, one may still be eligible for Medicaid services even if they are over the income limit if they have high medical bills in comparison to their monthly income. In Minnesota, this program is referred to as a “Spenddown” program. Basically, persons must pay down their “excess income,” (their income over the Medicaid eligibility limit, which is often referred to as a deductible) on medical bills. This may include health insurance costs, such as Medicare premiums, as well as bills to cover medical services. Once one has paid down his or her excess income to the Medicaid eligibility limit, he or she will receive Medicaid benefits for the remainder of the spenddown period. This program, regardless of name, provides a means to “spend down” one’s extra income in order to qualify for Medicaid.
Medicaid coverage may be different from one state to another. Though they must comply with federal regulations, every state runs its own program; the federal government does not control it. Some information about Medicaid is true in every state. For instance, in Minnesota Medicaid covers some services that are not covered other states. Other states may cover services Minnesota does not. In addition, the costs may be different; not every beneficiary of Health Link in Minnesota will pay the same monthly premium. Certain low-income Medicaid insurance beneficiaries could pay no premiums at all if they qualify for no-cost coverage.

Medigap plans can be considered when looking for an alternative to Medicare Advantage plans for 2019.  Unlike the no monthly premium or low premium option that you might be used to with Medicare Part C plans in Minnesota, you will have to pay for a Supplement plan. Your plan will make healthcare costs more affordable in the long run, however. This is because your chosen insurance company will pay most of the expenses like deductibles and coinsurances of Original Medicare Part A and B.

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.

In states with lots of rural areas, like Minnesota, Medicare Cost plans tend to be more popular because they offer more flexibility than an HMO. If a plan member gets services inside of the network of Medicare Cost Plans, they work the same way that an HMO works. If the plan member decides to visit a non-network medical provider, Medicare Cost Plans will cover those services the same way that Original Medicare Part A and Part B do. Typically, a Medicare Advantage HMO won’t cover non-emergency services outside of the network at all.
The Minnesota Board on Aging (MBA) may be helpful for seniors seeking a wide range of information. The office provides education in a broad range of areas, including health-care coverage and Medicare plans. The office was first established in 1956. Since that time, seniors have been able to turn to the Minnesota Board of Aging for a variety of programs, including:
American Indians can continue to use tribal and Indian Health Services (IHS) clinics. We will not require prior approval or impose any conditions for you to get services at these clinics. For elders 65 years and older this includes Elderly Waiver (EW) services accessed through the tribe. If a doctor or other provider in a tribal or IHS clinic refers you to a provider in our network, we will not require you to see your primary care provider prior to the referral.
We are not an insurance agency and are not affiliated with any plan. We connect individuals with insurance providers and other affiliates (collectively, “partners”) to give you, the consumer, an opportunity to get information about insurance and connect with agents. By completing the quotes form or calling the number listed above, you will be directed to a partner that can connect you to an appropriate insurance agent who can answer your questions and discuss plan options.
Products and services are provided exclusively by our partners, but not all offer the same plans or options. Possible options that may be offered include, but are not limited to, ACA-Qualified Plans, Medicare Plans, Short Term Plans, Christian/Health Sharing Plans, and Fixed Indemnity Plans. Descriptions are for informational purposes only and subject to change. We encourage you to shop around and explore all of your options. We are not affiliated with or endorsed by any government entity or agency.
“What is Medicaid eligibility?” This question may be on your mind if you are new to the program. MN Medicaid eligibility is generally determined by the income level of the individual or household applying for Medical Assistance (MA). Individuals and families that fall within the allowable income range are eligible to receive benefits. In order to qualify for the program all applicants must meet all income and any other requirements.
Countable assets include cash, stocks, bonds, investments, credit union, savings, and checking accounts, and real estate in which one does not reside. However, for Medicaid eligibility, there are many assets that are considered exempt (non-countable). Exemptions include personal belongings, household furnishings, an automobile, irrevocable burial trusts, and one’s primary home, given the Medicaid applicant or their spouse lives in the home and the equity value is under $585,000 (in 2019). For married couples, as of 2019, the community spouse (the non-applicant spouse) can retain up to a maximum of $126,420 of the couple’s joint assets, as the chart indicates above. This, in Medicaid terminology, is referred to as the Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA).
For Medicaid eligibility purposes, any income that a Medicaid applicant receives is counted. To clarify, this income can come from any source. Examples include employment wages, alimony payments, pension payments, Social Security Disability Income, Social Security Income, IRA withdrawals, and stock dividends. However, when only one spouse of a married couple is applying for Medicaid, only the income of the applicant is counted. Said another way, the income of the non-applicant spouse is disregarded. (Learn more here about Medicaid and income). For married couples, with non-applicant spouses’ with insufficient income in which to live, there is what is called a Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA). This is the minimum amount of monthly income to which the non-applicant spouse is entitled, and it allows applicant spouses to transfer a portion of their income to their non-applicant spouses. At the time of this writing, the MMMNA is $2,057.50 / month, which is set to increase again July 2020. However, if shelter costs are high, non-applicant spouses may receive as much as $3,160.50 / month (this figure will not increase again until January 2020) for a spousal allowance. This rule prevents non-applicant spouses from becoming impoverished.
Private Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative to Original Medicare. There are pros and cons to either option, and the right solution is different for each person. Plan availability varies by county, but Minnesota’s market is robust: Residents throughout the state can select from among at least 13 Advantage plans in 2019, and some counties have as many as 40 plans for sale.
The most significant change to the Medicare program, since its enactment in 1965, began on Jan. 1, 2006. Medicare now has a prescription drug benefit (Medicare Part D). In the fall of each year, all Minnesotans with Medicare receive information about the Medicare Part D program and the Annual Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans. Agencies, organizations and people that work with Minnesotans with Medicare will want to be kept apprised of the latest Part D information and its effect on Minnesotans with Medicare.
Most Americans become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. But younger Americans gain Medicare eligibility after they have been receiving disability benefits for 24 months, or have ALS or end-stage renal disease. Thirteen percent of Minnesota’s Medicare beneficiaries were under age 65 as of 2017, versus 16 percent nationwide. On the high and low ends of the spectrum, 23 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi are under 65, while just 9 percent of Hawaii’s Medicare beneficiaries are eligible due to disability.
For Medicaid eligibility purposes, any income that a Medicaid applicant receives is counted. To clarify, this income can come from any source. Examples include employment wages, alimony payments, pension payments, Social Security Disability Income, Social Security Income, IRA withdrawals, and stock dividends. However, when only one spouse of a married couple is applying for Medicaid, only the income of the applicant is counted. Said another way, the income of the non-applicant spouse is disregarded. (Learn more here about Medicaid and income). For married couples, with non-applicant spouses’ with insufficient income in which to live, there is what is called a Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA). This is the minimum amount of monthly income to which the non-applicant spouse is entitled, and it allows applicant spouses to transfer a portion of their income to their non-applicant spouses. At the time of this writing, the MMMNA is $2,057.50 / month, which is set to increase again July 2020. However, if shelter costs are high, non-applicant spouses may receive as much as $3,160.50 / month (this figure will not increase again until January 2020) for a spousal allowance. This rule prevents non-applicant spouses from becoming impoverished.

1) Medically Needy Pathway – In a nutshell, one may still be eligible for Medicaid services even if they are over the income limit if they have high medical bills in comparison to their monthly income. In Minnesota, this program is referred to as a “Spenddown” program. Basically, persons must pay down their “excess income,” (their income over the Medicaid eligibility limit, which is often referred to as a deductible) on medical bills. This may include health insurance costs, such as Medicare premiums, as well as bills to cover medical services. Once one has paid down his or her excess income to the Medicaid eligibility limit, he or she will receive Medicaid benefits for the remainder of the spenddown period. This program, regardless of name, provides a means to “spend down” one’s extra income in order to qualify for Medicaid. 

If you are enrolled in a Medicare plan with Part D prescription drug coverage, you may be eligible for financial Extra Help to assist with the payment of your prescription drug premiums and drug purchases. To see if you qualify for Extra Help, call: 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048, 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week or consult www.medicare.gov; the Social Security Office at 1-800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. TTY users should call, 1-800-325-0778; or your state Medicaid Office.
Make note, the Medically Needy Pathway does not assist one in spending down extra assets for Medicaid qualification. Said another way, if one meets the income requirements for Medicaid eligibility, but not the asset requirement, the above program cannot assist one in “spending down” extra assets. However, one can “spend down” assets by spending excess assets on ones that are non-countable, such as home modifications to improve safety and make the home wheelchair accessible. Examples include adding wheelchair ramps, stair lifts, pedestal sinks, roll-in showers, widening the doorways, and replacing carpet with vinyl or laminate flooring. One may also use excess assets to prepay funeral and burial expenses and pay off debt. As mentioned above, one cannot simply give away assets or sell them for significantly less than their value, as Minnesota has a 5-year Medicaid Look-Back Period that prevents applicants from doing so. If one is found in violation of the look-back period, this may result in a period of ineligibility.

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.
One way to receive your Medicare Coverage is by enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO). Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called “Part C” or “MA Plans” are offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare. It’s important to remember Medicare Advantage Plans are not Medicare Supplements (Medigap). These plans will provide coverage for your approved Medicare Part A (hospital) and Part B (medical) coverage. Many of the Medicare Advantage plans will have a network of contracted providers and facilities. It’s important to understand how the network functions and to be sure the plan you choose contracts with the providers you want to use. When you enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will send a flat monthly rate to the insurance companies while you are enrolled in their plan. That money is sent whether you have claims or not. Check out our FAQ for a full breakdown of Medicare plans.
Original Medicare is a federal program that provides health coverage for individuals 65 years old and older and some individuals with qualifying disabilities under the age of 65. In terms of costs and benefits, Original Medicare coverage in Minnesota works the same way as it does in other states. Under Original Medicare, you’re not limited to using providers in a certain network and can use any provider that accepts Medicare patients. To obtain the full value of your benefits and potentially lower your out-of-pocket expenses for covered services, you’ll want to check and make sure your provider also accepts Medicare assignment—that is, the amount Medicare will pay for a particular service, less any deductible and/or coinsurance you may owe.
If you are a Minnesota beneficiary and considering enrollment in a Medicare Advantage plan, it is important to compare and evaluate the Medicare plan options available to you. While similar Medicare Advantage plans may be offered throughout the state, the cost for premiums may vary depending on your county of residence. You should also take note that some Medicare Advantage plans in Minnesota may offer monthly premiums as low as $0. If your service area offers a Medicare Advantage plan with a $0 premium, keep in mind that the plan may still include other costs besides the premium, such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles. In addition, you must still pay your Medicare Part B premium.
Private insurance companies must have contracts with Medicare to offer Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. Depending on the terms of the contract between the plan and Medicare, not every plan is available statewide or in all service areas. Each year, the plan must renew its contract with Medicare, so the availability of a plan in a specific service area is subject to change.
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