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.
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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.
Medicare Advantage Plans must cover all of the services that Original Medicare covers except hospice care. Original Medicare covers hospice care even if you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan. In all types of Medicare Advantage Plans, you’re always covered for emergency and urgent care. Medicare Advantage Plans must offer emergency coverage outside of the plan’s service area (but not outside the U.S.). Many Medicare Advantage Plans also offer extra benefits such as dental care, eyeglasses, or wellness programs. Most Medicare Advantage Plans include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). In addition to your Part B premium, you usually pay one monthly premium for the plan’s medical and prescription drug coverage. Plan benefits can change from year to year. Make sure you understand how a plan works before you join.
A couple of major insurers have already announced new plans to replace Minnesota Cost Plans in certain counties. Typically, these new plans offer broader network coverage within an HMO. One major carrier expects about 200,000 of their Minnesota customers to lose access to a Cost Plan. On the other hand, this change may open opportunities for other companies to expand their own market shares with Minnesota Medicare Advantage plans that can offer greater flexibility, such as PPOs with nationwide networks.
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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).
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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.
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.
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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.