Final decisions haven’t been made on exactly which counties in Minnesota will lose Cost plans next year, the government said. But based on current figures, insurance companies expect that Cost plans are going away in 66 counties across the state including those in the Twin Cities metro. They are expected to continue in 21 counties, carriers said, plus North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
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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.
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans: This type of Medicare Advantage plan offers more provider flexibility. PPOs typically have a preferred provider network, but you may also use out-of-network doctors if you choose, although your cost sharing may be higher. Unlike HMOs, you don’t need referrals for specialist care and you aren’t required to have a primary care doctor.
A Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) can help pay your prescription drug costs. Designed to work alongside Original Medicare coverage, Medicare Prescription Drug Plans are available from private insurance companies approved by Medicare and doing business in Minnesota. You can also enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan if you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that does not include Part D prescription drug coverage in its benefits.
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“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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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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.
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.
The program for Qualified Individuals (QI) also pays for Part B premiums, though the application approval and benefits are on a “first come, first served” basis. This is sometimes due to limited funding. For an individual to qualify for the QI program, their income must be less than $1,386 a month. The combined income limit for a married couple is $1,872.

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.
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.
MA plans often include dental, vision and health-club benefits that aren’t part of many supplements. Yet people who buy a supplement have the option of buying “stand-alone” Part D prescription drug coverage from any one of several insurers — a feature touted as one of the selling points for Cost plans, too. People in MA plans, by contrast, are limited to Part D plans sold by their MA carrier, Christenson said.
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