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Medicare and You Book

The 2023 Medicare & You Guidebook is available and you can download it here.

When downloading the digital version, it will open in your Acrobat document reader, or in your browser. A tip for finding what you want, instantly, is to hit the Control and F button at the same time on your keyboard. This will bring up the FIND feature in your reader. 

Then, type in a word or phrase you are looking for. The reader should show you how many instances of that word or phrase exist in the entire book and you can click the down arrow to move from the first to the second, and so on.

This is how we zero in on things such as the Special Election Periods, Trial Right scenarios, Guarantee Issue Periods, and more. 

The 2023 Medicare & You book is slightly less controversial than those in the past.

 CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has been leaning more and more toward promoting Medicare Advantage plans and this bias has started to come through in their Medicare guide book.

In 2018, the non-profit Medicare Rights Center, in a joint letter with the Center for Medicare Advocacy and Justice in Aging, wrote a letter to the Administrator of CMS urging corrections in the proposed guidebook for 2019. 

They stated, “First, in several places, the Handbook suggests that Medicare Advantage is the less expensive alternative for beneficiaries. This is an overstatement. There are many variables determining whether enrollment in a Medicare Advantage plan may be more or less expensive for any particular Medicare beneficiary…. The repeated suggestion that Medicare Advantage can save beneficiaries money does not fairly represent these realities.”

The letter went on to point out that various descriptions throughout the book give the false impression that the benefits of Original Medicare are the same as the benefits in Medicare Advantage.

When the guidebook was first read by many of our clients, they found it to be confusing, contradictory, and inaccurate to their experience with Medicare. This again points to the benefit of using an independent Medicare professional who can interpret the realities of Medicare and how it works in the real world. This only comes from experience.

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Medicare Surprise: Drug Plan Prices Change Mid-Year

Medicare Surprise: Drug Plan Prices Touted During Open Enrollment Can Rise Within a Month

Something strange happened between the time Linda Griffith signed up for a new Medicare prescription drug plan during last fall’s enrollment period and when she tried to fill her first prescription in January.

She picked a Humana drug plan for its low prices, with help from her longtime insurance agent and Medicare’s Plan Finder, an online pricing tool for comparing a dizzying array of options. But instead of the $70.09 she expected to pay for her dextroamphetamine, used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, her pharmacist told her she owed $275.90.

“I didn’t pick it up because I thought something was wrong,” said Griffith, 73, a retired construction company accountant who lives in the Northern California town of Weaverville.

“To me, when you purchase a plan, you have an implied contract,” she said. “I say I will pay the premium on time for this plan. And they’re going to make sure I get the drug for a certain amount.”

But it often doesn’t work that way. As early as three weeks after Medicare’s drug plan enrollment period ends on Dec. 7, insurance plans can change what they charge members for drugs — and they can do it repeatedly. Griffith’s prescription out-of-pocket cost has varied each month, and through March, she has already paid $433 more than she expected to.

A recent analysis by AARP, which is lobbying Congress to pass legislation to control drug prices, compared drugmakers’ list prices between the end of December 2021 — shortly after the Dec. 7 sign-up deadline — and the end of January 2022, just a month after new Medicare drug plans began. Researchers found that the list prices for the 75 brand-name drugs most frequently prescribed to Medicare beneficiaries had risen as much as 8%.

Medicare officials acknowledge that manufacturers’ prices and the out-of-pocket costs charged by an insurer can fluctuate. “Your plan may raise the copayment or coinsurance you pay for a particular drug when the manufacturer raises their price, or when a plan starts to offer a generic form of a drug,” the Medicare website warns.

But no matter how high the prices go, most plan members can’t switch to cheaper plans after Jan. 1, said Fred Riccardi, president of the Medicare Rights Center, which helps seniors access Medicare benefits.

Drug manufacturers usually change the list price for drugs in January and occasionally again in July, “but they can increase prices more often,” said Stacie Dusetzina, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University and a member of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. That’s true for any health insurance policy, not just Medicare drug plans.

Like a car’s sticker price, a drug’s list price is the starting point for negotiating discounts — in this case, between insurers or their pharmacy benefit managers and drug manufacturers. If the list price goes up, the amount the plan member pays may go up, too, she said.

The discounts that insurers or their pharmacy benefit managers receive “don’t typically translate into lower prices at the pharmacy counter,” she said. “Instead, these savings are used to reduce premiums or slow premium growth for all beneficiaries.”

Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, which began in 2006, was supposed to take the surprise out of filling a prescription. But even when seniors have insurance coverage for drugs, advocates said, many still can’t afford them.

“We hear consistently from people who just have absolute sticker shock when they see not only the full cost of the drug, but their cost sharing,” said Riccardi.

The potential for surprises is growing. More insurers have eliminated copayments — a set dollar amount for a prescription — and instead charge members a percentage of the drug price, or coinsurance, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the top official at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a recent interview with KHN. The drug benefit is designed to give insurers the “flexibility” to make such changes. “And that is one of the reasons why we’re asking Congress to give us authority to negotiate drug prices,” she said.

CMS also is looking at ways to make drugs more affordable without waiting for Congress to act. “We are always trying to consider where it makes sense to be able to allow people to change plans,” said Dr. Meena Seshamani, CMS deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicare, who joined Brooks-LaSure during the interview.

On April 22, CMS unveiled a proposal to streamline access to the Medicare Savings Program, which helps 10 million low-income enrollees pay Medicare premiums and reduce cost sharing. Enrollees also receive drug coverage with reduced premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

The subsidies make a difference. Low-income beneficiaries who have separate drug coverage plans and receive subsidies are nearly twice as likely to take their medications as those without financial assistance, according to a study Dusetzina co-authored for Health Affairs in April.

When CMS approves plans to be sold to beneficiaries, the only part of drug pricing it approves is the cost-sharing amount — or tier — applied to each drug. Some plans have as many as six drug tiers.

In addition to the drug tier, what patients pay can also depend on the pharmacy, their deductible, their copayment or coinsurance — and whether they opt to abandon their insurance and pay cash.

After Linda Griffith left the pharmacy without her medication, she spent a week making phone calls to her drug plan, pharmacy, Social Security, and Medicare but still couldn’t find out why the cost was so high. “I finally just had to give in and pay it because I need the meds — I can’t function without them,” she said.

But she didn’t give up. She appealed to her insurance company for a tier reduction, which was denied. The plan denied two more requests for price adjustments, despite assistance from Pam Smith, program manager for five California counties served by the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program. They are now appealing directly to CMS.

“It’s important to us to work with our members who have questions about any out-of-pocket costs that are higher than the member would expect,” said Lisa Dimond, a Humana spokesperson. She could not comment about Griffith’s situation because of privacy rules.

However, Griffith said she received a call from a Humana executive who said the company had received an inquiry from the media. After they discussed the problem, Griffith said, the woman told her, “The [Medicare] Plan Finder is an outside source and therefore not reliable information,” but assured Griffith that she would find out where the Plan Finder information had come from.

She won’t have to look far: CMS requires insurers to update their prices every two weeks.

“I want my money back, and I want to be charged the amount I agreed to pay for the drug,” said Griffith. “I think this needs to be fixed because other people are going to be cheated.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Subscribe to KHN’s free Morning Briefing.

Why People Leave Medicare Advantage Plans

Why are so many people leaving Medicare Advantage Plans?
Studies show several reasons for the trend.

  1. Location

An article in Modern Healthcare found that people living in rural areas are more likely to leave Medicare Advantage and go back to Original Medicare. This is partially attributed to the lack of available in-network doctors, specialists, facilities, etc. 

  1. Cost

Along with being in a rural area, those with costly services are also more likely to disenroll from Medicare Advantage. One study warns that if Private Insurers start charging out-of-pocket costs for lifesaving COVID-19 care, people on Medicare Advantage could face hospital bills of $1000  or more. 

In this video, we discuss several studies that address why enrollees are choosing to leave Medicare Advantage. We also cover time frames and how to switch your Medicare Advantage plan or get back on to Original Medicare. There isn’t one plan best suited for everyone but we can help get you the knowledge needed to decide what plan best suits YOUR needs.

Diabetes and Medicare Advantage

Differences between Original Medicare vs. Medicare Advantage

If I have diabetes, should I choose Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage?

The answer to this question depends on how important individualized care is to you.

Medicare Advantage plans are typically bundled, all-in-one plans that are made as a ‘one size fits all’, with a prescription drug plan included.

However, Original Medicare is set up for you to choose a supplement plan along with a prescription drug plan tailored to your individual needs.

The American Journal of Managed Care published a study pertaining to the difference in treatment of diabetes between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage.

In the study, they concluded that in order to achieve savings, Medicare Advantage enrollees are more likely to be treated with cheaper medications, such as Metformin and Sulfonylureas, rather than receive costly, newer medications, compared to Original Medicare. This means Original Medicare affords you the opportunity to have the drugs that might best suit you.

In this video, we review the study and explain some of the differences between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. We also discuss why this decision is so important if you or someone you know has diabetes and are searching for the best plan.

If you would like help finding the best Medicare plan for you, please reach out. Our help is 100% FREE to you.

How to Leave a Medicare Advantage Plan

In the first quarter of every year, seniors often discover that the plan they signed up for during the Annual Enrollment Period does not suit them.
Their doctors may have already left the network. Hospitals they thought participated might have dropped out already.

Still, some seniors have now had the time to review the Summary of Benefits and looked closely at how chemotherapy is covered by Medicare Advantage.

This is often quite a shock, when, not only must they use only network providers (in the case of the HMO), but the plans typically only pay 80% of the cancer treatment costs.

That’s the “Advantage” they’ve been sold for the often-zero premium.

Regardless of the reason, Medicare says that the first quarter is the opportunity to go back to original Medicare or change to a more-appropriate Medicare Advantage plan.

Steps to Cancel a Medicare Advantage Plan

From January 1 to March 31, Medicare now calls this the “Open Enrollment Period.”

A more appropriate name would be the “Disenrollment Period“. Those without a plan cannot obtain one, so it is not open by any stretch.

If you wish to go from Medicare Advantage to a Medicare Supplement, here are the steps:

  1. Apply for a Medicare Supplement
  2. Wait for the Underwriting Approval from the Supplement company
  3. When approved, make an application for a Part D plan.
  4. When the Part D plan starts, it automatically cancels the Advantage plan

This process ensures that you do not prematurely cancel the only insurance you may be able to qualify for. By using an independent Medicare broker, like the Senior Savings Network, you can find out what Medicare Supplement companies will likely approve your application and guarantee that you will not be paying too much for the same coverage that is offered by all of the Medicare Supplement companies.

Careful: Do Not Act in Haste!

Far too often, we get calls from seniors telling us that they became angry with the details of their Medicare Advantage plan and have already called their company and told them to cancel it. This is the wrong move.

In a worst-case scenario, that Advantage plan MAY be the only insurance you can have and, having something is better than nothing at all. So let an independent professional advise you on which plans are available in the market and which ones are most likely to approve you.

We would be happy to help with this process.


You can contact us securely here or by calling us at 1-800-729-9590.

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Does the Mayo Clinic Accept Medicare Supplement Plans?

Can you use your Medicare Supplement plan at the Mayo Clinic? Yes.
Depending on which Medicare Supplement plan letter you have, you may or may not be responsible for paying “Excess Charges”.

As of 2020, Mayo Clinic in Florida accepts full Medicare Assignment.
This means that they will not bill Excess Charges. Those on Medicare Supplement Plan N will not see an additional bill for Excess Charges when visiting the Mayo Clinic in Florida.

The Arizona Mayo Clinic facility does not (yet) accept Medicare Assignment, so those on Plan N might see an Excess Charge billed from Mayo in Arizona.

Medicare Supplement plans only supplement what is APPROVED by original Medicare. If Medicare approves the procedure and pays their 80%, the Supplement plan, also known as Medigap, will fill in the remaining portion, subject to your deductible and possible co-payment, depending again on which Medicare Supplement plan letter you signed up for.

In this video, we go over the details of how Medicare and Medicare Supplements are accepted at the Mayo Clinic. Also, for those on a Medicare Advantage plan, you must look very closely at your plan and communicate with Mayo on it, as these private plans are most often not accepted at centers of excellence like the Mayo Clinic.

See the video:

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Ways and Means Committee Report on AARP Removed From Site

According to the internet archive, the last time the Ways and Means Committee report on AARP was available at its location on the congressional website was December 25, 2018. Some time shortly thereafter, before the new year of 2019, the file has been removed.

A Google search of the file name will show that it has been referenced in thousands of other websites and news reports, however, a click on those links, pointing back to the Ways and Means Committee website now shows, “FILE NOT FOUND.”


As the original report from 2011 was newsworthy and enlightening, the Senior Savings Network has decided to post the original report here, in its entirety. 
See the original report:

Until it is removed, too, here is the video talking about the report, from the Ways and Means Committee’s Youtube channel:

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Medicare Advantage Investigation by OIG | Denials For Profit

Medicare Advantage Practics Draw Scrutiny from HHS


The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published the findings of an investigation into claims denials for members of Medicare Advantage Plans. The report concluded that there is a profit motive, stating specifically, “A central concern about the capitated payment model used in Medicare Advantage is the potential incentive for MAOs to inappropriately deny access to services and payment in an attempt to increase their profits.”

 

Medicare Advantage plans are becoming a popular choice for seniors as they enter Medicare years (65 year’s old) and often has a monthly premium of $0. The monthly premium is subsidized by the government’s payment to private insurance companies who then manage the care the senior receives. The incentive to closely scrutinize what is approved for care is what amounts the insurer’s profit – that is, the difference between the government’s monthly pay for the senior’s care, at a fixed rate, versus the actual cost of care provided.

 

Most seniors joining Medicare Advantage plans are aware that there are usually network limitations and restrictions on providers where they can seek treatment. This is the most recognized trade-off for a very low, or even zero monthly premium in comparison to original Medicare and a Medicare Supplement, which pays what Medicare does not pay, typically 20% of medical costs. Unlike original Medicare, however, the restrictions put in place on most Medicare Advantage plans go beyond merely agreeing to abide by a network of contracted providers and having co-payments when services are utilized.

 

The OIG study found that during 2014-2016, Medicare Advantage plans overturned 75% of their own preauthorization and payment denials, overturning approximately 216,000 denials each year. Even more, denials were overturned when the beneficiaries went further into the appeals process, beyond the first stage. The report states, “The high number of overturned denials raises concerns that some Medicare Advantage beneficiaries and providers were initially denied services and payments that should have been provided.”

 

The alarming conclusion of this study points to the fact that only 1 percent of denials were appealed to the first level during the examined period. This means that 99% of denials to beneficiaries went unchallenged and those services were just not provided. When 75% of appeals were ultimately won by the beneficiary, it would appear that most beneficiaries are not aware of the success rate or the appeals process at all.

 

At the Senior Savings Network, seniors are shown the options available to them when they are joining Medicare. These options include original Medicare and a Supplement, which offers the freedom of choice to visit any doctor and any hospital that accepts Medicare; or a Medicare Advantage program with its inherently unique set of network and procedure conditions. The Medicare Supplement route means that the senior can travel from coast to coast, without restriction, and there are no significant deductibles, pre-authorization procedures, or maximum out of pocket concerns when seeking the care their chosen physician feels is best for them, as long as the procedure is deemed medically necessary by Medicare.

 

While the Medicare Advantage network can be searched to see if the beneficiary’s doctor is within the network, that network can still change during the plan year, as doctor and hospital contracts are not always calendar-year contracts and providers can choose to leave the networks. A provider leaving the Medicare Advantage plan in the middle of the plan year does not provide the beneficiary with a Special Election Period to change plans. In that scenario, the beneficiary must stay in the plan and simply choose a different plan-authorized doctor or hospital. A recent story from the Mississippi Clarion Ledger on October 29, 2018 “Hospitals Dropping Medicare Advantage agreements leaves patients in lurch” reported, “North Mississippi Health Services CEO Shane Spees recently told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that only 4 percent of his company’s patients use Humana Medicare Advantage, but they account for 85 percent of payment denials for all payers.

 

The benefits within a Medicare Advantage plan, as announced at the beginning of the year are fixed for the duration of the calendar year, but not beyond that one-year period. This means that a member of a specific Medicare Advantage plan who signed up for a set premium (or no premium), after finding out that their favorite doctor is in the network might find that the next year the premium, co-payments, and provider networks have changed. This is announced in their “Annual Notice of Change” received by the members in October which outline what changes will happen to their program on the next January 1.

 

Conversely, with original Medicare and a Medicare Supplement plan, the benefits of the Supplement are guaranteed renewable. This means that the benefits are guaranteed not to change in the future as long as the premiums for that plan continue to be paid. This provides more certainty with regard to the future benefits of their chosen plan. While the monthly premiums can change, the benefits and freedom to choose any Medicare doctor or hospital from coast-t0-coast, does not.

 

In their audit, the OIG recommends that the Center for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) “enhance their oversight of Medicare Advantage contracts, including those with extremely high overturn rates and/or low appeal rates, and take corrective action as appropriate.” It was also recommended that CMS implement strategies to communicate with beneficiaries in a clearer way about the appeals process available to them. The Medicare Advantage appeals process can be quite daunting and has various layers of complexity.

See the video:

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Go from Medicare Advantage to Medicare Supplement

North Carolina Medicare Plans

Seniors in North Carolina are facing more challenges with regard to Medicare Advantage plans.

Many are finding that Medicare Supplement (Medigap) is a far better way to go than the ever-shifting sands of Medicare Advantage, as shown in a recent story by the Charlotte Observer, which showed that over 57,000 North Carolina seniors are losing their Medicare Advantage plans in 2015.

Seniors on Medicare Supplement plans are guaranteed renewable, with the same benefits they signed for, for life. The benefits on Medigap plans cannot be changed, and this means stability.

Seniors who are 75, 80, 85 years old should not have to compare nuances of changing co-payments, doctor networks, and new requirements that are constantly changing on Medicare Advantage plans each time the one-year contract expire.

Seniors looking for a second opinion on their Medicare plans should call the Senior Savings Network at 1-800-729-9590.

Here is the article from the Charlotte Observer:
Turmoil in Medicare Advantage hits NC seniors hard.

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