OK, I will admit that I am not the most price-conscious person in Sequim. When I need to purchase an item I generally will go out and buy it. If the price seems fair, it is easy; if the item is pricier, I may shop around or think about it for a while.
Let me give you a couple of examples. I recently needed new tires and my shopping criteria wasn’t solely price; I also wanted to purchase tires that were made in the good ole U.S. of A. I contacted all the usual suspects for purchasing tires and had quite an education. Many companies made identical tires both here as well as overseas and the only for sure way to know if you were getting U.S. tires was to read the sidewall of the actual tires.
The pricing of the tires — as well as guarantees — were all identical so why wouldn’t I buy the “made in the USA” tires? It made me feel better about a $1,000 purchase as I felt I was buying locally even though the tire probably was made well over 1,000 miles away.
Now you may be wondering what all this has to do with insurance.
People have been trained for the past several years that they can change their Medicare Part D ~ Rx plans only during the Annual Enrollment Period toward the end of the year. They assume that is also true for the traditional Medi-gap or supplemental plans as well. However, we all know what happens when you assume; in fact it is totally different.
Many Medi-gap insurance companies are increasing their premiums at different times throughout the year and not at the traditional calendar year basis. For example, United Health Care, which underwrites the AARP-branded plans, increased premiums as of April 1; and Mutual of Omaha is increasing premiums either in May or July, depending upon which plan a person has. They are not alone with mid-year price increases and I believe they are hoping for consumer complacency and that folks will not shop around for lower rates.
In Washington we are blessed with a near utopia when it comes time to review your individual Medi-gap plans.
With very few exceptions if you have a program, you can switch to any other plan either with the same company or a different one, regardless of your age or pre-existing health conditions. That is correct, you could be 90 years young and not in the best of health and still be eligible to switch to another insurance company.
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner maintains a current listing of all insurance companies offering Medi-gap plans, as well as their contact telephone numbers and premiums for all plans offered. This list can be found online at the OIC website www.insurance.wa.gov or pick up a copy at the local SHIBA office at 411 E. Washington St., Sequim.
A quick review of the premiums for the most popular Medi-gap plan, Plan F, shows that the premiums range from $170 per month to a high of $323 per month for identical coverage. While I never have met anyone with the highest-priced plan, we do see people paying more than $200 per month in our office every week.
So, now that I have told you that you can change your plans at anytime, as well as how to check out how much you can save, what are you going to do about it?
Medical insurance is different from homeowners or auto insurance, and for the most part, people feel a greater loyalty for their medical plans as their health is far more personal than an inanimate object like a vehicle or a home. I frequently hear people say, “Well, the company has paid my claims so well over the years.”
I had one long-time client, who had discussed moving her plan to save her more than $70 per month for identical coverage, decide to stay where she was. That was fine with me, as all I wanted to do was show the woman her options and let her make her decision.
So, the current ads for those auto insurance companies that say, “Give us 15 minutes and we will save you 15 percent” or the hapless driver whose car is bent upside a telephone pole bemoaning the fact that he had changed companies are not truly representative.
With Medi-gap policies all companies pay exactly the same amount on the same claim. In fact, over 98 percent of all Medicare claims are processed electronically and are never individually reviewed by a human being.
While insurance companies do not issue coupons, the savings you can realize are just as generous as those other coupons you receive. Benefits and claims service are pretty uniform across the board and so it makes more sense to be price conscious under that scenario.
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