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Matt,

I’m retiring soon and think I’m going to skip buying a Medicare Advantage plan and purchase a Medicare Supplement plan and add a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan to my coverage.  In your book, it’s Option 2; Medicare Part D + Supplement as you outline in your book.

If I do that, can I change Medicare Supplement insurance companies if the plan I buy ends up being more expensive than another Medicare Supplement options after a few years? I just finished reading the book, and it’s nothing short of excellent. I didn’t think I would be able to understand Medicare at all. I started reading another book and got lost and gave up.  It didn’t hold my interest like your book did.

Thanks,

Don H.


Dear Don,

Thank you for your kind words!  It truly makes me incredibly happy to hear my book has helped you.

Changing Medicare Supplement Plans

The quick answer is that it depends on where you live, whether you can pass medical underwriting, and when you want to change Medicare Supplement insurance companies. 

Since you’ve read the book, you must have picked up on the section where I ask the reader if they can afford ever-increasing Medicare Supplement premiums. Medicare Supplement premiums generally increase in price the older you get, while Medicare Advantage premiums are the same whether you’re 65 or 105.

Many Medicare Supplement insurance companies offer discounted or new-to-Medicare rates for people turning 65. Most Medicare Supplement insurance companies offer similar rates for people between 65 and 70. Don’t be fooled by introductory rates; look at the premiums over time. They’re usually listed in the policy booklet or application, and age 70+ rates can shoot up. This is where an independent Medicare insurance agent can come in handy.  A local, field-based independent Medicare insurance agent will be able to tell you about a company’s history of annual rate increases and make a customized recommendation.

Can you continue to afford those premium increases; would you even want to? If you can’t or don’t want to face that in future years, you have two options. The first one is to switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan. The second is to switch to a cheaper Medicare Supplement (Medigap) insurance policy.  

If you switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, the Medicare insurance companies MUST accept you, so no problems there. Medicare Supplement insurance companies DO NOT have to accept you. That’s the problem with switching Medicare Supplement plans a few years after retiring. They can ask you medical questions and deny you coverage outside of what’s called the Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period.

Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period

Since it sounds like you’re retiring soon, you’ll be in your Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period. That means you can sign up for any Medicare Supplement plan you want to, without any medical underwriting. All Medicare Supplement insurance companies must sell you a Medicare Supplement policy, cover all your pre-existing health conditions, and can’t charge you more for a Medigap policy because of past or present health problems.  The Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period only occurs once in your life.

Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period Limitations 

If you’re turning 65 or getting Medicare for the first time, it’s imperative to know there are only certain times you can buy a Medicare Supplement without being asked health questions. If you buy a Medicare Supplement within the first six months of getting Medicare Part B, the insurance company has to accept you. This is called the one-time Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period. If you don’t sign up for a Medicare Supplement plan within this timeframe, you will probably have to answer health questions and could be denied coverage. If you’ve previously been or are currently suffering from an extreme ailment (cancer, heart attack, stroke, etc.) before you applied for Medicare and want to make sure you can get a Medicare Supplement plan with no health questions, it is paramount you don’t miss this window.

The Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period automatically starts the month you’re 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B. If you defer Medicare Part B because, for example, you’re working and have employer-sponsored healthcare coverage, the period starts when you finally do elect Medicare Part B. This is a one-time, six-month enrollment window. After this period, you may not be able to buy a Medicare Supplement policy without answering health questions. If you’re able to buy one, it may cost more due to past or present health problems.

Medicare Supplement Enrollment Exceptions

Several states have exceptions to this. In California, you can switch your Medicare Supplement plans between carriers (as long as it’s not an upgrade) every year in the 60 days following your birthday with no medical underwriting. In Oregon, you have 30 days.  In Missouri, you can switch within 60 days of the anniversary date of your initial effective date into a Medicare Supplement plan. Washington, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin also have special rules that may allow you to switch. Suppose you’re in any of these states. In that case, I highly suggest you speak to a representative from a Medicare Supplement insurance company or a Medicare insurance agent to help guide you through the process. Planning is essential here; don’t wait until the last minute or drop your current coverage without doing your homework or getting help.

Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Guarantee Issue Rights

There are other scenarios where people may be able to get Medicare Supplement insurance outside of the Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Open Enrollment Period.  Some rules are federal. Some are state-based. If this applies to you, your best bet is to lean on an expert Medicare insurance agent for guidance. Independent Medicare insurance agents in your area know the state-based rules, as do telephone representatives working for Medicare Supplement insurance companies. Medicare.gov has a decent webpage outlining these scenarios, and you can find the link to that page by going to PrepareforMedicare.com/links.

Finally, a lot of Medicare Supplement companies will allow you to drop down to a less expensive plan without any medical underwriting.  For example, if you buy a Mutual of Omaha Medicare Supplement Plan G and want to drop down to a less comprehensive and cheaper plan N from the same company, most companies allow you to do that.  They just won’t let you increase or improve your benefits without medical underwriting.

Don, I hope that helps!

I love answering Medicare questions.  Send me yours by clicking here and I’ll pick a few for a future blog post!

To your wealth, wisdom, and wellness!

-Matt Feret

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Author Bio Matt Feret is the author of the Prepare for Medicare book series and launched prepareformedicare.com to help people get objective answers to questions about Medicare. Matt is also the host of The Matt Feret Show. He has held leadership roles at numerous Fortune 500 Medicare health insurers in sales, marketing, operations, product development, and strategy for over two decades.