Medicare Open Enrollment Period 2017-18

(This information concerns Medicare Health Plans. It does not concern you if you are either on an Employer-Sponsored Group Health Plan or an Individual & Family Health Plan. This information pertains only to California and may or may not apply to other states.)

Medicare Enrollment season is once again upon us.

The Medicare Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage Plans (i.e. HMO, Part D PDP Rx plans) runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

There is no open enrollment period for Medicare Supplement plans which do not need to be renewed. They continue month to month until cancelled.

Here are some common questions that we have been asked:

  1. When is the 2017-18 Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)? For most people, Medicare AEP runs from Oct. 15th to Dec. 7th. You may do the following during this time: 1. Enroll or change your Medicare Advantage plan (MA-PD). 2. Enroll or change your Medicare Rx (PDP) plan. 3. Enroll in a Medicare Supplement and a PDP plan (the supplement plan is not guarantee-issue unless you have a qualifying event). Technically, AEP only applies to Medicare Advantage plan.   These plans include Advantage MA-PD (Medicare Advantage-Prescription Drug, mostly HMO) plans as well as Advantage PDP (Prescription Drug Rx Plan) plans. These Advantage plans are regulated by CMS (the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which is part of HHS, the federal Dept. of Health & Human Services). Medicare Supplement plans on the other hand, are regulated by the State’s Dept. of Insurance which does not have AEP’s and go by different rules.

(B) Can I Switch into a Medicare Supplement Plan from a Medicare Advantage HMO Plan during AEP? Supplement plans may be purchased anytime, as long as you have Original Medicare Parts A & B. However, if you have an Advantage MA-PD plan currently, you must either have a qualifying event or be subject to medical underwriting. For those who have a Qualifying Event (QE), e.g. their Advantage plan is terminating or moving out of their area at year end, they have until Dec. 31st to enroll into a Medicare Supplement and PDP plan for a Jan. 1st effective date. I recommend that you enroll no later than Dec. 15 because of the holidays as well as the crushing workload of the insurance carriers. For those without a QE, switching to a Supplement Plan is difficult and filled with pitfalls. This process should be started early in the Enrollment season (Oct. 15th), and handled very carefully with assistance from a knowledgeable Medicare insurance agent. It involves medical underwriting (approval based on health). There is no guarantee of approval by a Supplement carrier. And you must not enroll into a PDP plan before you have received approval from a Medicare Supplement carrier, otherwise your MA-PD plan may be cancelled, leaving you with no coverage except for Part A/B.

(C) Is Medicare Supplement Plan F going away? CMS (Center for Medicare Medicaid Services) has announced that they will ban the sale of Medicare Supplement F, the most popular supplement plan, after Jan. 2020.

Anyone who qualified for Plan F before Jan. 2010 will be grandfathered and permitted to keep the plan or enroll indefinitely. However, unless the enrollment is during the initial coverage enrollment period (ICEP), acceptance is not guaranteed. There may be medical underwriting. Those who will turn 65 or become eligible for Medicare after the year 2020 will unfortunately never be able to experience Plan F.
(D) **Are there any instances where one can enroll into Supplement F after Jan. 2020? We understand that anyone who was initially eligible for Plan F before Jan. 2020 would still be allowed to enroll into Plan F even if they enroll after that date.

(D) Are rates for frozen Supplement Plan F (after 2020) likely to skyrocket? Some concerns were raised that the premium for F plans may skyrocket, after 2020, due to there being no future new entrants into the risk pool. Although this is a distinct possibility, it is unlikely to be a cause for alarm for the following reasons: (1) Unlike under age 65 plans, supplement plans are secondary payers (Medicare is the primary payer) and not subject to the brunt of the risk, (2) In the past when older supplement plans were frozen, such as the Anthem Classic J plan, there were no great increases in rates, (3) After the freezing of Plan F, other plans like G and N will still be available. Although these other plans are not as comprehensive as F, (4) The Birthday rule allows members to switch to like, or downgrade plans, guarantee-issue, every year, on their birthday month, (5) Supplements plans are in a highly competitive marketplace. Currently there are over a dozen carriers in CA offering Plan F. This will likely keep prices competitive. The practical implication is that seniors may keep plan F and take a wait and see attitude. If rates go out of line at some point, then simply downgrade, guarantee-issue, on their next birthday.

(The above is meant to be informational. This information has not been approved by CMS. It is not to be used in sales. And should not be relied upon to make purchase decisions. We recommend that you consult a knowledgeable insurance agent before making any decisions.)

Phil Lee

Lee Health Insurance Services


[email protected]

Employee Benefits & Health Insurance

About Phil Lee

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