Choosing a health insurance plan is not quite as straightforward as purchasing clothing, food or other staples. Although health insurance is unequivocally among the most important purchases that one can make, consumers must consider not only their immediate needs, but what they may need in the future as well. Because health insurance is an ongoing expense, consumers must consider not only their health status, but their budget both in the present and the future. Fortunately, once Americans reach the age of 65, they become eligible for Medicare, which helps to defray the cost of healthcare significantly. Unfortunately, Medicare coverage is somewhat limited, and many Americans find it necessary to supplement their Medicare with another health insurance plan. If you’re an Alaska resident looking for Medicare supplemental insurance, the information below will help you understand your options so that you can make an informed and appropriate choice.
Filling in Alaska’s Healthcare Gaps
Among the expenses not covered by Medicare are copays, deductibles and coinsurance, all of which can result in high out of pocket expenses for senior citizens who tend to require more doctor’s visits and services than those in their younger years. One way to close these ‘gaps’ in the system is to purchase Medigap, a health insurance policy that provides coverage for many things not covered by standard Medicare plans. There are 10 federally-regulated Medigap plans available in Alaska, and they are available through select private insurance companies. The coverage in each plan is determined by the federal government, but the cost varies from insurance company to insurance company. For this reason, it’s vital to do your homework carefully and to make sure that you’re paying the lowest possible price for the plan of your choice.
If you’re looking for coverage of specific services, consider this:
Medigap Plan A (which is not the same as Medicare Part A), is the most basic Medigap plan. It offers co-insurance for inpatient hospital care, additional coverage for costs associated with Medicare Parts A and B, coverage for co-insurance costs for Medicare part B (after the deductible is met), and coverage for hospice care. Medigap Plan B includes the same features, with the addition of coverage for all hospital deductibles not covered by standard Medicare.
Medigap Plans C, D, F, G, K, L, M and N all include some coverage of time spent in an inpatient nursing care facility. Plans D, F and G cover travel health insurance, while Plans K and L cover either 50% or 75% of hospice care, respectively. There are currently 11 insurance companies that sell Medigap policies in Alaska, including AARP United Health, State Farm Mutual, USAA Life, Humana and others.
Registration for Medigap is open only during certain times of the year which are known as ‘open enrollment’ periods, though seniors within 6 months of turning 65 also have their own personal enrollment period during those months. Generally speaking, open enrollment is available from October 15-December 7 of any given year. Changing Medigap plans can also be done only during these times. For this reason, it’s important that you research your options carefully – if you wish to change, you may be forced to wait several months in order to adjust your coverage.
A Different Healthcare Advantage
Alaska’s seniors who are looking for more personalized health coverage can opt for Medicare Advantage plan (also known as Medicare Part C), instead of a more formalized Medigap plan. Medicare covers up to 80% of many health-related costs, but it does not cover everything, nor does it cover service providers that are outside of the Medicare network. Medicare Advantage solves this problem by offering coverage to seniors who are looking to see physicians who are out of network, as well as services not covered by Medicare, such as dentistry, long-term care and hearing assistance. Prescription deductibles are generally covered by Medicare Advantage plans as well.
With a Medicare Advantage plan, Alaska senior citizens can have a choice of an HMO, a PPO or a FFS (fee for service) plan. Unlike the case of Medigap where all plans are standardized, Medicare Advantage plans in Alaska vary from county to county and insurance company to insurance company. Like Medigap, however, Medicare Advantage can only be procured during the annual open enrollment (special consideration will be given to seniors who move during the year and need to find a policy in their new county). If you are in the market for a supplement to your Medicare policy, make sure to shop around in your area only.
No matter which supplemental health insurance policy you choose, it’s helpful to remember that insurance is critical not only because of your immediate needs, but to protect you against heft healthy costs in the future. Making sure that you are properly covered now will ensure that you have peace of mind moving forward.
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