Changes to MedicareCategory:
Needed Changes to the Medicare Enrollment Process 2022
I have been a licensed insurance agent since 2003. I’ve seen a lot of changes to Medicare over that time. One of the problems that always baffled me was how difficult it was to enroll in Medicare. Let me put you in the front seat of the upcoming changes to Medicare for 2022 and 2023.
More than 11,000 persons turn 65 each day and become Medicare eligible. That is a lot of people enrolling in Medicare. The problem that Congress created a number of years ago was moving the full Social Security retirement age from 65 to 66 and so many months.
People are also living longer. Retirement is being pushed off because people don’t have enough saved. Consequently, many continue to work past 66 to just survive, so they remain on their employer’s group health plans. But, when they turn 65, they need to do something about Medicare enrollment.
How to Enroll with Upcoming Changes to Medicare in 2022 & 2023?
When you start your Social Security, Social Security enrolls you automatically into Medicare Part A and Part B when you turn 65. You have the option then to decline Part B. Many do if they are still working and have adequate health insurance from their employer.
Many people are not taking Social Security at 65, so Social Security does not automatically enroll them in Medicare. That number is even smaller than a few years ago.
So, people must actually choose to enroll in Part A at 65. If they are going on Medicare entirely and delaying Social Security, they must actively choose to enroll in Part A and Part B. A lot of people call Medicare complaining because of how hard it is to enroll in Medicare. Upcoming changes to Medicare in 2022 and 2023 will make the enrollment process simpler.
Enrolling in Medicare at The Social Security Administration Office
Enrolling in Medicare is a challenge, to put it kindly. I do this for a living. I like to think I have above-average intelligence and some good computer skills. However, I still find the Medicare enrollment process unnecessarily difficult and complicated.
Before the pandemic, you could go to your local Social Security office to enroll in Medicare. Depending on the office’s busyness and the staff’s competency, it was more or less complicated and very time-consuming. The primary issue was the time involved—driving to the office, waiting in line, being at the office during regular business hours when you are still working. Those were the usual challenges. As of the writing of this, the local Social Security offices are closed to visitors because of COVID. The only option now is to enroll online.
The other option for enrollment, which has become pretty much the only option now, is enrolling online. Enrolling online is not easy, even if everything goes smoothly.
In the past two years, the online process has evolved. A few months ago you took a photo of your state driver’s license. Social Security scanned your license into their system through your smartphone. The purpose was to identify you if you did not already have an active MySocialSecurity account. It was not a bad improvement over the old way, which was answering credit questions. That was an amazing bureaucratic mess in itself. I’m glad the credit questions are gone, but the technology for taking the photo of the driver’s license was faulty.
The latest method is a combination of email and text confirmation codes. This method works if there are no issues with your personal information.
The major challenge with this newest method is some of my clients do not have email or do not get emails and texts on their phones.
Challenges, however, go beyond just the mechanics of getting enrolled with Medicare. The problems are with when you can enroll, penalties when you don’t follow the rules, confusion about the rules and penalties. Frustration has built over time as more and more baby boomers run into the wall called Medicare enrollment.
Someone must have heard that consumers were not happy because Congress made some significant changes to the Medicare enrollment process for 2022 and 2023.
What Are the Upcoming Changes to Medicare for 2022?
In December 2020, Congress passed the Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act of 2020. Parts of this legislation will be effective beginning in January 2023.
The changes are in five areas:
- GEP (General Election Period)
- Part B Enrollment Exceptions
- IEP (Initial Enrollment Period)
- Advanced education for Medicare enrollment
- Expanded Kidney transplant patient coverage
What Are Medicare General Enrollment Period Changes For 2022 & 2023?
Sometimes people miss their Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), which occurs when they turn 65. If you do not have health insurance from 65 onward, you cannot enroll in Medicare until the General Election Period (GEP), January 1st—March 31st. The delay is part of the punishment for missing your IEP. You may also incur the 10% permanent late enrollment penalty.
The problem with the rules around GEP is that Medicare Part A and/or Part B does not start until July 1st after you enrolled sometime from January 1st–March 31st. Consequently, a person cannot get a Medicare Supplement or Part D plan until then. Medicare Part C/Medicare Advantage plans are delayed even further until Annual Election Period (AEP) in October. You are without comprehensive health coverage for many months after an already delayed enrollment.
The BENES Act changes GEP (General Election Period). Congress moved GEP from the first three months of the year to the last three months of the year—October 15th—December 31st—to coincide with the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), which is October 15th–December 7th. The hope was to reduce confusion and enable a newly enrolled beneficiary to get maximum coverage right away. For example, if you enrolled in November during the GEP, your Medicare would start on Dec 1st.
Medicare Changes in 2022 Allow For More Exceptions
Medicare enrollment periods are very restrictive and precise. The handbook that agents must learn runs to many pages for Medicare election periods when someone can enroll in Medicare or make changes to a Medicare plan. Often I cannot enroll someone in a plan or change their plan, even when the situation is terrible, because of the restrictive enrollment election criteria.
The new law allows the Secretary of Health and Human Service to initiate a particular enrollment period for Part B when exceptional circumstances arise. Of course, we all can think of the pandemic as the perfect example.
The Last 3 Months of Initial Enrollment Period
Many people know that your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is three months before the month of your birthday, the month of your birthday, and the three months afterward. What people do not realize about this rule is there are additional rules for the last three months. This provision has been the bane of my existence—as well as a few clients—for years.
Staggered Medicare Start Dates Change in 2023
Sometimes people will delay enrolling in Medicare when they turn 65 to coincide with a spouse turning 65, a retirement date, the end of a school year, etc. The problem with enrolling after you turn 65 is the start dates are staggered.
For example, you are turning 65 in July, but your spouse is turning 65 in October and needs you to remain on the employer health plan so she can have health insurance. You want to enroll in Medicare for an October 1st start date so it coincides with your spouse, but you can’t.
If you enroll in August, your Medicare will start in September. If you enroll in September, your Medicare will start two months in November under the current rules. You will need to enroll in Medicare in August, so your Medicare starts in September. Your spouse will enroll during the three months before, so it starts on October 1st. You will need to double pay for insurance for one month because of the unusual Medicare rules.
The upcoming changes to Medicare in 2022 and 2023 do away with the silliness. Joe can enroll in September for October and not have to pay double for health insurance. I can’t tell you how many times this has been an unnecessary burden for my clients going on Medicare.
This change will allow people retiring at the end of their IEP (Initial Enrollment Period) to have a smoother transition from employer coverage to Medicare without a lapse in coverage or double paying.
Medicare Part B after 65
I find that Medicare does not explain very well how Medicare works when you work past 65 or beyond and have an employer health plan. I hear the standard response from Medicare and Social Security bureaucrats. They encourage people to enroll only in Part A and stay on their employer’s health plan as long as they are working.
In the past, that standard answer may have worked, but when more and more people are working past 65 and full Social Security retirement is 66+, reality changed.
Also, employer plans have steadily declined in quality during the past fifteen years. Health plan costs have increased and coverage has decreased significantly. I find the vast majority of employer health plans are inferior to Medicare Advantage or Original Medicare and a supplement.
Medicare Enrollment Deadline & Penalty
The most common issue around Medicare is initial enrollment, which is when people turn 65. Some people claim they didn’t know about their Medicare enrollment. I’m not sure how that is possible because most people’s mailbox is jammed full of mail announcing they are turning 65 and need to get signed up for Medicare.
The real issue around 65 is should I enroll in Medicare, and how do I quickly do that? I find a lot of legitimacy around that question.
The upcoming changes to Medicare in 2022 & 2023 through the BENES Act will include notifying people of Medicare eligibility. The notifications will start at ages 60 to 64. Medicare will send information to explain rules such as Medicare eligibility, timeframes for enrollment, Medicare penalties, delaying Medicare without penalty, Part B coordination of benefits, and other online resources will be included on the notice. The purpose is to alert beneficiaries, so no one misses their opportunity.
If your mailbox was not full enough when you turned 65, it will be stuffed to overflowing now.
Medicare For Kidney Transplant Patients
End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is one of the ways you qualify for Medicare before age 65.
If you are under 65 and diagnosed with ESRD, you can enroll in Medicare for a specific number of months. For example, now if you qualify for Medicare based on ESRD and have a kidney transplant, your Medicare coverage will end 36 months after the month of your transplant.
The BENES Act of 2020 change will allow kidney transplant beneficiaries to continue their Medicare Part B coverage past 36 months if they have no other health insurance source. The purpose of this is so these beneficiaries will continue to have coverage for immunosuppressive drugs.
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), Part B’s premium under these circumstances would be less than the base premium and not subject to late penalties.
When Does the BENES Act Take Effect?
The BENES Act will take effect on January 1, 2023, but like many laws, different aspects will be implemented over time to give all the institutions and organizations time to comply.
The two changes I think most important are General Election Period (GEP) and Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). Those will be implemented on the start date–January 1, 2023. The outreach program and kidney transplant patients will take about two years to enact the changes fully.
The number of people enrolling in Medicare is monster. I think all the Baby Boomers enrolling in Medicare have forced politicians and bureaucrats to streamline the Medicare system. Upcoming changes to Medicare enrollment in 2022 and 2023 are going to make life easier. Late enrollment penalties and complaints should decline significantly with the more efficient and user-friendly rules. The most vulnerable, like kidney transplant patients, will have better options.
Medicare and Medicare insurance, however, is still complicated. When you need help understanding the new BENES rules and all the others, give us a call at 402-614-3389 and speak with a licensed and experienced insurance professional.
Medicare Open Enrollment Is Also Known As Medicare Annual Election Period
Medicare Open Enrollment is when people may make changes to their Medicare plan. Medicare Open Enrollment is also called Annual Election Period or AEP. That is the new official name Medicare Open Enrollment. Annual Election Period (AEP) is when you can change your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan or your Medicare Part C Medicare Advantage plan. AEP is from October 15th–December 7th. A lot of people blow this opportunity. They don’t check to see if they have the best plan for their needs and situation for the coming year. BIG MISTAKE. For some people with serious health issues and medication needs, HUGE MISTAKE!
There are a thousand complaints the day after Medicare Open Enrollment (Annual Election Period), December 8th. People offer a myriad of excuses–It’s the agent’s fault,’ ‘I was too busy to deal with it,’ ‘The dog ate my Medicare card.’ The number of phone calls I get on December 8th is amazing–mostly non-clients. They are hoping to find a Medicare-fairy-godmother to save them from their negligence. Sorry, there is no Medicare-fairy-godmother!
When January 1st arrives and the new plan year begins, people may find out their plan does not cover one or more medications, or the price of one of their drugs went through the roof. Now they have a deductible on their plan they didn’t have before, a medication moved to a higher tier, or their doctor is no longer in-network. Their Medicare situation is a disaster because they didn’t double-check during the Medicare Open Enrollment / Annual Election Period (AEP).
What are the most significant problems created by not reviewing your Medicare plan during Medicare Open Enrollment / Annual Election Period (AEP)?
Formulary Check During Medicare Open Enrollment
During Medicare Open Enrollment /Annual Election Period (AEP), insurance companies determine the medications on their approved list of drugs in the formularies that service their Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and the Part C Medicare Advantage plans.
Some years, they drop certain medications altogether. In other years, they might shift the medications from a lower to a higher tier.
The result is you may end up paying more for your prescription drugs. In some cases, a lot more. Checking the formulary and comparing it to the other plans in the area is a straightforward but essential process.
During Medicare Open Enrollment / Annual Election Period (AEP), reviewing medications is a big part of what we do. I sometimes have to arm-twist clients to send me their current list of medications. Some will tell me that they don’t need to do anything because their medications have not changed, but I try to remind them it doesn’t matter. The insurance companies change their formularies.
Over the years, I have had clients neglect their reviews and end up with substantial prescription drug bills as a consequence. Your agent should thoroughly check your medications with dosages each AEP.
Double Check Physician Directories
The Medicare Advantage plan manages your care. That means that an insurance company under the supervision of Medicare is making determinations about your care. As part of that program, they have doctors contracted with the plan. Some doctors and hospitals are not contracted. Doctors may change their credentialing.
It is important to double-check to ensure your doctor is still in-network during Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) / Medicare Open Enrollment.
We have three medical networks in the Omaha, Lincoln, and Council Bluffs area. The vast majority of medical professionals are part of one or more of these networks. The networks work with the local Medicare Advantage plans. Doctor access is not an issue.
I have clients, however, throughout the U.S., and the other plans are not as generous in the number of in-network medical professionals. Checking the directory to make sure your physicians are still in-network every year is critical during Annual Election Period (AEP) / Medicare Open Enrolment.
With Medicare Advantage plans, copays may change from year to year. This AEP saw very little change among the plans around here. I suspect that was because the plans determined prices in the Spring of the preceding year.
The inflation we are experiencing right now was not a factor in the 2022 planning. I think 2023 will be a different ball game.
Copays can change each year, so you need to review those changes. For example, the cost of MRIs may jump on your plan to the extent you want to change to another plan. Sometimes plans will drop benefits that Medicare does not require, like dental.
I’ve seen plans in the past drop benefits like dental. Beneficiaries don’t imagine their plan could ever change. The lack of coverage and the price tag associated with that shocks clients.
The dreaded Donut Hole or Gap! The Donut Hole is still there. I’ve seen the burden of drug costs lighten for some of my clients, but it is still expensive when people fall into the Donut Hole.
If you are on expensive medications that drive you into the Gap, checking your medications for the level of Gap coverage is essential. While no plan eliminates the cost, some plans are structured, so you pay less than other plans. Some plans delay going into the Gap longer, or other plans even out the cost because of a zero deductible.
If drug costs are an issue for you, look at the various Part D, and Part C plans side-by-side to determine which payment schedule would benefit your wallet during Medicare Open Enrollment.
Have A Conversation About Your Travel Plans
Many clients on Medicare like to travel. Their grandkids are scattered throughout the country. Friends moved to warmer clients, or getting out of town is just great. Other clients have semi-permanent homes in Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Medicare is a federal program. It exists from sea to shining sea in the U.S. The Medigap policies that company them work anywhere in the U.S. too. (Medicare. however, does not leave the borders of the U.S.)
Medicare Advantage plans, however, are set up for a particular area or region. The HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) plans only include doctors and hospitals in that area. Emergencies are a different matter. Emergency visits are covered anywhere in the country. Some insurance companies with HMO plans also have national networks, so you can still get in-network services and prices outside of your geographic region for ordinary services.
For those who travel a lot and especially those who stay for long periods away from home, I highly recommend the PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plans. You may go to doctors and hospitals outside the network as long as they take Medicare. Out-of-network copays may be more, but you have the convenience and security of going anywhere that accepts Medicare.
You can change your Medicare Advantage plan during Medicare Open Enrollment even if you are out of the area. There is email, U.S. mail, text, and even voice signatures.
Over the years, I have had client reevaluate their situation during Medicare Open Enrollment or AEP. Those paying enormous amounts in monthly Medigap premium look to switch to a Medicare Advantage plan.
The amount of money they pay in premium very quickly covers any copays. Others anticipate more medical costs as they age, switching to Medigap plans. Medicare Open Enrollment or AEP is the time to review your ever-changing circumstances and adjust accordingly.
While Medicare supplements are not geared toward Medicare Open Enrollment or AEP exclusively, it is still an excellent time to look at your pricing. Running Medigap quotes only takes a few moments. I can tell you in a minute if you have the lowest price for Plan G or Plan N in your area. We can then make adjustments accordingly.
Medicare planning is not a one-and-done deal. As you change, Medicare changes and the Medicare plans change. You need to make the adjustments that best fit your needs and circumstances at that time.
Ignore Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) October 5th–December 7th at your peril or not.
Every year there are changes to Medicare. The changes are usually not as drastic as the television commercials would lead you to believe. The purpose of the advertisements is to stimulate fear, uncertainty, and greed. They hit it hard to motivate you to call the 800-number. They will claim to offer a free objective evaluation. I find their objective evaluation inevitably ends with you changing to their plan. Know about Medicare 2021 changes before they flip you.
Unique One-Time Medicare 2021 Changes
My grandmother used to say, ‘live long enough, and you will see everything.’ The changes this year are unique because of the pandemic. COVID tests will have no co-pays. The vaccine is free. The federal government wants to overcome the virus, so Medicare is reflecting that public health policy.
Many Medicare plans had already offering telehealth options. With the pandemic, insurance companies now hardwire their plans with these options–most with zero co-pays.
The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) changes began in 2015. CMS implemented the changes slowly over the years so Medicare, the insurance companies, and beneficiaries could more easily adjust. Starting in 2020, those turning 65 did not have the opportunity to purchase the Medigap F or C plan. Medicare fazed out those plans with plan G being the principal plan with the most comprehensive coverage. They grandfathered in those 65 and over before 2020. They can still own and purchase plan Fs and C’s.
The most significant Medicare change to know about in 2021 for most people is the Part B premium. This year it will increase from $145.60 to $148.50 per month per person, which is a $2.90 increase. Each year the premium amount is a hard-fought debate in Congress. Usually, Congress threatens to raise it much more. Constituents call in, and advocacy groups lobby, so the price usually goes down.
Part B Deductible in 2021
Medicare Part B consists of many different services. It has its own deductible, which is separate and distinct from the Part A deductible. The deductible increased from $198 in 2020 to $203 in 2021, only $5. The deductible is a flat amount. The consumer pays the deductible before the 20% coinsurance starts. For plan G, the Part B deductible is the only payment, aside from the monthly premium. The Medigap policy fills the remaining gaps in Part A and Part B coverage.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 1.3 percent in 2021. The 1.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2021. The Social Security COLA increase should not be less than the Medicare Part B premium increase. There are exceptions around this. If you are receiving Social Security benefits, you will be held harmless on the increase, but those who do not take Social Security benefits will pay the increase.
Medicare 2021 Changes for Part A
Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and some home health care services. About 99 percent of Medicare beneficiaries do not pay a Part A premium since they have at least 40 quarters of Medicare-covered employment. The Medicare Part A inpatient deductible that beneficiaries will pay when admitted to the hospital is $1,484 in 2021, increasing $76 from $1,408 in 2020.
The Senior Savings Model is an experiment in modeling that tests the impact of offering beneficiaries an increased choice of enhanced alternative Part D plan options that offer lower out-of-pocket costs for insulin. One in every three Medicare beneficiaries has diabetes, and over 3.3 million Medicare beneficiaries use one or more of the common forms of insulin. For some of these beneficiaries, access to insulin can be a critical component of their medical management, with gaps in access increasing the risk of serious complications, ranging from vision loss to kidney failure to foot ulcers (potentially requiring amputation) to heart attacks.
Unfortunately, sometimes the cost of insulin can be a barrier to appropriate medical management of diabetes. CMS’s designed Senior Savings Model for Part D plans to address President Trump’s promise to lower prescription drug costs. The model provides Medicare patients with new choices of Part D plans that offer insulin at an affordable and predictable cost. A one-month supply of a broad set of plan-formulary insulins costs will be no more than $35 each.
Medicare changes to know in 2021 are your drugs listed in the formulary. Part D premiums for 2021 will probably rise an average of 9%. The average stand-alone Part D premium is $41 in 2021. The premiums range from $7 a month for the SilverScript SmartRx plan to a high of $89 for the AARP MedicareRx Preferred plan.
Part D Deductible 2021
The Part D drug deductible went up from $435 to $445 on most plans. That is the max deductible CMS allows insurance companies to set the deductible. They can set it lower, though few plans did this year, and for those plans with zero deductible or a lower deductible, the cost is offset by either higher monthly premiums or co-pays or both.
Most of the time, that deductible is only applicable to tiers 3, 4 & 5 medications.
The first of the year is the time when I get the distressed phone calls because people must meet their deductibles. Many forget the deductible starts over again in January, and they are shocked when they show up at the pharmacy counter. I have to remind clients they need to meet the deductible first to get to the lower copay.
Medicare Advantage Changes in 2021
In the nine years, I have offered Medicare Advantage plans, I have seen the number and especially the quality of the plans increase significantly. Nationally more Medicare Advantage plans are offered now than ever before. In Nebraska and Iowa, I have seen the number of counties offering quality plans explode.
There are now over 4,800 Medicare Advantage plans, an increase of 76% over 2017. The average person will choose from 33 plans offered by eight different insurance companies, with some areas having as many as 60 different plans.
Besides, the number of Special Needs Plans (SNP) also increased to nearly 1,000 in 2021, a sizable jump. The increase in SNP means more people have access to low-cost plans with extra benefits to manage chronic conditions and diseases.
Medicare Advantage Premiums in 2021
Average Medicare Advantage premiums dropped for the fourth consecutive year to $21 in 2021, down from $25 in 2020. Nearly 90% of all Medicare Advantage plans include Part D prescription drug coverage.
Of note, the Medicare Advantage out-of-pocket maximum will increase to $7,550 in 2021, up significantly from $6,700 in 2020. However, the vast majority of insurance companies set their out-of-pocket max well below the government limit. In 2020, the average Medicare Advantage out-of-pocket maximum was $4,900.
Medicare Advantage and ESRD
The most heartening plan change for Medicare Advantage is ESRD (End-Stage Renal Disease). When I first started, the only pre-existing condition that excluded me from enrolling someone in a Medicare Advantage plan was ESRD. While I didn’t have that situation very often, it was sad when I couldn’t offer Part C to clients.
ESRD is one of the health issues that almost always automatically makes you Medicare eligible. Still, if you are younger than 65 in Nebraska and Iowa, you are not eligible for a Medicare supplement. The dialysis falls under the unlimited 20% coinsurance of Part B. The cost can be incredible. Even for those on Medicare Advantage, beneficiaries can easily hit the maximum out of pocket.
At least now those with ESRD can get on a Medicare Advantage plan and limit their out-of-pocket costs.
There’s good news for people with ESRD in 2021. In the past, those with ESRD could not join Medicare Advantage unless there was an ESRD Special Needs Plan available. However, new rules grant guaranteed issue rights to people with ESRD for any Medicare Advantage plan offered in their service area.
Access to Medicare Advantage when you have ESRD is massive. Long-standing rules allowed Medigap companies to deny coverage to people with ESRD outside their Medigap Open Enrollment Period. Even many states that enacted laws forcing insurers to offer Medigap to people under age 65 failed to extend that protection to people with ESRD.
What this means is that, for the first time, people with ESRD have low-cost options to control their health care expenses with a Medicare Advantage plan. If that applies to you, you could have used the 2020 Annual Election Period to shop for a new Medicare Advantage plan.
Congress made significant changes to the billing process behind Medicare in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). MACRA changes how Medicare rewards providers for qualify over volume inpatient care. It streamlines provider reimbursements through the Merit-Based Incentive Payments System (MIPS) and even grants bonuses for participation in alternative payment models (APMs). Still, the change that gets the most attention is the eliminating of Plan F and C in the Medigap lineup. The plans completely covered the Part A deductibles and Part B co-insurance, so beneficiaries did not have to pay anything aside from their monthly premiums. Congress found the lack of co-pays and deductibles was an incentive for waste and abuse of the Medicare system. Starting in 2021, you could no longer purchase Plan F or C when you turned 65. Those who turned 65 before that period were grandfathered into Plan F and C.
The other most obvious change was the Medicare number is no longer your Social Security number, but a unique eleven-digit number combining letters and numbers. Everyone’s card should have been replaced by the end of 2019, though I still have some clients who have their old numbers and card. It is a simple matter of calling Medicare for a replacement card.
Medicare makes slight changes over time. Many times the Medicare changes to know about in 2021 do not apply to you, but you, or your agent, still need to be aware of what is going on to always maximize your benefits and avoid disadvantaging yourself temporarily or permanently.