‘This year will be different’ OCTOBER 1, 2019 WRITTEN BY JIM PALMER Medicare made simple!  Breitenfeldt Group provides service, selection all in one place “This year will be different,” said Dennis Breitenfeldt, owner of Breitenfeldt Group, referring to the big changes in Medicare last fall that resulted in 400,000 Minnesotans losing their coverage. “A lot of people lost their plans last year and… READ MORE >
On September 12, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new partnership with the State of Minnesota to test new ways of improving care for Medicare-Medicaid enrollees. Building on the state's Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) program, CMS and Minnesota will work together to improve the beneficiary experience in health plans that maintain contracts with both CMS as Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans and with the state to deliver Medicaid services.   
A “Welcome to Medicare” packet is mailed out a few months before you turn 65. If you are not yet 65 but receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, or receive certain disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board, then you become eligible for Medicare as soon as you enter into the 25th straight month of receiving those benefits.

Medicare is a national health insurance program in the United States, begun in 1966 under the Social Security Administration and now administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). It primarily provides health insurance for Americans age 65 and older, persons with disability status as determined by the Social Security Administrations, as well as people with end stage renal disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The state was the first to participate in a demonstration program to pilot Medicare Cost plans in the 1970s, and the plans have remained popular over the decades. They didn’t catch on in many other states, however, and Medicare + Choice came on the national scene in the 1990s, replaced by Medicare Advantage in 2003 (there are still Medicare Cost plans in Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, but their total enrollment was only about a third of the 625,072 people who had Medicare Cost plans in 2018 — the other two-thirds were in Minnesota).
You’re eligible for Medicare if you’re age 65 or older, receiving disability benefits, or have certain conditions, like end-stage renal disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). You must be either a United States citizen or a legal permanent resident of at least five years. In some instances, you may not have to take any action in order to enroll. This may happen if you’re turning 65 and already receive Social Security benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits.

As an alternative to obtaining Original Medicare coverage directly from the government, you may want to consider Medicare Advantage (sometimes referred to as Medicare Part C) in Minnesota. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies that contract with CMS to provide all Original Medicare benefits except hospice care, which is paid by Medicare Part A. Many Medicare Advantage plans also include extra benefits such as routine dental and vision care.
Private managed care programs for Medicare beneficiaries are particularly popular in Minnesota. Fifty-six percent of all Minnesota Medicare enrollees were enrolled in private Medicare plans in 2017, as opposed to a national average of 33 percent. Minnesota has by far the largest share of its Medicare population enrolled in private plans; the next closest state is Hawaii, where 45 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have private coverage.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce: provides beneficiaries with information about Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans and other insurance options available to them. The office is a resource for information about protection from Medicare fraud and how to report fraud. Additional links are included for federal offices that deal with Medicare and brochures that explain how to enroll in Part D Prescription Drug Plans. This government office also offers downloads of premium guides for supplemental plans available to current Medicare beneficiaries in Minnesota.

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On September 12, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new partnership with the State of Minnesota to test new ways of improving care for Medicare-Medicaid enrollees. Building on the state's Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) program, CMS and Minnesota will work together to improve the beneficiary experience in health plans that maintain contracts with both CMS as Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans and with the state to deliver Medicaid services.    

Minnesota is one of just three states in the country (Massachusetts and Wisconsin are the others) that offers its own version of Medicare Supplement insurance. Minnesota has two plans available: the Minnesota Basic Plan and the Minnesota Extended Basic Plan. In  most other states, up to 10 types of standardized plans are available. Medicare Supplement plans are also known as Medigap policies and may help pay Original Medicare out-of-pocket costs, such as copayments and deductibles.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce: provides beneficiaries with information about Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans and other insurance options available to them. The office is a resource for information about protection from Medicare fraud and how to report fraud. Additional links are included for federal offices that deal with Medicare and brochures that explain how to enroll in Part D Prescription Drug Plans. This government office also offers downloads of premium guides for supplemental plans available to current Medicare beneficiaries in Minnesota. 

Original Medicare does not provide coverage for outpatient prescription drugs. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries nationwide have supplemental coverage via an employer-sponsored plan (from a current or former employer or spouse’s employer) or Medicaid, and these plans often include prescription coverage. Some Medigap plans that were sold prior to 2006 included coverage for prescription drugs, but sales of those plans ceased as of 2006, when Medicare Part D became available. Part D was created under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
Medicare Part D is optional prescription drug coverage. If you have Original Medicare, you can get this coverage through a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, offered through private Medicare-approved insurance companies. These plans offer stand-alone prescription drug coverage that work alongside Original Medicare, Part A and Part B. A Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan also provides the Medicare Part D benefit, covering all Medicare benefits under a single plan.
The Minnesota Department of Health offers information about Medicare plans in Minnesota. The agency serves as a resource for those who need help paying their Medicare premiums and those interested in obtaining prescription drug coverage. The office also offers guidelines for handling complaints about health-care coverage and providers. Information on other types of health-care coverage are also covered by this website, including long-term care insurance. Downloads of publications on specific topics are also available, as well as links to additional resources available through state and federal offices.
The legislation that introduced Medicare Advantage also created a competition clause that banned Medicare Cost plans from operating in areas where they faced substantial competition from Medicare Advantage plans, but the implementation of the competition clause was delayed for many years. In 2015, legislation (MACRA) called for the competition clause to be implemented as of 2019.
Private Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative to Original Medicare. There are pros and cons to either option, and the right solution is different for each person. Plan availability varies by county, but Minnesota’s market is robust: Residents throughout the state can select from among at least 13 Advantage plans in 2019, and some counties have as many as 40 plans for sale.
Original Medicare does not provide coverage for outpatient prescription drugs. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries nationwide have supplemental coverage via an employer-sponsored plan (from a current or former employer or spouse’s employer) or Medicaid, and these plans often include prescription coverage. Some Medigap plans that were sold prior to 2006 included coverage for prescription drugs, but sales of those plans ceased as of 2006, when Medicare Part D became available. Part D was created under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
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Minnesota law prevents Medigap insurers from imposing pre-existing condition waiting periods if the enrollee signs up during their initial six-month open enrollment window. For those who apply after that, Medigap insurers are not allowed to impose pre-existing condition waiting periods if the enrollee wasn’t diagnosed or treated for the condition in the 90 days prior to enrolling in the Medigap plan.
Minnesota also prohibits Medigap insurers from basing premiums on an enrollee’s age. Premiums for Medigap plans in Minnesota only vary based on tobacco use and where the enrollee lives. These rating rules also apply to people who are eligible for Medicare before the age of 65, which is somewhat unusual; most of the states that have guaranteed access to Medigap for under-65 enrollees do allow the insurers to charge those enrollees higher premiums.
Most Americans become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. But younger Americans gain Medicare eligibility after they have been receiving disability benefits for 24 months, or have ALS or end-stage renal disease. Thirteen percent of Minnesota’s Medicare beneficiaries were under age 65 as of 2017, versus 16 percent nationwide. On the high and low ends of the spectrum, 23 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi are under 65, while just 9 percent of Hawaii’s Medicare beneficiaries are eligible due to disability.
Minnesota law prevents Medigap insurers from imposing pre-existing condition waiting periods if the enrollee signs up during their initial six-month open enrollment window. For those who apply after that, Medigap insurers are not allowed to impose pre-existing condition waiting periods if the enrollee wasn’t diagnosed or treated for the condition in the 90 days prior to enrolling in the Medigap plan.
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