As of 2018, there were 370,000 Medicare Cost plan enrollees in Minnesota, but most of them had to switch to new plans (either Medicare Advantage or Original Medicare) for 2019. This is described in more detail below, but Minnesota’s enrollment in private Medicare plans could end up fluctuating significantly for 2019, depending on how many of those enrollees opted to have coverage under Original Medicare versus Medicare Advantage.
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).
As is the case nationwide, enrollment in private Medicare plans grew in Minnesota in 2018. As of December 2018, there were 581,822 Minnesota Medicare beneficiaries with private Medicare coverage, which amounts to nearly 58 percent of the state’s Medicare population. Nationwide, most people with private Medicare plans are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, but Medicare Cost plans are another type of private Medicare coverage, and as of 2018, Minnesota residents accounted for two-thirds of the national total enrollment in Medicare Cost plans.
One of the reasons Medicare Cost has been so popular in Minnesota is that the state has a large population of “snowbirds” — retirees who live in Minnesota during the summer, but head south to warmer climes in the winter. With Medicare Cost plans, the enrollee still has Original Medicare — including the large nationwide network of providers who work with Medicare — in addition to the Medicare Cost coverage. Medicare Advantage plans, in contrast, tend to have localized networks that might not be suitable for a senior who lives in two different states during the year. A Medigap plan plus Original Medicare will allow a person in that situation to have access to health providers in both locations, although Medigap tends to be more expensive than Medicare Advantage. There are pros and cons to both options, and no one-size-fits-all solution.
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.
Since 1997, Minnesota has provided Medicare coverage for approximately 35,000 Medicare-Medicaid eligible individuals over age 65 through the Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) program. Today, the Minnesota demonstration recognizes this program stability and is focused on administrative flexibility rather than developing a new capitated system. The current demonstration will be evaluated for its ability to further promote integration. However, the longevity of the MSHO program provides for unique data analysis opportunities. MSHO claims data are a rich resource for researchers to analyze the impact of integrated care on health care outcomes for Medicare-Medicaid eligible. To that end, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) published Minnesota Managed Care Longitudinal Data Analysis which highlights the importance of providing integrated options for Medicare-Medicaid eligible individuals. It may be found at this link: https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/minnesota-managed-care-longitudinal-data-analysis
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.
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In all but three states, Medigap plans are standardized under federal rules. But Minnesota is one of three states that have federal waivers that allow the state to do its own Medigap standardization. So instead of the ten Medigap plans (A through N) that are marketed in most states, Minnesota Medigap plans include Basic, Basic with riders, Extended Basic, and Medigap plans F, K, L, M, and N. There are also Medicare Select Medigap plans in Minnesota, just as there are in other states.
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.
Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.