The right Medicare Supplement plan (also known as Medigap) can cover many of the gaps in your Original Medicare coverage. But what happens if the plan you choose isn’t right for you?
Here are six tips to keep in mind if you’re thinking about switching plans:
- Understand why you wish to switch plans.
This way, you know what to look for (and what to avoid) as you search for a new plan. Perhaps your current plan’s premium has jumped up. Or you’re paying for benefits you don’t use. Or your coverage needs have changed since you first enrolled. Whatever the reason, keep it in mind as you look for a new plan.
- Decide whether you want to switch your plan or your insurance company.
Medicare Supplement plans are standardized, which means you can get the same plan with the same benefits from different insurance companies. However, there are key differences to keep in mind when it comes to insurance companies, including:
- The premiums they charge
- The service they provide
- The “extras” they offer (like fitness programs)
So if you’re satisfied with your plan but not your insurance company, consider finding a new company that offers your current plan. On the other hand, if you are happy with your insurance company but not your plan, find out what other plans are offered by your company.
- Know when you can make the switch.
If you still happen to be in your six-month Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Supplement insurance, you’re in luck. You can switch plans and/or insurance companies without any restrictions. There are no medical questions to answer, and companies cannot turn you down or charge you more because of a pre-existing condition. (In most states, your Open Enrollment Period starts on the first day of the month you are 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B.)
But what happens if your Open Enrollment Period has come and gone? You can still switch plans. In most states, however, you no longer have what are known as “guaranteed issue rights.” What does this mean for you?
- Insurance companies are not required to issue you a Medicare Supplement plan.
- You may now need to answer medical questions.
- Companies can deny you coverage or charge you more if your answers indicate a pre-existing condition.
- Find out if you’re eligible for a guaranteed issue right.
Like most things in life, there are exceptions to the rule. If you are past your Open Enrollment Period, you may still qualify for guaranteed coverage. Here’s how:
- In some states, your guaranteed issue right extends beyond your six-month Open Enrollment Period. Bottom line: You can switch plans whenever you like.
- If you do not happen to live in one of these states, you can still switch plans if your other health coverage has changed in some way. For example, if you lose your health care insurance when you leave a job.
- You are also guaranteed coverage if your insurance company goes bankrupt or out of business, commits fraud, or misleads you. (You can find a detailed list of exceptions here.)
- Do your homework.
As mentioned earlier, Medicare Supplement plan benefits are standardized from company to company, but plan premiums and out-of-pocket costs can vary greatly. If you’ve decided to make a switch, take the time now to compare your total anticipated costs.
- Keep your current plan (just in case).
Once you decide on a new Medicare Supplement plan, you have the right to change your mind and cancel within the first 30 days of coverage. This is called your “free look period.” During this time, be sure to keep your current Medicare Supplement plan in place. Then, if you don’t like your new plan, you still have your current plan to fall back on. Just remember to mention this on your application. Once you decide you are happy with your new plan, go ahead and cancel the old one.
Of course, you’ll have to pay an extra premium for one month. But this is a small price to pay to ensure you choose the right Medicare Supplement plan.