Shop around for Supplemental Medicare Policy

Article excerpt

There are many places Washington-area residents can look for help if they need more coverage than Medicare provides.

The federal government has set up local offices to help seniors get information on insurance to supplement Medicare and to help people make the decision about what supplemental policy is best for them. The District, Maryland and Northern Virginia have several such offices that provide free help to seniors who have Medicare-related questions.

Medicare recipients should educate themselves on their supplemental insurance options, says Michele Holzer, program manager for the Maryland state senior health insurance assistance program.

"Be a good shopper and know what you are getting into and how to best protect yourself," she says.

There are numerous companies and plans that offer supplemental Medicare insurance. The two main forms of supplemental insurance are Medicare HMO and Medigap coverage. Medigap is available to most Medicare enrollees and policies are standardized into 10 categories of coverage. Medicare HMO coverage is not available to everyone, especially residents in rural Maryland counties.

Prices for the supplemental coverage vary greatly, depending on the individual and the type of coverage needed. In 1999, the cost of coverage varied from a few hundred dollars a year to a few thousand for different Medigap and Medicare HMO policies.

Providers vary from large to small insurance companies such as United HealthCare Insurance Co. to Mennonite Mutual Aid Association. In Maryland alone, Medigap coverage is offered by more than 30 companies, Ms. Holzer says. There are also state assistance programs available in Maryland and Virginia.

One of the biggest mistakes Medicare enrollees make is to put off getting help, and many find important deadlines have passed, Ms. Holzer says.

"You need to get help quickly when you have a problem because there may be time limits," she says.

There are time limits for appeals, enrollment into insurance programs, also if someone has been terminated from an HMO, there are time limits for getting into other plans, she says.

Medigap open enrollment begins when a person first enrolls in Medicare part B, often age 65, and ends six months after that date. The rules vary for persons under 65 or who are disabled, she adds. Medicare HMO enrollment is often in November but varies if a person is terminated from another plan or moves.

"People need to seek out their rights and the rules so they can enroll in what is best for them," Ms. …