Health plans

Minnesota seniors face deadline to make changes to Medicare Advantage health plans

Seniors face an end-of-day deadline Thursday if they want to switch health plans during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period.

Proponents say the transition period can be helpful for seniors who want to make a single change because they found problems with their Medicare Advantage coverage, where seniors choose to receive government benefits through a private insurer.

This open enrollment period, which was reinstated by the federal government a few years ago, generally receives much less attention than the annual Medicare enrollment period from October to early December.

“This second open enrollment period for Medicare Advantage runs from January 1 through March 31,” said Robin Thompson, director of information and support at the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging. “They have an election, so they would be eligible to enroll in another Medicare Advantage plan.”

In recent weeks, some seniors on some Medicare Advantage plans have been frustrated that they can’t make appointments at the Mayo Clinic or have to pay more to visit a new medical facility in Albert Lea.

When considering changes to address these issues, seniors want to be careful, say advocates, that they don’t inadvertently run into new problems by switching to new coverage.

During the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period that ends Thursday, seniors can opt to return to the original Medicare program. This change, however, does not guarantee that a senior will be able to purchase a Medicare Supplement policy, since carriers can generally exclude seniors with medical conditions.

Often referred to as “Medigap” policies, the supplemental coverage significantly reduces out-of-pocket expenses for people with original health insurance.

Medicare Advantage plans are growing in popularity in Minnesota and across the country, but coverage typically includes network rules that limit doctor and hospital choices.

In February, the Star Tribune reported that the Mayo Clinic stopped scheduling appointments for seniors in some Medicare Advantage health plans because their insurers failed to negotiate contracts for in-network access to the center. world-renowned doctor. The clinic said it stopped booking appointments for these patients this winter to address capacity issues.

In March, the Star Tribune reported that seniors living in the southern Minnesota town of Albert Lea complained to Attorney General Keith Ellison that their Medicare Advantage coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota did not provide network access to a new clinic. whom the city’s lawyers had worked for years to recruit.

Seniors can review their coverage options at the state’s Senior LinkAge line (800-333-2433) or by working with an insurance agent. They can also use the Health insurance plan search website or call Medicare for help (800-633-4227).

Thompson said the Senior LinkAge line will be open until 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The Medicare website is available for enrollment around the clock. Thompson recommends that seniors who apply for coverage through the website print their electronic confirmation.

Most years there isn’t much activity during the open registration period, Thompson said, in part because it’s not well known.

“It’s still very early in the year, so a person may not have sought health care or needed to go to a specialist where [the network] could be a problem,” she said, adding that older people will sometimes find that the nearby nursing home they would like to use is off the grid.

Even after Thursday’s deadline, there are still limited options for making changes to Medicare Advantage coverage, Thompson said, so seniors who are having trouble should check to see if they’re eligible for an enrollment period. special.