Medicare changes things every year. However, 2019 brought us a lot of changes, some big, some small.
Most often, changes to Medicare have to do with pricing for things like premiums and deductibles. The changes to 2019 premiums and deductibles are the small changes.
The big changes have to do with Medicare Advantage plans, the Part D donut hole, and a few other new things. See below to see what’s changed for Medicare in 2019.
1. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period Returned
You’re probably all familiar with the Fall Annual Election Period (AEP) that starts in October every year. However, you may not know that the Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP) that runs from January 1st to March 31st is starting again in 2019.
The last time we saw this special OEP was in 2010. At that time, it was replaced by the Affordable Care Act legislation with the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period (MADP).
The difference between these two periods is that the OEP is a little less restrictive than the MADP. During the disenrollment period, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries were only allowed to disenroll from their plan and return to Original Medicare.
However, during the newly returning OEP, beneficiaries will be able to return to Original Medicare or switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. Some beneficiaries use this time to change Medicare Advantage plans because they realized that the one they chose during the AEP is not the best fit for them.
2. Extra Benefits Have Been Added to Medicare Advantage Plans
Medicare, in general, doesn’t cover things like home health care, home modifications, and meal delivery. However, in 2019, Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to include benefits like these and others as extra benefits for their enrollees.
Currently, only about 270 plans offer these newly allowed benefits. We expect to see considerably more Medicare Advantage plans participate in this change in the future. This is a big change that beneficiaries are loving since home health care is something a lot of Medicare beneficiaries could benefit from, especially those with multiple chronic illnesses.
3. Drug Costs Have Been Lowered During the Donut Hole
Some people were expecting the donut hole to fully close as of 2019. However, that’s not entirely true. The donut hole is still part of the Part D system, only now you pay less for drugs during the donut hole than you had in previous years.
Until recently, beneficiaries have had to pay 35% of brand-name drug costs and 44% for generics while in the donut hole. Now, the coinsurance has been dropped to where you only have to pay 25% of brand-name drug costs and 37% for generics.
4. Medicare Cost Plans Have Been Mostly Discontinued
Medicare Cost plans are a cross between Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans. In the past, they have been offered in areas where there was an insufficient amount of Medicare Advantage plans offered.
Since 99% of all Medicare beneficiaries have access to Medicare Advantage plans and 91% have access to at least 10 Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Cost plans are no longer necessary.
Medicare Cost plans were offered in 15 states and Washington D.C. However, Minnesota is the state that is most affected, as it housed the majority of Medicare Cost plan beneficiaries. Beneficiaries that had Medicare Cost plans in 2018 had a few options in electing new coverage for 2019.
They could either revert back to Original Medicare, enroll in a Medigap plan, enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, or do nothing and be automatically enrolled in the Medicare Advantage plan that was taking over coverage for their Medicare Cost plan.
5. Medicare Launched Its First App
2019 marks the first year of the What’s Covered Medicare app. This is a free app that you can download to your smartphone so you can have access to specific Medicare information in the palm of your hand.
The What’s Covered app allows you to check to see what services and procedures Medicare does and doesn’t cover, shows you general cost information, and states who is eligible for each service and procedure.
Like we said before, Medicare changes every year. Some changes are decided well in advance so that beneficiaries can adequately prepare. A change that won’t be made until January 1, 2020, is already a very popular subject among current and future Medicare beneficiaries.
As of 2020, Medigap Plan C and Plan F will no longer be available to new Medicare enrollees. This means that only people who are eligible for Medicare prior to 2020 will be able to enroll in or keep their Medigap Plan C or Plan F past December 31, 2019.
Because Medicare is constantly changing, it’s a good idea to always stay updated and research any changes that could affect you personally. There are many resources for obtaining information about Medicare; find one you like and refer back to it for updated information.