Medicare Supplement Insurance: 5 Things You Should Know

A Medicare supplement insurance policy, also known as “Medigap,” is a policy sold by private companies designed to help pay some of the health care costs Original Medicare doesn’t cover, like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles. It does all this with a steady, predictable monthly bill you can budget for.

Having a Medicare supplement insurance policy means that Medicare pays its share of the approved amount for your covered health care costs first, and then your supplement policy pays its share.

To qualify for a supplement policy, you must have both Medicare Part A and Part B. And as the policy only covers one person, each individual, regardless of marital or household status, has to purchase their own separate policy in order to be covered.

5 things to know about Medicare supplement insurance

1. All plans are standardized:, There are 10 Medicare supplement insurance plans (A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M and N). By law, the coverage provided under each plan is the same from company to company. Which means that, when shopping for a plan, you should pay attention not only to price, but to the level of customer service the company provides.

2. Know when to enroll: When you turn 65, you have a seven-month initial enrollment period for Medicare — the three months prior to your birthday month, your birthday month, and the three months that follow. This could be the best time to get your supplement policy, because you’re guaranteed coverage without any underwriting — meaning that even if you have preexisting conditions, the insurance company can’t deny you coverage or raise your premiums. Once the initial period ends, you can still buy a Medicare supplement insurance plan, but insurers can ask questions about your health status and you could end up paying significantly more for coverage or even be barred from buying certain plans.

If you are still working after you turn 65 and you or your spouse have group health coverage through an employer or union, you may want to wait to enroll in Part B. The coverage offered by employer health plans is often similar to Medicare supplement insurance, so you likely won’t need Medicare supplement insurance while you’re covered by the employer health plan.

When your employer coverage ends, you’ll be able to enroll in Part B without a late enrollment penalty, at which point your Medicare supplement insurance open enrollment period will start.

3. Guaranteed coverage: Medicare supplement insurance policies are guaranteed renewable, regardless of whether you have health problems. This means that as long as you pay the monthly premium, the insurance company cannot cancel your policy.

4. Additional benefits: Some benefits not covered by Medicare, such as coverage for vision or hearing services, are covered by some Medicare supplement insurance plans. When looking at Medicare supplement insurance plans, be sure to find out if the plan offers the additional benefits you need.

5. Coverage when traveling: A lot of retirees like to travel, or migrate between seasonal homes. Medicare supplement insurance does not restrict patients to networks and is accepted by any provider that takes Medicare, which is a big benefit for patients on the move. Some Medigap plans even offer coverage for emergency care received abroad.