Choosing a Medigap plan is the big decision when you are turning 65 or going on Medicare for the first time. There are hundreds of options and a glut of information that makes weighing the plans seem insurmountable. So, how do you wade through it all? How do you sign up for a Medigap plan?
First and foremost, you must understand the plans themselves – what do they cover and how to do they work. In short, Medigap plans are standardized – that means all companies are required to provide the same standardized coverage. A Medigap Plan F, for example, is the same with one company as with another. Also, all of the plans work the same way – they don’t have networks and can be used at any doctor/hospital that takes Medicare nationwide – and all pay claims through the Medicare “crossover” system.
So, you should compare plans based on cost and company reputation. But, how do you do that?
One, no-so-enjoyable option is to get a list of insurance companies from your state’s department of insurance and call each one to see what their rates are. Or, even less appealing, you can set an appointment with representatives from each insurance company to discuss their plans and rates. Sound like fun?
Probably not. The easiest way to sign up for a Medigap plan is through an independent agent or broker. Independent agents can help you compare multiple options in a centralized place by providing a listing of all plans available to you, as well as their rates, company reputation, historical rate stability, etc. It doesn’t cost you anything. Independent agents are paid directly from the insurance companies. In essence, you’re paying for a broker whether you use one or not, as the commissions they receive are built into the company’s premium.
Once you find an independent agent to help you compare the plans, you should gather quotes from the companies that are available to you. Use the broker’s expertise about any companies that have been particularly stable (or unstable) over time as far as rate increases. Also, find out about any specific discounts that may be an option – paying in advance, paying by monthly bank draft, signing up with a spouse, etc.
Then, once you have all the information, you can easily compare plans and make an informed, educated choice on the Medigap plan that is right for you. Once you know the company and plan you want to go with if you are using an agent he/she can provide the application you need to enroll in the plan.
Many companies now employ online applications that have greatly streamlined the process and are very consumer-friendly. If you are just going on Medicare or turning 65, the process is further streamlined since there is not a medical question component to the application.
To enroll in the plan, you simply complete the application and submit – or have your agent submit – it to the insurance company. Most insurance companies take 7-10 days to process a Medigap application, although that timeline can be shorter depending on the company and when you are applying. It is still recommended to apply for a plan at least two weeks before you want it to start. If you are in open enrollment (turning 65), you can even do it several months in advance to “lock in” your rates and get everything lined up to start when your Medicare starts.
Most Medigap applications ask for basic information like name, address, phone, Medicare number, Medicare start date, and current coverage information. Signing up for a Medigap plan – especially if assisted by someone knowledgeable like a broker – should take no more than 15 minutes.
THE DO’S AND DON’TS OF SIGNING UP FOR A MEDIGAP PLAN:
- Don’t choose a plan based on what your relative or neighbor chose. Unless they went to “insurance buyers school”, they may not have done the due diligence to understand the plans and make a wise choice. Also, because rates vary considerably by location, age, and gender, what’s right for them may or may not be right for you.
- Do rely on trusted friends or family for qualified referrals of brokers that helped them.
- Don’t sign up for Plan F because you heard it was “the best” without comparing rates for other plans, like Plan G and Plan N.
- Do get a comparison of all plans – or at least the three most common plans (F, G and N) – so that you can see if the premium savings on ‘G’ or ‘N’ justify the benefit differences.
- Don’t use an agent that works for just one company UNLESS you have talked to many agents that work for just one company. Obviously, the Ford salesperson is going to disparage the Chevrolet’s down the street since he doesn’t have to sell you from his lot.
- Do be informed about all the choices – whether that is you doing the legwork yourself with all the different companies or by using an independent agent/broker.
- Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by all the information targeting people turning 65. You will be bombarded by phone, mail, email, television ads, Facebook ads, and more when you are turning 65. It’s probably your most popular birthday!
- Do take your time to be informed about the plans. Do your research, use an advocate like an independent agent, and make a prudent choice that is right for you.
THE STEP-BY-STEP SUMMARY:
- Understand the plans – plans are standardized, there are no networks and claims are all paid through the Medicare “Crossover.”
- Gather the rates for your area, age, and gender. Either use an independent agent/broker to do this (doesn’t cost you anything) or contact all of the insurance companies yourself.
- Compare plans based on premium and company rating and reputation.
- Choose a plan that is both competitively priced and reputable and apply at least two weeks in advance of when you want the plan to start.