under 65? visit the
By Linda Bergthold
Medicare Resource Center Contributor
If you are over 65, you may think you know your Medicare benefits pretty well (and this site has included a number of good articles about those benefits). But whether you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, only basic Medicare, or Medicare with a supplement (or gap) plan, there are aspects of Medicare that are hidden and can bite you hard if you don’t pay attention.
A little known fact is that there may be no limit on what you have to pay out of your own pocket. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act required that all Medicare Advantage plans have limits as of 2011, but even with that requirement, the limits can still be up to $6,700 – and over 50 percent of the plans still have limits of at least $3,500 or more.
All Medigap plans except for K and L still do not put any limits on your out-of-pocket costs. These two plans limit your annual spending to $4,660 and $2,300 respectively, after which Medicare will pay 100 percent.
If you hear anyone say that Medicare beneficiaries do not pay their fair share, just tell them about the Part B premium, the Part B Deductible, the Part D deductible, the hospital deductible, co-pays and coinsurance, etc. Medicare beneficiaries pay a great deal for the benefits they receive.
There is good news this year, however. The Part B premium that everyone must pay has actually decreased in 2012 because of health reform. It now starts at $99.90 a year instead of $115.40 in 2011; and the Part B deductible has decreased as well because of health reform. It is $140 in 2012 in contrast to $162 in 2011.
Even if the sign says, “The doctor’s in,” you need to double check, because even if the doctor’s in, she may have opted out of Medicare.
The term “Medicare assignment” may mean little to you until you find out that a new doctor you are seeing does not accept what Medicare pays for a given service. A “non-participating” doctor who does not accept assignment can charge up to 115 percent of the Medicare approved amount. Medicare will still pay for the services this doctor provides even if he does not accept assignment, but you are stuck with the difference.
You may also not have heard much about doctors opting out of the Medicare program. It’s different from just not accepting assignment. If your doctor formally “opts out,” she must stay out for two years and you must pay full price for her services.
That 30-minute doctor visit you had last week? It’s a shock to find out that it is going to cost you $250. Your doctor opted out and didn’t tell you – and you didn’t know to ask. Doctors are actually supposed to sign “private contracts” with patients if they opt out that make it clear the patient must pay the full amount of the service, but not all providers follow through.
How many doctors have opted out of Medicare? There are plenty of scary stories about the number, but even the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) do not know. They recently did a study after reports that half of Texas doctors might opt out of the program.
Their conclusion: ”We were unable to answer the issue questions in our proposed study on opted-out physicians because no centralized data exist and the data that we received from MACs and legacy carriers were insufficient or not provided at all. Specifically, we cannot determine the characteristics of physicians who opt out of Medicare, the trend in the number of opted-out physicians, or why physicians choose to opt out of Medicare.”
First, find out if your doctor “participates” in Medicare and takes assignment. Then, ask if the doctor has specifically “opted out” of Medicare. If she has opted out, you may want to find another doctor unless you can pay cash for the services.
Then – as with any insurance plan – you need to know your numbers. If you’re about to enroll in Medicare Advantage or Medigap, have your carrier clearly spell out your out-of-pocket costs – deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance – and your coverage limits.
And don’t hesitate to talk to Medicare. If there’s any good news here, it’s that once you make it through the recorded prompts, Medicare customer service representatives at 1-800-633-4227 could not be nicer or more helpful. Compared to many private insurance customer reps, the Medicare people seem cheerful and pleased to talk to you.
Dr. Linda Bergthold has been a health care consultant and researcher for over 25 years. She worked on the Clinton Health Reform plan and was the head of the Obama health care blog team in 2008. She also writes for The Huffington Post on health reform and insurance issues and for healthinsurance.org. Her articles there include Lifetime limits on your health insurance coverage are a big (million-dollar) deal.
April 3, 2012
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Whether you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, only basic Medicare, or Medicare with a supplement (or gap) plan, there are aspects of Medicare that are hidden and can bite you hard if you don’t pay attention.
Dr. Linda Bergthold has been a health care consultant and researcher for over 25 years. She worked on the Clinton Health Reform plan and was the head of the Obama health care blog team in 2008. She also writes for The Huffington Post on health reform and insurance issues. The arrival of the New Year [...]