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Do Medicare supplement plans include prescription drug coverage?
Modern Medigap plans do not include prescription drug benefits. Instead, Medicare offers prescription drug coverage under Part D. Medicare enrollees can get prescription coverage either by switching to a Medicare Advantage plan or by purchasing a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan (PDP) to go along with Original Medicare.
The Medicare Part B special enrollment period
The Medicare Part B SEP allows people to delay Part B enrollment if they have health coverage through their own employer or a spouse’s current employer.
When is the best time to enroll in Medicare?
The best time to enroll in Medicare is during a seven-month enrollment period that begins three months prior to the month you turn 65 and includes the month you turn 65 as well as the three following months.
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Important Medicare enrollment dates
Enrollment dates for Medicare are critical. Missing an enrollment date could cost you higher premiums down the line — or it could cost you coverage entirely.
For Americans who become eligible for Medicare upon turning 65, enrollment in Medigap plans is guaranteed during a six-month federally mandated enrollment period. During this time, all available Medigap plans are guaranteed-issue, regardless of medical history.
But for about one out of every six Americans enrolled in Medicare, eligibility for Medicare is triggered by disability or by a diagnosis of ALS or end-stage renal disease (ESRD, aka kidney failure), rather than age – and there are no federal rules guaranteeing access to Medigap plans for these enrollees. Legislators have introduced federal bills to mandate guaranteed access – among them, HR1394, in 2019 – but these bills have thus far stalled.
States, meanwhile can create their own rules to ensure that disabled Medicare beneficiaries under age 65 are able to enroll in supplemental coverage, and the majority of the states have done so. But the solutions vary considerably from one state to another – ranging from access to a state-run high-risk pool all the way to a requirement that all Medigap plans be guaranteed issue with premiums that don’t exceed the rates charged to a 65-year-old.
And this is an issue that at least a few state legislatures consider each year; Idaho, Indiana, and Virginia are recent examples of states where at least some Medigap plans have been made available to beneficiaries under age 65 due to legislation enacted in recent years.
But legislation that attempted to make Medigap coverage guaranteed-issue to Arizona beneficiaries under the age of 65 was unsuccessful in the 2021 legislative session (legislation that would have made Medigap plans guaranteed-issue Arizona Medicare beneficiaries of any age was also unsuccessful in 2021, as was legislation that would have allowed Vermont Medicare beneficiaries to switch to a plan of equal or lesser benefits at any time and to have access to an annual open enrollment period for Medigap plans).
You can click on a state on this map to see details about under-65 Medigap regulations. But here’s an at-a-glance overview:
These states have not enacted any provisions to ensure access to supplemental coverage for Medicare beneficiaries who are under age 65, and there do not appear to be any guaranteed-issue plans available for this population:
These states do not have regulations requiring Medigap insurers to offer plans to Medicare beneficiaries under the age of 65. But in each state, there is either a functioning high-risk pool that continues to offer coverage to Medicare beneficiaries under age 65, or there are at least some Medigap insurers that voluntarily offer coverage to beneficiaries under 65:
A note about high-risk pools: Before the Affordable Care Act did away with medical underwriting in the individual major medical insurance market, the majority of the states had high-risk pools that served as coverage of last resort for people with pre-existing conditions who didn’t have access to employer-sponsored health coverage. Many of them also offered Medicare supplement coverage for people under age 65 who weren’t able to enroll in private Medigap plans.
High-risk pool coverage is no longer necessary for people who aren’t Medicare-eligible, as individual major medical plans are now guaranteed-issue. But the ACA did not change anything about medical underwriting in the Medigap market. So several states that don’t have specific guaranteed-issue requirements for their Medigap plans have opted to keep their high-risk pools functional in order to serve this population.
Some of these high-risk pools are currently only open to Medicare beneficiaries who need supplemental coverage, although some continue to also offer coverage for people who don’t have other individual market (non-Medicare) coverage. New Mexico’s high-risk pool is an example of one that continues to offer coverage in both markets, with lower premiums for those who only need coverage to supplement Medicare.
In these states, insurers are required to offer some – but not all – of their Medigap plans to people under 65. State regulations vary in terms of the specific plans that have to be offered and whether the insurer can charge higher premiums for under-65 enrollees:
These states require Medigap insurers to offer all of their plans to any newly-eligible Medicare beneficiary, regardless of age. But insurers are allowed to charge significantly higher premiums when an enrollee is under age 65:
In these states, Medigap insurers have to make all of their plans available to all newly-eligible Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of age. And there are rating restrictions that either prevent insurers from charging higher premiums for enrollees under age 65, or limit the additional premiums that can apply to this population:
Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.