Increases In Monthly Premium Rates Are A Bit Surprising

QUESTION: I just got a letter from AARP United HealthCare Options and the letter says the monthly premium rates ARE going up? I don’t understand when will they go up?

ANSWER: Well I have to say I am very surprised by the increases that they have chosen to impose. I have told more than one person, I don’t believe they will raise the premiums that much. Let me say it — I was wrong.

I have received a number of phone calls in the last few days with this exact statement and question. So let me work to clarify the pricing structures and the increases.

In New York State the pricing for Medicare Supplement Plans (Medigap) are based on your County of Residence. For the purposes of this article, I am concentrating on Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

Currently the most popular Medigap plans are those sold by AARP United HealthCare Options (UHC). The UHC most popular plans sold are Plan C, F, N & K. Many insurance related materials promote plan G, but I do not see where that is a cost savings over the other plans available. Right now, the least expensive company selling those Medigap Plans is AARP UHC, so that is why I am concentrating on that pricing.

I will review each of those Plans and the AARP UHC pricing changes. Plan C is currently $203 per month and as of April 1, 2019 will increase to $223 per month. Plan F is currently $203.75 and as of April 1, 2019 will increase to $224 per month. Plan N is currently $129.50 and as of April 1, 2019 will increase to $141.75. Plan K is currently $53 and as of April 1, 2019 will increase to $58.25.

Some of you may say you are not paying those rates. If you are paying your premium with an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) from your bank account, your premium is $2 less each month, so that may account for some of the confusion. You may be paying $2 less per month than I have illustrated, and that EFT is the reason.

If you pay the premium all at one time with one check, you also pay $24 less for the full year which is the same savings as the EFT.

You can see the price increases will not happen for January of 2019, the increase is delayed until April. That is the good news. I also can tell you that is a pretty big increase, bigger than we have seen from UHC for a long time. I am very surprised. I am especially surprised when I look at how little Medicare has changed its deductibles and co-pays structures. It is hard to justify those pricing increases on Medicare changes alone. It is not hard to justify those price increases when you look at what the other Medicare Supplement Insurance companies are charging for those same plans.

UHC has, for as many years as I can remember, had the lowest possible price on the plans it sells. When I first started this job, the BC/BS plans were within $5 of the UHC price, now there is more than $100 difference in the monthly pricing.

If you have a Medicare Supplement Plan and are paying more than the price I illustrated previously by UHC, I am going to ask why? When you buy a Medicare Supplement Plan your coverage from any company is exactly the same coverage. If you buy a Plan F from Humana, or Globe Life, or Univera or BC/BS, or UHC — you are buying the exact same coverage. I find it hard to justify paying more money for the exact same product.

That statement is true no matter what Medigap Plan you are talking about. The coverage is the same, it follows Medicare with the same coverage. You choose the level of coverage you want (Letter Plan) and then buy it from the least expensive company.

The other important thing to remember is that in New York State the Medigap plans are always open enrollment, so you can change the plan (letter) you have and the company you buy it from any time you want. So if you are feeling like you are paying too much, evaluate the options and switch to a more appropriate level of coverage or a more comfortable premium for your coverage needs and budget.

I know that there are some of you who “don’t wish to join AARP” for various reasons. I understand that feeling and I do not agree or disagree, I frankly don’t think about it. But if you can save hundreds of dollars a year by joining AARP to get that better pricing I believe it is worth joining AARP at least to begin the products. You can keep the products without maintaining your AARP membership. That is, of course, up to you.

I hope this helped to clarify the premium increases you will be seeing in April of 2019 with United HealthCare Options. I understand that this premium increase will peck away at that increase in your Social Security. I understand your frustration. I also am VERY confident in saying, I still think you are getting a good deal for the plan you are in, and that currently no other company can beat that pricing structure in our region.

Believe me, if a less expensive company comes along selling Medicare Supplement Plans, I will be singing it from the rooftops! I am all about paying less when less is available.

Hoping all the best for you in 2019.

To contact Janell Sluga, GCMC with questions or concerns, please call 720-9797 or e-mail janells@lutheran-jamestown.org.

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