Another Medicare Gotcha: The Medigap Trap

Medicare has grown into being one of the nation’s largest health insurers – some 55 million of us are in it, mainly seniors, and about one in four now buys a so-called Medigap policy, aka Medicare Supplement, which is intended to pick up costs that would otherwise slip through the coverage cracks of Medicare.

What you don’t know about Medigap when you buy that policy may come back to bite you.

There are ten Medigap plans commonly available, and labeled “A through N. Coverage” – and prices – vary wildly from plan to plan. A high deductible Plan F might cost $50 per month; there’s a $2,180 annual deductible. Standard Plan F – one of the most popular plans – might cost $170 per month. It covers foreign emergency care (usually ignored in most Medigap plans), care in a skilled nursing facility (not covered by some Medigap plans) and a lot more. Medicare succinctly outlines plan differences here.

Here’s the problem, and it is understood by few who enroll in Medicare: start out with a bargain Medigap plan, because you want to save the money and, furthermore, your health is good, and you may think that some years down the road, when the heath has worsened, that it will be a matter of checking some boxes to transfer into a higher coverage plan when you need it. Not so much.

“At 65, when you enroll, you have guaranteed issue,” said Brooke Thomas, director of Medicare at eHealthMedicare.com. “You don’t have it later.” At 65, the typical Medicare enrollment age, you pick your policy, fill out some papers, and the federal government guarantees you will be accepted and also that you will not be hit with a surcharged premium because of your health.