The basics of how and—even more importantly—when to buy Medicare Supplement insurance.
Medicare can cover a wide range of medical costs, but like anything else, it’s not perfect. We would all like a bit more coverage than Original Medicare can offer, especially when we know we’ll be in more need of the benefits later in life. Luckily, Medicare Supplement (also called Medigap) plans provide a solution, helping boost your Medicare coverage and potentially save you thousands.
This guide will cover how to apply for a plan and, most importantly, when to apply so you can ensure valuable federal protections.
How to Apply for a Medicare Supplement plan: The basics
There are several different places you can shop around for this supplemental insurance, but the process looks similar either way.
To be eligible to buy a Medigap plan, you must first have Original Medicare (both Medicare Part A and Part B). If you have Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C), you cannot purchase a Medicare Supplement plan, but you can if you switch to Original Medicare.
Although you may purchase a Medigap plan anytime after you enroll in Part B, there is an ideal time to buy one. We’ll cover that in depth in “When to apply for a Medicare Supplement plan” below.
Step 1: Research your plan options
There are currently 10 plans to choose from, so you have some decisions to make (for example, if you want coverage for Part A coinsurance or coverage for things like traveling abroad). We put together a chart explaining each Medigap plan and corresponding benefits for your convenience.
Step 2: See pricing and availability for your area
Using this handy tool on Medicare.gov, enter your ZIP code (you can answer the other two questions, but they won’t affect the results). The results page will display which plans are available in your area as well as their price ranges.
While your choice of plan depends on your current and future needs, it’s generally best to pick the plan with the most benefits you can afford.
Step 3: Apply for the plan you want
Now that you’ve picked your plan and understand what’s available in your area, there are a few ways to apply. If you already have a favorite insurance provider, you can go to their website or call them directly. Unfortunately, you can’t compare prices from one provider to the next this way—the price the company quotes will be the price you pay.
If you’d like to compare prices, you can also call one of our independent agents, who will be able to help you see prices from several insurance companies. Then once you’ve found the plan and price you like the best, they’ll walk you through the enrollment process, and you’ll be done!
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When to apply for a Medicare Supplement plan
Here’s the quick answer: Most people should apply for a Medigap plan within six months of signing up for Part B.
Medigap open enrollment begins when you sign up for Medicare Part B (at age 65) and lasts for six months. If you defer Part B coverage past age 65 because of health coverage from your employer, this six-month window would start whenever you sign up for Part B. If you want to purchase a Medigap policy, it is crucial that you get your policy within this window.
Why is it so important when I sign up for a Medicare Supplement plan?
During your six-month enrollment period, federal law protects you with guaranteed issue rights (sometimes known as Medigap protections). These rights allow you to purchase any policy available in your area, regardless of your current health. But outside of this window, insurance companies are legally allowed to refuse you a policy, charge more because of your health, or impose waiting periods on your coverage.
As you can see, Medigap guaranteed issue rights are incredibly valuable. Outside your open enrollment period, there are a few other scenarios where you have these rights as well. Typically these situations apply to you when you lose your existing coverage or after you try out Medicare Advantage.
You’ll have guaranteed issue rights in any of these additional scenarios:
- You have Original Medicare and employer coverage that works in tandem with Medicare, but your employer coverage is ending.
- You’re enrolled in Medicare Advantage (MA) or have a Medicare SELECT policy, but you move out of the service area or the provider stops covering your area.
- You had a Medigap plan and dropped it to join an MA plan, but before a year passes you decide to switch back to Original Medicare. This situation is known as a trial right. (In this situation, you would have Medigap protections only if you switched back to your original Medigap plan.)
- You initially joined an MA plan at 65, but before a year has passed, you switch to Original Medicare (another trial right scenario).
- You’re in an MA or Medigap plan but leave because you’ve been misled or the company broke the rules relating to your coverage.
- The insurance company providing your Medigap coverage goes bankrupt.
In most of these scenarios, you have 63 days to choose and enroll in a Medigap plan. For a full description of these scenarios, see the table on Medicare.gov.
Can I get a Medicare Supplement plan if I’m under 65?
You are eligible to apply for a Medigap plan whenever you have Medicare Part A and Part B, but you may be rejected if you don’t have guaranteed issue rights.
If you’re under 65 but you are enrolled in Medicare due to disability, you are unfortunately not granted the same federal protections as people 65 and up. You can still try to apply for a Medigap policy, but insurance companies may outright deny it. Even if they do sell you a policy, they can charge you higher rates or make you sit through a waiting period before your coverage begins.
However, some states have passed laws to grant better protections for Medicare beneficiaries under 65, so it’s worth checking your state insurance department to see if these state regulations might work in your favor.
Regardless, our advice is to try applying anyway. You don’t lose anything by trying, so it’s worth a shot. If all else fails and you get turned down, once you’re 65, you are allowed Medigap protections just like everyone else.
What you’ll need to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan
Before you apply, you must already have Original Medicare (Both Part A and Part B). It’s in your best interest to wait until your open enrollment for Medicare supplemental insurance as well. But once you meet these two eligibility conditions, all you’ll likely need is your Medicare card.
After you apply for a Medicare Supplement plan
Following your acceptance for a plan, you’ll get your Medigap card in the mail. Be sure to keep your Medicare and Medigap cards together in a safe place.
Your Medigap plan will be guaranteed renewable if you apply within your window of guaranteed issue rights. Guaranteed renewable means that as long as you continue to pay your premiums, you’ll keep your plan for as long as you’d like.
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If you’re ready to apply, we have knowledgeable independent agents waiting to help you get quotes, compare prices, and find the best Medigap plan for your needs.
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