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Medicare Alternatives

by Tess St. Clair

People ask me all of the time about alternatives to Medicare. With the $700 billion dollars in Medicare cuts looming on the horizon as a result of PPACA, seniors are legitimately concerned.   Do yourself a favor, BEFORE you become Medicare eligible and fall victim to the system, and read the Medicare doctrine!

Once you are eligible for Medicare, your premium for Part A (Hospital coverage) is taken right out of your Social Security Benefit. Part B (Doctors’ Office Coverage), however, is voluntary. On the surface, one would think that Plan B covers less risk, but in a case of Chemotherapy, the risk covered by Plan B is substantial.

There are GAP policies available to cover excess charges to a set limit, which can help as well.  However, more and more, these policies are getting so expensive, makes you wonder why you should feel compelled to buy one, if Medicare is so great.  I mean, in a traditional PPO with 80/20 co-insurance, do we buy GAP policies to pay for the additional 20%?

Insurance brokers are required to take the course on Medicare, and believe me, I’m glad I did.  What I learned is that Medicare does not resemble the same Medicare from 1980’s.  It looks more like Canada Health, under which it is illegal for patients to pay a doctor!  Doctors’ hands are tied under Medicare, and they are not allowed to discuss medical options that are not covered by Medicare.  So, if you find a lump in your breast, get ready for a mastectomy because lumpectomy may not be covered!  Furthermore, with reimbursement levels so low, many doctors have stopped taking new Medicare patients and are slowly getting out of their contracts.  I can’t say I blame them.  It’s not just about how little they’re being paid, it’s that they can’t do their jobs and focus on true healing.  It is about being a government servant, not even a public servant, but a government servant!  They cannot be real doctors; they can only do what the government tells them they can, and face the consequences if they dare do otherwise!

By FAR, the best alternative to Medicare is to have private coverage, but not all private plans are “first payers” before Medicare. Generally your employer health plan must have 20 or more employees on it, and your employer must have chosen to have the plan as first payer before Medicare.

If you belong to a professional association that offers members the luxury of an Association Health Plan (AHP), they can design the plan so that it is the first payer, and Medicare is second.  I say “luxury” because AHPs allow bundling of many small employers with large employers of the same profession, and so you all get the benefit of large group rates and a great deal of financial freedom because these plans are not administered by third-party payers like Blue Cross, Aetna, and UHC.  Rather, the claims are managed by Third Party Administrators (TPAs). These plans almost always have substantially lower administrative costs.  By substantially, I mean 7% compared to 20% for small group plans.  Additionally, they are not governed by the State Department of Insurance; they are governed by ERISA, a Federal law, because these plans may cross state lines.  WOW!  Talk about buying insurance across state lines!

If you belong to a professional trade association, and they don’t offer you the luxury of a multi-employer, refund-of-premium plan as one of the member benefits, it could be because of the state that the association is located in or because the association is not a Federal 501 non-profit organization (state not for profit doesn’t count) that has been in existence for more than 3 years.  Other than that, there’s hardly any reason for your association not to have an AHP, or at least to look into it.

These plans are true insurance, not these pre-paid health plans that most people are familiar with.  The formula looks like this:

Pure cost of insurance + administration + commission = premium

At the end of the year, whatever is left in the Pure Cost of Insurance fund is reimbursed or rolled into the next year to pay premiums.

Tess St. Clair is the VP of Benefits Administration at Route Three Life Health Disability, Inc.



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