Medigap Runaround, 2013

So I get a notice from Mutual of Omaha that they’re jacking up the premium for my Medicare supplement insurance (known as “Medigap” because it fills the considerable gaps in Medicare Parts A and B coverage) by $433.58, an amount that happens to be exactly $433.58 more than I can afford.

In the mind-numbingly complicated maze that is the private Medicare supplemental insurance landscape, I have Plan F, a mid-priced scheme that effectively covers everything that Parts A and B do not cover. The last time I talked with Mutual of Omaha, their CSR suggested I switch to Plan G, which covers everything except a $147.50 Part B deductible. Part G premiums are so much lower than Plan F’s now that even paying the deductible out of pocket you still come out ahead.

Ooohkayyyy….

Meanwhile, I’ve compiled a list of a dozen companies that do business in Arizona and are charging less than Mutual of Omaha for Plan F.

Monday, I begin the endless round of calling with Mutual of Omaha itself, trying to get underwritten for Part G.

I speak with one Ernest. He says Plan G will cost $116.28, well under what I’ve been paying for Plan F. I ask about the underwriting. He transfers me to another agent, one Nicole. She says she’s a licensed agent in Arizona. But she also won’t talk with me. She tells me to call an 800 number and utter these words: “I have a Plan F and want to change to Plan G, and I want underwriting.”

I dial the 800 number and, interestingly, reach another Nicole. I say, “I have a Plan F and want to change to Plan G, and I want underwriting.” She is confused. Do I want the Underwriting Department? I say I was told to call her number, and I start to complain about the runaround.

She transfers me to one Carol. I explain what I want. Carol is in life insurance. She transfers me — to a phone tree.

Eventually, I reach one Cheryl. She says you have to fill out a whole new application for a whole new policy. She says they’ll send it to me.

Now I call Universal Fidelity. Kayla answers and says she can give me a quote. She says their Plan F is $133.85 — about what I’m paying now — and Plan G is $112.99. She explains that you have to trigger the Medicare deductible before Plan G will cover anything. This implies that there could be circumstances that Plan G will not cover, since not all issues covered by Medicare A & B are doctors’ visits. She says an agent will call me — some guy from American Health Underwriters in Ft. Worth.

I call Everence, where I reach one Jason. He says Everence is a fraternal benefit organization for fundamentalist Christians. Episcopalians do not count as Christians in their book.

Next I call American Family (the ever-annoyingly advertised AFLAC). Here I get an incredible electronic runaround and finally give up without ever reaching a human.

Moving on, at United Healthcare I reach one Don, who tells me that their Plan F costs $180 a month and their plan G, $160. He tries to corral me into an AARP HMO. I tell him to get lost.

Now I dial Heartland, where a person named Tracy transfers me to a male person with a name pronounced “Teal.” He’s with Equitable Life. He says their Plan F costs $149 and Plan G costs $140. There’s a $20 application fee, he notes. He says he will send an application and gives me a direct phone number at which to reach him.

Next I call Forethought. It’s after hours now on the East Coast, and their offices are closed.

I wonder if Government Personnel Mutual will cover state employees or the children of Merchant Marine officers. In the course of searching for an answer to this question on their website, I’m shunted to a webpage of something called Medicare Marketplace. I dial the 866 number and reach one Larry Peters, who presents himself an insurance agent & broker in Omaha. He says that Government Personnel actually started out serving only federal employees and members of the military, but it now covers civilians, too. Its plan G is only $110.70; if I want a Plan F, the next-best deal he can get for me is with American Continental at $141.94.

However, he says, it’s late at his office and the computer system is about to shut down. Could we talk the following day? We exchange phone numbers and agree to try to get in touch about mid-morning Arizona time.

On Tuesday I leave the house at 6:30 for a hike up the mountain and get back around 8:30. An hour or so later, I call him back. He says the application fee is $25. I agree to this and say I’m interested in Plan G. He asks the  underwriting questions and says he will send the form.

In the meantime, I’ve done a little research.

By Tuesday morning, I know that Universal Fidelity got a negative rating from A.M. Best in 2011 and again in March of 2012. Heartland has racked up a grade of F (for “flunk”) from the Better Business Bureau as well as 8 complaints at Ripoff Report. A. M. Best downgraded it in 2009.

Central States, which I  have not yet tried to reach but whose rates look pretty high, has an A. M. Best rating of A+; Manhattan, with slightly higher rates, has a rating of B+ and a long-term rating of bbb-; A. M. Best considers it to be “stable.” Government Personnel Mutual is rated A- (also in the “excellent” range) with a long-term rating of a- and a “stable” outlook; the Texas Department of Insurance’s excellent website shows no complaints against it.

Later on Tuesday, one Mike from Universal Fidelity calls. He says that company charges $129.85 for Plan F and $108  for Plan G. He’s a fast talker and he’s trying to maneuver me into committing to one or the other of these. In the course of conversation, he says the application fee is $45.

Since that’s clearly beyond the pale — the others are charging $20 to $25 for the privilege of asking humbly whether you may be allowed to purchase a policy to fill in the empty spaces around the capacious Medicare coverage — I ask him if that $45 is billed to me when he puts the application in the mail or only after I fill it in and submit it. He won’t give me a straight answer. I say, “You’re not answering my question. Am I billed $45 simply because you mail me a blank application, or am I billed $45 when you receive the completed application?” Disingenuously, he says I’m billed $45 when they send me a statement for the Part G coverage.

Annoyed, I say, “Look, you have competition. Why don’t you wait a couple of days before sending this application to me, until I can see what I can find out about Plan G from the several other companies that offer it in Arizona at affordable rates.” He flounders. I say, unequivocally, “Wait two days before you send this application. I will be in touch with you.”

This morning while I’m at a meeting, Mike calls back. He wants me to return his call. I’m involved with grading papers and writing a report about the meeting and so decide to delay that particular annoyance. While I’m still working, he calls again and leaves a message on my voicemail saying he had the prices for Arizona wrong, and that Plan F is actually $133.85 and Plan G, $112.79. They’ll divide the $45 application gouge between two months, making the first two months’ Plan G payments a bargain $135.29. Mighty white of ’em, eh?

Amazing picture, isn’t it? Over two days, I’ve called SIX insurance companies offering identical Medigap plans at six different rates and I’ve spoken to TWELVE different people and an impenetrable telephone tree. Of the twelve humans, nine could give me no information of any value, two tried to hustle me, and one may be hustling me but seems to represent a reasonably reputable company offering a plan at an almost affordable rate. Alleged plan G rates range from $112.99 to $160, for the same, identical, federally regulated coverage; “application fees” range from $20 to $45.

To start the underwriting process, I’ve had to give my Social Security number to a guy I met through an Internet page and who for all know could be Osama Bin Laden’s nephew, out to fund his organization’s enterprise with identity theft. And yes, I’ve asked around among friends and business acquaintances and been unable to find anyone living in Arizona who works as a broker for Medicare supplemental plans. The best I can say is that there is indeed a Larry Peters running an insurance agency in Omaha.

Ain’t private enterprise grand?

Why not  just have Medicare provide full coverage, instead of throwing elderly, frail, and often fuzzy-minded citizens into such a gawdawful briar patch?

What a flicking nightmare.

Apparently I’m going to have to go through this rat-race about once every year or two.

I did find an outfit that issues reports on Medicare Supplement and Part D (prescription drug) plans. The report on Part D will set you back $49. Their report on Medigap insurers is $99. So…that’s $150, just to try to get an allegedly unbiased comparison of these outfits.

Otherwise, there appears to be no help available to consumers for navigating this dangerous and expensive mess.

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jestjack April 25, 2013 at 4:01 am

Thank you for sharing your experience with “gap insurance”. DW used to go thru this about every 1-2 years with her Dad….and had much the same experience as you. Her Dad had lost his patience with these folks LONG ago so it fell to my DW….who is a saint…to take care of this for her Pop. As crazy as it sounds the guy they bought the homeowners policy from provided the most help and guidance with this. I found it amazing that the plans for the same coverage had such different premiums and I don’t ever recall an application fee. The “fly in the ointment” was when DFIL would be going along just fine with his coverage and then get a notice that the company he is dealing with will no longer be offering coverage…in other words “leaving the market”…then the scramble began. Will tell you my “Dear Auntee” is in a similiar situation as yours AND has had good luck with the offerings from AARP. As crazy as it sounds she says their plans were easy to understand … and to date has not had a single problem with coverage. Of course they go up every year she says but so far it’s manageable. Might want to check the AARP web site…Hope this helps…one again thanks for sharing and being a “pioneer”. But remember …”pioneers get the arrows”….

funny April 25, 2013 at 5:20 am

AARP’s Medigap insurance is pretty expensive. It’s provided by United Healthcare. At United, they tried to herd me into a Medicare Advantage HMO.

That’s how SDXB bought his house in this neighborhood. The previous owner was in that United HMO. When he developed a lump on his neck, the HMO doctor kept telling him it was an infection. They gave him antibiotics for almost six months before they finally agreed to biopsy him for the obvious problem. He sold the house because he figured his wife needed to get settled in a smaller, more manageable place before he died.

And of course, it’s AARP that peddles The Hartford homeowner’s and car insurance as the rock-bottom best deal you can get — which happens not to be true at all. The Hartford treats its employees abominably — do you really want to have to deal with abused, miserable, overworked, underpaid employees for something as important as insurance?

The broker who handles my homeowner’s insurance does not, understandably, have a thing to do with Medigap coverage. He didn’t know anyone who does. The one person he referred me to, at a guess, had better sense than to get himself into that trade.

Money Beagle April 25, 2013 at 4:22 am

You had me laughing with posting each persons name that you talked to. I’m sure that must have been mind numbing trying to keep all that straight. This is not something I look forward to in 30 years or so!

funny April 25, 2013 at 5:21 am

Start lobbying your elected representatives now.

frugalscholar April 25, 2013 at 4:51 am

The shame of our country–healthcare.

funny April 25, 2013 at 5:22 am

There’s an understatement…

jesinalbuquerque April 25, 2013 at 8:03 am

I guess this is a state thing. I’m in New Mexico, and my insurer, Presbyterian (about whom I don’t have much good to say, but they aren’t any worse than the others I’ve learned about here) offers a medicare policy free to me (I learned that Medicare pays them $800 a month for it. So if my luck and health hold, they’re making a bundle on it) It was a seamless transition from my ppo policy to Medicare. Maybe I’m missing something. Shame it was such a hassle for you.

funny April 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Is that so?

I didn’t see anything called “Presbyterian” in our state’s 48-page handout.

How does this work? Does it have something to do with the insurance company, or with the job you do? I think if you’re employed, you’re allowed to use your employer’s health plan as secondary insurance — which is what all these Medigap policies amount to. The way I understand it, you have to go on Medicare A & B, but your workplace insurance can function as a Medigap policy.

My former secretary hated the 80/20 Medicare plus Medicare supplement tangle so much that the specific reason she wanted the job was so that she could use GDU’s $220/month PPO in lieu of a Medigap policy. This was mysterious, because for $20 a month she could have signed on to the EPO, whose provider network was so huge it included all the PPO’s doctors and the some. Whatever: she came back to work because she was running away from that mess.

jesinalbuquerque April 26, 2013 at 9:20 am

Maybe Pres doesn’t operate in Arizona, I don’t know. I’d retired. we didn’t have company insurance in any case. Had to buy M part B, and then segued into Pres senior plan at no cost, which fills in at least some of the holes in Medicare. Lovelace and I believe a couple of other smaller companies offer similar. Maybe if something awful happens, I’ll discover holes. Trying to stay healthy so I don’t find out. (I was paying nearly $400/month for my Pres individual plan)

funny April 26, 2013 at 9:32 am

Wow! That’s a chunk of dough.

I will say, Mutual of Omaha has paid almost EVERYTHING over the past 18 months, except for a few bills from the Mayo, which won’t accept Medicare assignment.

The Medicare supplement policies appear to be a good deal, despite the craziness in the market.

It’s Part D that feels like a rip to me: you’re forced to buy it whether you need it or not, and then when you do need it, you’re on the hook for thousands of dollars in uncovered prescription drug bills. I truly resent it that they took Rx coverage out of Medicare supplement plans.

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