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So, you’ve decided to renew or purchase a health insurance policy. Shop Carefully Before You Buy. Policies differ as to coverage and cost, there are many companies and they differ as to service. Do your homework, contact several companies and compare their premiums before you make your final purchasing decision.
1. Don’t Buy More Policies Than You Need. Duplicate coverage is expensive and unnecessary. A single comprehensive policy is better than several policies with overlapping or duplicate coverage. Federal law prohibits issuing duplicative coverage to Medicare beneficiaries even if both policies would pay full benefits. The law generally prohibits the sale of a Medicare supplement policy to a person who has Medicaid or another health insurance policy that provides coverage for any of the same benefits.
Similarly, the sale of any other kind of health insurance policy is generally prohibited if it duplicates coverage you already have. When you buy a replacement Medigap policy, the insurer is required to obtain your written statement that you intend to cancel the first policy after the new policy becomes effective. If you are on Medicaid, insurers may not sell you a Medigap policy unless the state pays the premium. Anyone who sells you a policy in violation of these anti-duplication provisions is subject to criminal and/or civil penalties under federal law. Call 1-800-638-6833 to report suspected violations.
2. Consider Your Alternatives. Depending on your health care needs and finances, you may want to consider continuing the group coverage you have at work; joining an HMO, CMP or other managed care plan; buying a Medigap policy; or buying a longterm care insurance policy.
3. Check For Preexisting Condition Exclusions. In evaluating a policy, you should determine whether it limits or excludes coverage for existing health conditions. Many policies do not cover health problems that you have at the time of purchase. Preexisting conditions are generally health problems you went to see a physician about within the 6 months before the date the policy went into effect.
4. Don’t be misled by the phrase “no medical examination required.” If you have had a health problem, the insurer might not cover you immediately for expenses connected with that problem. Medigap policies, however, are required to cover preexisting conditions after the policy has been in effect for 6 months.
5. Beware of Replacing Existing Coverage. Be careful when buying a replacement Medigap policy. Make sure you have a good reason for switching from one policy to another–you should only switch for different benefits, better service, or a more affordable price. On the other hand, don’t keep inadequate policies simply because you have had them a long time. If you decide to replace your Medigap policy, you must be given credit for the time spent under the old policy in determining when any preexisting conditions restrictions apply under the new policy. You must also sign a statement that you intend to terminate the policy to be replaced. Do not cancel the first policy until you are sure that you want to keep the new policy.
Further thoughts that you may have not yet considered…
Policies to Supplement Medicare Are Neither Sold Nor Serviced by the State or Federal Governments. State insurance departments approve policies sold by insurance companies but approval only means the company and policy meet requirements of state law. Do not believe statements that insurance to supplement Medicare is a government-sponsored program.
Above all take your time. Do not be pressured into buying a policy. Principled salespeople will not rush you. If you are not certain whether a program is worthy, ask the salesperson to explain it to a friend.