First of all, I am glad to be back writing my column after working a successful 2018 Open Enrollment season.
We had a large number of clients new to Medicare in late 2018 or early 2019 as well as our previous clients. I attribute this phenomenon to the increasing number of people qualifying for Medicare for the first time as well as to the fact that the New River Valley (NRV) Agency on Aging is receiving a steady supply of new clients referred to it by past satisfied clients and other organizations such as pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and employers. Many of these clients might not have known of our services without such referrals.
Last year, the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (VICAP), consisting of one hard-working staff member, Elizabeth Wray, and 10 volunteers saved clients in the NRV $425,841 by finding them Medicare Part D drug plans that will cover their drugs less expensively in 2019 than their 2018 plans would have.
I think that we probably saw fewer past clients last year during Open Enrollment than we did in 2017. Based upon my experience with the clients I saw, I think that companies dropped fewer drugs from their formularies last year. A person is more likely to seek assistance if they are aware that a necessary drug has been dropped. I also saw fewer restrictions such as “step-therapy” and “prior authorization” in the 2019 plans. It is likely that we still could have saved some clients money by comparing drug prices even if all their drugs were covered.
The Medicare Part B Premium Increase
The good news for Social Security recipients in 2019 is that we will receive a 2.8 percent raise. In 2019 the premium for Part B for most beneficiaries will be $135.50 – just $1.50 more than last year. Those with higher incomes ($85,000 for an individual and $170,000 for a couple) will pay more. Persons who withdraw untaxed money out of IRAs or 401(k)s could see themselves moved into this higher bracket if the amount withdrawn increases their income above the limit. These formerly untaxed withdrawals count as income for tax purposes and are reported as such.
Many beneficiaries have their Part D drug plan premiums deducted from their Social Security payments as well. This deduction could add to the amount deposited in their checking accounts next year if they changed to a plan with a less expensive premium. The drug plan that had the lowest premium for years – Humana-Walmart Rx Plan – has a premium of $26.10 in 2019. The least expensive plan in 2019 – WellCare Value Script – has a $14.50 premium. If their 2019 drug plan has a more expensive premium, their deposit can be lower.
Medicare Costs in 2019
Some Medicare service costs will also increase in 2019. The Part A deductible for hospital stays will be $1,364. Skilled nursing facilities are still covered totally by Part A for the first 20 days with days 21 through 100 costing beneficiaries $170.50 per day. The Part B deductible is $185 in 2019. Medicare then covers 80 percent of the remaining costs, leaving 20 percent for the beneficiary to pay.
A Medicare supplement or Medigap policy would help cover all or most of the above costs, depending upon the plan selected. Because it pays all costs other than the Part B deductible, a Medigap Plan G supplement remains a smart choice in 2019.
If you need more information regarding Medicare costs or what Medicare supplements cover, please call the NRV Agency on Aging at 540-980-7720.