Because all Medicare Supplement Plans benefits are regulated by Federal and state laws, all plans in your specific area must include the same benefits. This means that the Plan A covered benefits will be exactly the same between the different insurance companies offering it. In addition, all the companies offering Medicare Supplement plans must abide by the same guarantee issue rules: 6 months from when you are enrolled in Medicare Part B.
If all the plans are the same, is one company better than another?
The biggest difference between all the companies and the the plans they offer is the monthly premium. However, because Medicare Supplements is a competitive market place, there will be very little price difference between them. For instance, for companies offering the all inclusive Plan F in the Sacramento area, there is only a $9.20 difference between the highest and lowest premiums.
As with any product, you need to look for special discounts and additional benefits. Most notably, Blue Shield of California is offering a $20 discount off the premium for the first year on certain plans through September 2012. Some companies will include the Silver Sneakers gym program at no extra charge. Others will provide you with discounts on eye and vision services at specific retailers. Another consideration is if the company offers a companion dental or vision program for an additional premium.
What about a national versus state company?
Medicare Supplement Plans can not be cancelled if you move to another state. A nationwide company can adjust your premium to match the premium of the plan in your new area. Companies that do not have a nationwide presence will adjust your premium to an area within the state you moved from. In either case, the monthly premium may be higher or lower than what you were originally paying.
How about customer service?
All the companies that I have dealt with have been very good about paying claims and I have heard very few complaints. I can’t say that that a local insurance company’s customer service is any better than a nationwide carrier. My advice is to do a little research and talk to friends and family about their experience.
What about the sales people?
The marketing of Medicare Supplements does not fall under the extremely tight marketing and sales regulations like Medicare Advantage Plans. You can buy a Medicare Supplement Plan (also known as a Medigap) from the company, an agent affiliated with a specific carrier or an independent who represents a wide variety of insurers. The benefit of working with an independent is that he or she can offer you a comparison of all the different plans in terms of premiums, special discounts or extra benefits included by the insurance company.
For example, some Medicare Supplement Plans have a built-in premium increase every year in addition to any rate increase that might be implemented because of market conditions. Some plans increase there rates based on yearly age, while others use an every other year age bands.
Even though Medicare Supplements are pretty straight forward and it is hard to go wrong, it pays to do a little investigation to determine if one company may have some advantages for you over another.