Consumers looking to do some comparison shopping have a lot of choices when deciding how much, or how little, to spend to supplement a Medicare plan with additional insurance.
A premium comparison survey by the Arizona Department of Insurance shows a wide range of premiums available for Medicare Supplement Insurance plans, more commonly known as Medigap, so called because the plans are meant to fill in the "gaps" not covered by original Medicare coverage such as copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.
Average monthly premiums among the most popular Medigap plans can vary by as much as $200.
For Plan F, purchased by about half of Medigap customers, average monthly premiums range from $93 on the low end to $266 for a 65-year-old man or woman and between $121 and $316 for a 75-year-old man or woman.
Costs vary similarly for Plan C, the second most popular plan. Average monthly premiums start at $93 and top out at $267 for a 65-year-old man or woman and between $118 and $365 for a 75-year-old man or woman.
Because Medigaps contain the same benefits no matter which company is selling them, it's an ideal area for comparison shopping, said Lydia Baker, coordinator of the Pima Council on Aging's Medicare Health Insurance Assistance Program.
"That's what we always encourage when we talk to people. Let your fingers do the walking," Baker said.
However, even though the plans are the same, some customers may opt for a more expensive plan if they like or trust an insurance company they purchase other types of insurance from, she said.
The state Department of Insurance survey also advises consumers that cost shouldn't be the only factor in shopping for a Medigap plan. Consumers should consider things like customer service and ask if the company offers any special discounts, such as a marital discount if both spouses apply for coverage or other discounts for having multiple policies.
Additionally, some companies increase premiums as a customer gets older while some keep premiums at the same rate as long as the customer holds the policy.
Another tip: It's a good idea to buy a Medigap plan as soon as you turn 65. For the first six months, insurance companies have to take new Medigap customers, regardless of preexisting conditions. After that, companies reserve the right to exclude preexisting conditions or deny coverage altogether.
Many people who are still healthy at 65 don't buy a Medigap plan to save money and then find they want one later when their health declines - only to be denied by an insurance company, Baker said.
Consumers have to have both Medicare Part A and B to be eligible to buy a Medigap plan. Medicare can't be used to cover the price of a Medigap plan.
For help with Medicare and Medigap questions, call the Pima Council on Aging's Medicare hotline at 546-2011.
The federal consumer guide to Medigap, "Choosing a Medigap Policy: A Guide to Health Insurance for People with Medicare," is available for download online at www.medicare.gov/Publications
A free copy can also be ordered by calling the Arizona Department of Insurance at 1-800-325-2548.
Contact reporter Alex Dalenberg at email@example.com or at 807-8429.