What types of Medicare are there? Here is help with choosing

Dear Liz, I have read your latest columns on Medicare Advantage and I think more should be said before people choose this path.

You mentioned that switching from Medicare Advantage to Medicare itself can be problematic. As a couple who both had plans and now have Medicare with a Medigap plan, I’d like to say that the best (and easiest by the way) switch between my husband and me was to return to Medicare.

People should understand that Medicare Advantage plans are becoming their primary insurance policy, severely limiting their ability to go to a doctor or hospital that is most convenient for them. When traveling, they are limited to the hospital and doctor they have selected with their Advantage plan, namely the one near where they live! Also, my husband couldn’t see a doctor I had because we were enrolled in various local hospitals.

So I called Medicare in 2009 and a young man was so helpful and in no time we were back to Medicare. He said we should go to the Medicare website and choose from the many Medigap options on offer that suit our needs, and we did. It was that simple.

We have opted for no deductible, qualified care and much more. Granted, our monthly premiums are higher than before, but as of that date we haven’t had a penny for medical care including visits to the doctor, my husband’s open heart surgery (in a hospital of our choice), the emergency room and surgery for my broken one Ankle and annual EKGs to monitor his heart.

Surprisingly, we also have insurance cover for foreign medical treatments and used this for minor surgical interventions in 2018. Medigap insurance covered 80% of this when our travel insurer refused to pay.

Our Medigap policy also allows us to go to any doctor or hospital without a referral. And of course, Medicare is accepted across the United States, but Medicare Advantage plans are not. The tens of thousands of dollars we’ve saved over the past 11 years make it worth paying more every month and we can rest assured.

Answer: Thanks for writing and for sharing your experiences.

For readers who haven’t kept up with the discussion, Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurers as an all-in-one alternative to traditional Medicare, the government-administered health insurance program for people 65 and over. Medicare Advantage plans usually cover a few things Medicare doesn’t offer, such as vision, dental, and hearing care, but the plans also have regional networks of providers that you are likely to use. You pay more, and sometimes the entire bill, when using off-grid providers.

Traditional Medicare allows you to go to any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare – including the vast majority of both – but can have significant co-payments and other co-payments. An add-on plan or Medigap plan offered by a private insurer can cover these costs, and most Medigap plans also offer emergency coverage abroad.

Medicare plus Medigap premiums may be higher than Medicare Advantage plans, but may ultimately prove to be more cost effective for people who travel frequently or want more choice in their treatment.

If you sign up for a Medigap plan when you first enrolled with Medicare, the insurer has an obligation to enroll you. If you miss this open registration period, an insurer may charge you more due to pre-existing conditions or even deny you coverage.

There are a few exceptions, however. If you originally signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan but want to switch to Medicare plus a Medigap plan within the first 12 months, you can take out a Medigap policy without taking out a subscription.

Business Credit Card Dilemma

Dear Liz: I am a sole proprietor and have two business credit cards. I used my Social Security number to apply for the cards and put $ 2,000-3,000 a month on those cards, but all of this credit card activity is not reported to Experian, affecting my creditworthiness, and I now have “stale funds” per Experian. Is my credit card activity not reported because my cards are considered business cards?

Answer: The short answer is yes. Although you used your personal credit history to apply for the cards, business cards usually do not report activity to consumer credit bureaus (although negative activity can be reported, such as when the account is overdue).

You can remedy this by purchasing and using a personal credit card or two. If your credit report is so out of date that it cannot generate any creditworthiness at all, you may need to start with a secured card or check out a loan for lending.

Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions can be directed to them at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or via the “Contact Us” form at asklizweston.com.

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