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New Medicare plan starts Jan. 1, 2013

Those with supplement plans can change insurance companies annually


Starting Jan. 1, 2013, Oregonians with a Medicare supplement plan have an annual opportunity to change insurance companies. This gives consumers a chance to shop prices or compare customer service, for example.

The option to shop and switch companies starts on their birthday and ends 30 days later.

Nearly 125,000 Oregonians have supplement plans. These plans also are known as Medigap plans because they cover gaps in Medicare's health insurance coverage.

For example, Medicare covers only about 80 percent of doctors' services and other outpatient care. Supplements cover all or a portion of the other 20 percent of out-of-pocket costs.

Supplement plans carry letters' names (Plan A through Plan N). The benefits are standardized, so that Plan F benefits are the same from one company to the next.

"Since the benefits are the same from one company to another, consumers can easily compare prices," Insurance Commissioner Lou Savage said. "The old rules, which didn't allow consumers to easily change companies, will no longer be a barrier to getting the best price for the coverage they are purchasing."

Currently, consumers can apply to a different company for coverage, but the company doesn't have to accept them or can set rates based on the consumer's medical history. The Insurance Division rule allowing the new annual enrollment period requires companies to accept applicants regardless of health.

Only a few other states offer a similar consumer protection. A division fact sheet explains more about this option and can be located at www.cbs.state.or.us/ins/consumer/health-insurance/other-topics.html. This rule does not apply to people with Medicare Advantage plans. They already have an annual enrollment period during which they can switch plans. This year's enrollment period began Oct. 15 and ended Dec. 7, 2012.

People who have questions can call the Insurance Division's Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance program, which is federally funded to help Oregon's 650,000-plus Medicare beneficiaries.

It has counselors available statewide, and people can find one in their area by calling 1-800-722-4134.

The Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance program is part of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, Oregon's largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency.

For more information, visit www.dcbs.oregon.gov or follow DCBS on Twitter at twitter.com/OregonDCBS. Consumers can receive help and information on insurance, mortgages, investments, workplace safety and more.