Volume 2, Number 5
News For Medicare Beneficiaries

It’s official: The Social Security Administration has announced there will be a 2.8% Social Security Cost of Living increase in 2019.

The increase is the largest since 2012, when the COLA was 3.6%, and it tops 2018’s 2% level. The average Social Security beneficiary collecting $1,404 a month will receive an additional $39 starting in January, as a result of the 2.8% increase.

There will be a minimal increase to the standard Part B premium, which is $134 for 2018. This will increase to $135.50 for next year.

Part A and B (“Original Medicare”) deductibles and co pays have also changed for 2019.

Click here for a chart that summarizes 2019 Part A deductibles and co insurance.

This chart shows the minimal increase (from $183 to $185) that will occur in the Part B deductible. Part B coinsurance remains at 20%.

Part B and Part D IRMAA (for single taxpayers earning above $85,000 and married taxpayers earning over $170,000) will also change for 2019. IRMAA is based on earnings reported to the IRS two years previously (or the latest year available). 

Articles in previous newsletters have indicated that IRMAA will change for 2019 but the 2019 Part B IRMAA tables could not be calculated until the standard Part B premium ($135.50) was announced. The reason is that the tables are all based on percentages of the standard Part B premium.

Finally, the chart that compares and summarizes all the available Medicare Supplement plans has been updated as well
CMS  has released its 2019 star ratings for Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans, noting that the Medicare Advantage market continues to grow in affordability and access for consumers.

CMS estimates that 74 percent of MA beneficiaries will have access to a 2019 Medicare Advantage plan with four or more stars. Access to plans with four or more stars increased slightly from last year, when 73 percent of members had access to high-quality plans.

Nineteen MA health plans earned a five-star overall rating, according to the data released by CMS.

Kaiser Permanente had four MA health plans earn a five-star rating, which was the greatest number of five-star plans offered by a single payer.

Cigna made it onto the list with its HealthSpring of Florida plan. Anthem had one MA plan earn a five-star rating while a joint Anthem-BlueCross BlueShield plan also earned five stars.

Florida Blue earned a five star rating on all its HMO plans. This was a significant jump from the 3.5 rating these plans earned for 2018. Care Plus (which is owned by Humana) also regained its 5 star rating, after an absence of several years.

Humana issued a statement saying that 3 million, or approximately 84% of its Medicare Advantage members, are currently enrolled under contracts with 4 plus stars for 2019, including 225,000 members in 5-star contracts. All Humana Medicare HMO membership in Florida is in 4.5 or 5-star rated contracts.

However, fewer plans earned a five star overall rating than in 2018. Twenty-four plans earned a five-star rating in 2018 while only 21 earned the same rating in 2019.

Overall quality remains high, though, as CMS identified only four MA plans that earned 2.5 stars or lower.

CMS also recently announced that Medicare Advantage premiums decreased 6% nationally (almost all Medicare Advantage plans in Florida have no premium) and that the number of MA health plan options is growing significantly.

About 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will have access to more than 10 MA plan options. MA enrollment is expected to increase by 2.4 million members in 2019.
The following article appeared in the September 11 blog of Ritter Insurance Marketing.

The Department of Justice granted preliminary approval for CVS and Aetna to move forward with their $69 billion merger, signaling a potential change in how many American consumers access health care.

On September 27, Aetna announced their agreement to sell their Medicare Part D drug plan business to WellCare Health Plans to ease the path to the approval. Experts believed the overlap between CVS’s and Aetna’s Part D plans would be a cause for concern.

CVS first announced their intention to purchase Aetna in December 2017 in an effort to combine Aetna’s insurance business with CVS’s pharmacies.
The CEO of CVS stated that, together, they hope to create a model that is “easier to use, less expensive, and puts people at the center of their care.”
The general cost of health care has been skyrocketing and consumers feel the weight of increased prices. Companies like Amazon have jumped on the bandwagon of selling low-cost prescription drugs in an effort to have a positive financial impact on customers.

CVS and Aetna hope to lessen the burden for consumers by adding more services to MinuteClinics , such as treatments for non-critical illnesses, like a cough or the common cold. The hope is that that people will choose the clinics over going to the emergency room, which will benefit both CVS and the consumer due to the hefty cost of ER visits.

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim was quoted saying, “The divestitures required here allow for the creation of an integrated pharmacy and health benefits company that has the potential to generate benefits by improving the quality and lowering the costs of the health care services that American consumers can obtain.”

The deal is predicted to fully close before the end of 2018.
About Paul Cholak
Paul has over forty years of benefits experience and has been Director of Employee Benefits for large companies, as well as a benefits consultant with major consulting firms. He understands the health and life insurance needs of Medicare beneficiaries, as well as individuals and families of all ages.

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