Ray Walker took his job because he wanted to be better enabled to help his mother as she aged.
Walker serves as the divisional director of the state's Medicare Assistance Program.
Walker's job is to help people make health care decisions that are best for them.
Part of that job includes helping older adults and their caregivers understand Medigap, the term used to describe supplemental insurance that covers what traditional Medicare doesn't.
Medicare's open enrollment period runs through Dec. 7. During that time period, adults are also looking for supplemental insurance.
Medicare recipients have two main ways to get Medicare coverage: the original fee-for-service Medicare program or a private Medicare Advantage plan.
Generally speaking, Medicare pays about 80 percent of a person's medical costs.
Many people buy supplemental insurance to cover the other 20 percent, said Bob Moos, spokesman for the southwest regional office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The Medigap plans offered in Oklahoma are standardized, meaning every company offers the same thing with each plan — but not at the same price.
“You absolutely have to shop around,” Walker said. “We tell people to get at least three quotes from three separate agents on three different products to make sure they're getting the best deal available.”
People with Medicare Advantage plans should not purchase Medigap coverage, Walker said.
Because of how the Medicare billing system works, only people with original Medicare can use supplemental insurance plans to cover what Medicare doesn't pay, he said.
Medicare recipients can purchase a supplemental policy anytime during the year, any time an insurance company is willing to sell them a policy, Walker said.
However, people just turning 65 and signing up for Medicare Part B are at an advantage.
Insurance companies cannot deny this group of people a supplemental policy within the first six months of signing up for Medicare. Also during this time period, insurance companies cannot charge this group more for their policy based on pre-existing conditions.
“If they miss that opportunity in the first six months when they sign up for Part B, then the company can make them fill out medical questionnaires, they can ask a whole bunch of questions, they can deny them, they can charge them more,” Walker said.
The state Insurance Department's Senior Health Insurance Counseling Program offers free Medicare counseling. Anyone with questions about coverage or plans can call the Oklahoma Medicare Assistance Program at (800) 763-2828.
Along with questions about coverage, you can also ask the Insurance Department whether the company has customer complaints against it.
It's important to know what kind customer service you'll be offered.
Moos, who works out of Dallas, said when selecting a Medigap plan, it's also important to keep in mind what you're paying for your prescription drug plan, or Part D.
If a person has a Medicare premium, a prescription drug plan premium and a supplemental insurance premium, that means they're paying three premiums, a cost that will add up, he said.
“One of the benefits to Medigap is — yes, there's yet another premium to pay for that coverage, but it does give the policyholder some predictability about their health care cost,” Moos said. “They know up front what it's going to cost them if they get sick. Many people want that peace of mind, that sense of security. That's why these plans are as popular as they are.”
AT A GLANCE
Facts about Medigap policies
Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
You absolutely have to shop around. We tell people to get at least three quotes from three separate agents on three different products to make sure they're getting the best deal available.”