Supplemental Health Insurance – What to Do When You Hit 65

From the March 2017 issue of “TVARA News”
By Tom Swanson, Chair, TVARA Health Committee

Are we done talking about Medicare Supplemental Insurance?

For the some 12,000 retirees who transitioned to individual health-insurance policies with private insurers due to the termination of the TVA group Medicare supplemental plan, most of the drama is over, it is hoped.

But now the focus turns to those retirees who will be “aging in” to Medicare as their primary health-insurance coverage. If anything, the transition from group insurance to the wild world of private health insurance has taught us a thing or two, as the insurance commercial states.

Those retirees who have not faced Medicare yet may not be aware that TVA has contracted with Willis Towers Watson to provide retirees access to their private insurance exchange (OneExchange) when retirees become eligible for Medicare health insurance, usually when they turn 65.

The purpose of the private insurance exchange is to provide retirees with an adviser who is trained in matching insurance policies with individual health situations to ensure the best coverage for the premium demanded.

During the year before a retiree’s 65th birthday, OneExchange will mail educational materials and set up a phone interview. The purpose of the interview will be to assess the retiree’s health-insurance requirements. At the conclusion of one or more of these discussions, the retiree will be given the opportunity to complete an insurance application by phone for a policy suggested by the adviser.

Now for the lessons learned.

The OneExchange telephone interview has been described by retirees as “grueling,” lasting on average three hours including the application process. Retirees who purchased their health insurance not through OneExchange reported being able to complete the selection and application process in two hours or less.

It could be that the OneExchange advisers are very deliberate and careful in their approach to determining the best insurance coverage, but retirees complained of the recital of repetitive disclaimers as being overly tedious. Providing information online before the phone interview helped some with this exercise.

Some retirees discovered they could purchase the exact same policy from the same insurance company for less money by speaking to the company’s agent or an independent insurance broker. This is where we learned of the world of insurance-policy discounts. If you shop around, there is apparently a discount for just about everything — maybe even one for just being alive!

OneExchange makes it easy, but if you are willing to take the time to shop around, you can get better prices.

The variety of health-insurance companies and policies available on OneExchange is limited compared to all that is available in a particular state. This was very apparent when retirees conducted online searches for Medicare supplemental insurance.

For example, retirees discovered companies that do not heavily advertise their health-insurance business such as Mutual of Omaha, Farm Bureau, and Physician’s Mutual, and yet these companies have very competitive products.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all, we learned of another resource that offers unbiased assistance in determining the best insurance coverage for the retiree’s health situation and money. This resource is known as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or “SHIP.”

Each state has a SHIP that is familiar with ALL health insurance available in that state. For Tennessee, the SHIP toll-free phone number is 1-877-801-0044, and the numbers for the other states are on the back of the Medicare & You white book retirees will receive about three months before the month of their 65th birthday.

By the way, TVA group coverage ends and Medicare coverage begins on the first day of the month of a retiree’s 65th birthday.

The SHIP phone number for each state is available online at https://www.medicare.gov/contacts/ by selecting state and “SHIP.” SHIP provides the same consultation service as does OneExchange, and it’s also free.

The advisers for SHIP do not sell insurance and are mostly volunteers. There are TVA retirees who are volunteer insurance advisers for SHIP.

To learn more about the “fun” in selecting Medicare supplemental insurance and additional lessons learned, go to http://mytvara.org or send an email to ten.tsacmocnull@nosnawswt

The ongoing discussion over the transition to Medicare supplemental insurance can be viewed on Facebook at Tennessee Valley Authority Retirees Association (do not abbreviate) and TVA Friends Past & Present (requires an invite).