Health Insurance Marketplaces Are Not For Seniors
Medicare is taking steps to help seniors understand that their benefits won't be affected by the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace.
While the Obama administration is encouraging uninsured Americans to enroll in health coverage on the new online insurance marketplaces, federal officials are planning a campaign to persuade millions of seniors to please stay away — don't call and don't sign up.
"We want to reassure Medicare beneficiaries that they are already covered, their benefits are not changing and the marketplace doesn't require them to do anything," said Michele Patrick, Medicare's deputy director for communications.
To reinforce the message, the 2014 Medicare & You handbook — the 100-plus-page guide that will be sent to 52 million Medicare beneficiaries next month — contains a prominent notice: "The Health Insurance Marketplace, a key part of the Affordable Care Act, will take effect in 2014. It's a new way for individuals, families, and employees of small businesses to get health insurance. Medicare isn't part of the Marketplace."
Still, it can be easy to get the wrong impression.
"You hear programs on the radio about the health care law, and they never talk about seniors and what we are supposed to do," said Barbara Bonner, 72, of Reston, Va. "Do we have to go sign up like they're saying everyone else has to? Does the new law apply to us seniors at all, and if so, how?"
Enrollment in health plans offered on the marketplaces, also called exchanges, begins Oct. 1 and runs for six months. Meanwhile, the two-month sign-up period for private health plans for millions of Medicare beneficiaries begins Oct. 15.
In that time, seniors can shop for a private health plan known as Medicare Advantage, pick a drug insurance policy or buy a supplemental Medigap plan. In about half the states, some Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for Medicaid may be choosing private managed care plans. None of these four kinds of coverage will be offered in the health law's marketplaces.
Because many of the same insurance companies offering coverage for seniors will also sell and advertise policies in the marketplaces, seniors may have a hard time figuring out which options are for them.
"Over the next six months, seniors will be bombarded with information, and a lot of it will be conflicting and confusing," said Nick Quealy-Gainer, Medicare task force coordinator for Champaign County Health Care Consumers, an Illinois advocacy group.
"Anything about health care gets seniors' attention," said Maria Alvarez, executive director of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council. "But we tell them not to worry about the marketplaces because they don't apply to seniors with Medicare."
Confusion about different government health programs could also create opportunities for scams .
Fraud prevention messages will be a priority, said Medicare's Patrick. Seniors can be particularly vulnerable to scams, "but with all of the changes in the health care landscape, we may need to be even more careful this year."