What Is the Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan Free Look Period?
A Medicare Supplement (Medigap) insurance plan can help pay for Original Medicare’s out-of-pocket costs. Different Medicare Supplement insurance plans pay for different amounts of those costs, such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles. You may be able to take advantage of the Medicare Supplement free look period, when you can try out a new plan before you drop your current plan.
To show you how the free look period works, consider this scenario. You may have signed up for one of the 10 standardized Medicare Supplement insurance plans available in your state but want to switch to a different one. For example, maybe you signed up for Medicare Supplement insurance Plan A (not to be confused with Medicare Part A). Medicare Supplement insurance Plan A may cover:
- 100% of Medicare Part A coinsurance and hospital costs up to an additional 365 days after Medicare benefits are used up
- 100% of Part B coinsurance
- 100% of blood (first 3 pints)
- 100% of Part A hospice care coinsurance
But suppose you decide you want a plan with additional coverage and you think you might travel soon, so you are interested in Medicare Supplement insurance Plan N. Plan N covers the same benefits Plan A covers, as well as:
- Skilled nursing facility care coinsurance
- Medicare Part A deductible
- 80% of foreign travel health expenses
If you want to try out Plan N but also think you might want to keep Plan A temporarily, you can take advantage of the “free look period.”
What is the Medicare Supplement insurance plan “free look” period?
During the “free look period” you can generally have both your old and new Medicare Supplement insurance plans for a 30-day decision period. You will pay the premiums for both plans for one month so the “free” look is not free in terms of costs. It just gives you the opportunity to try out a new plan without canceling your old plan. Don’t cancel the first Medicare Supplement insurance plan until you’re accepted into the new policy, and you’ve decided to keep this new policy (or the 30 days elapses.) On the application for the new Medicare Supplement insurance plan you will have to promise that you’ll cancel the first policy, as you can only have one Medicare Supplement insurance plan outside of your free look window.
Will my application for a second plan be accepted?
Keep in mind that if you apply for a Medicare Supplement insurance plan outside your Open Enrollment Period, your application may undergo medical underwriting and it could be rejected. Your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period (OEP) lasts six months and it begins when you’re both 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B. During this OEP, your plan is immune from medical underwriting and you can buy any Medicare Supplement policy from any insurance company that’s licensed in your state. Medical underwriting is the process where insurers look at details about your health history, including medical problems and pre-existing conditions*. The insurance company can use this information to possibly deny your health insurance application, charge you more for coverage, or require a waiting period before providing coverage.
Most states offer up to 10 standardized Medicare Supplement insurance Plans labeled A, B, C**, D, F**, G, K L, M, and N. (Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin have a different way of standardizing their plans.) Although it’s possible to apply for any Medicare Supplement insurance plan at any time, the best time to shop may be when you don’t have to worry about medical underwriting, which is during your Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment Period (OEP) and when you have guaranteed issue. Besides during your OEP, you’re generally given guaranteed issue only under specific circumstances, such as when you move out of your Medicare Advantage plan’s service area or your Medicare Supplement insurance company goes bankrupt. If you apply for a second Medicare Supplement insurance plan outside of Open Enrollment or guaranteed issue, your application may be rejected and you may not be able to take advantage of the “free look“ period.
There is no specific amount of time you have to wait after buying your first Medicare Supplement insurance plan before you can switch to a different Medicare Supplement insurance plan. However, if your new policy has a benefit that isn’t in your current policy, you may have to wait up 6 months before that benefit will be covered.
*Pre-existing conditions are generally health conditions that existed before the start of a policy. They may limit coverage, be excluded from coverage, or even prevent you from being approved for a policy; however, the exact definition and relevant limitations or exclusions of coverage will vary with each plan, so check a specific plan’s official plan documents to understand how that plan handles pre-existing conditions.
**Medicare Supplement Plans C and F, which may cover the Medicare Part B deductible, are being phased out. You won’t be able to buy Plan C or Plan F (including high-deductible Plan F) if you become eligible for Medicare on or after January 1, 2020. If you’re eligible before that date, you can still apply for Plan C or Plan F, or keep the plan you already have. A high-deductible Plan G might be available in 2020.
Plan N pays 100% of the Part B coinsurance, with some exceptions. You may have to pay a copayment of up to $20 for some doctor office visits a copayment of up to $50 for emergency room visits that don’t result in inpatient admission.
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