We announced today that Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has joined our exchange, bringing the number of carriers to 67 and the number of Medicare supplemental plans to more than 3,500. Harvard Pilgrim plans have consistently been rated “excellent” by NCQA. Read the press release here or visit Harvard Pilgrim’s web site here.

Extend Health gets a nice mention in an article by Glenn Ruffenach in today’s Wall Street Journal Smart Money magazine. Mr. Ruffenach provides plenty of sound advice on how to navigate the Medicare maze for those of you who are just becoming eligible. To help explain just how difficult it can be without some professional help, he talked to Michigan retiree Barry Wood. Mr. Wood tried to create a chart on his own to compare his options and says, “It was the most confusing thing I’ve seen in my entire life.”

What Ruffenach doesn’t say is that Mr. Wood then turned to Extend Health for help finding the right plan. In a conversation with Extend Health, he told us that, “You have to realize when you turn 65 that your health benefits are going to change. I think people have to take better care of themselves and what they’re doing, and be prepared for the changes that are going to occur in their lives. You can’t just sit there and let the time come and go ‘oh my gosh’ what am I going to do, I didn’t know this was going to happen.’ I think people have to be proactive and they have to understand what is going to happen in their lives. Working with Extend Health was excellent because without the advice and counsel of the advisor, I would not have made the proper decision about my healthcare.”

Good advice from both the Wall Street Journal and Barry Wood, a retiree who’s been there.

With new Medicare regulations taking effect in 2011, we’ve identified four changes to Medicare Part C, D and Medigap plans that retirees should know about because they could affect their healthcare coverage. They  are: 

  1. Some Medicare Advantage (Part C) Private Fee for Service (PFFS) plans are ending
  2. Medicare Part D plans are being consolidated
  3. Four Medigap plans will no longer be sold and two new ones will be offered (Parts M and N)
  4. While average premiums for Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans will decline slightly, some plans’ premiums will rise

Information about the changes and what retirees can do in response follow.

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As part of our ongoing effort to make sure people aging in to Medicare have the information they need, Extend Health just put out a press release titled “For Seniors Turning 65: With the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period Less Than a Month Away, Five Things You Should Know About Medicare and Your Coverage Options.”  The press release provides a link to our free guide to Medicare, which includes a section on eligibility rules, explains the different parts of Medicare, the advantages of different private Medicare options, and how to enroll, and contains a glossary of Medicare terms. If you’re a person aging in to Medicare, or an employer with Medicare-eligible employees or retirees asking questions about Medicare, this guide is a very useful resource.

Aon Consulting has just published its predictions for medical plan cost increases in 2011.  Based on a survey of more than 60 health insurance carriers, Aon projects that in 2011 health care costs will increase by:

  • 10.5 percent for HMOs
  • 10.6 percent for POS plans
  • 10.7 percent for PPOs
  • 11 percent for CDH plans 

For Medicare-eligible retirees over the age of 65, Aon projects rates to grow by 7.5 percent for Medicare Supplement plans and 6.7 percent for Medicare Advantage plans.

There are many layers to the federal Medicare program. Your employees will want you to help them figure out where to begin.

STEP 1: Break Down Medicare Into Manageable Pieces

Employees first need to know if they qualify for Medicare coverage, what coverage is available in their area, and how to get enrolled in a plan that fits their needs. Which means, the 3 most common questions an HR benefit administrator will be asked are:

  • When am I eligible?
  • What are the different parts of Medicare?
  • How do I enroll?

Click here for a simple summary page that provides the answers.

STEP 2: Provide Online Resources to Guide Them

The process of identifying the right Medicare plan and selecting the best policy is equally confusing. Employees find it easier to utilize an online search tool that can take their personal information and provide them with the best options. The following tools can assist them: