Medicare is changing for 2019.

The federal government sponsored health insurance program is available for individuals who are age 65 or older and are a U.S. citizen or who have been a permanent legal resident of the U.S. for at least five continuous years. Others who are under the age of 65 but who have certain disabilities or end-stage diseases may also qualify.

The 2019 annual enrollment period officially opened Oct. 15 and remains open until Dec. 7. This is the time when an eligible individual may choose and enroll in a new plan for the coming year.

Medicare was officially signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, and for more than five decades this program has been providing for the health and well-being of millions of people across the United States.

A letter recently went out to those who are covered by Medicare indicating that part of their coverage was going away. Known as the Medicare cost plan, this portion is coming to an end as of 2019, and for Minnesotans that is a big deal. 

According to statistics from Medicare, there are 380,195 cost plan enrollees in Minnesota making up 62 percent of the country’s total cost plan enrollees, and with the exception of 21 counties in Minnesota these cost plans are ending.

Redwood and Watonwan counties are not one of those 21 counties, which means those with a cost plan have to enroll in a new option for 2019.

According to the Minnesota Board on Aging, effective Jan. 1, 2019 the federal government is requiring all insurance companies to discontinue Medicare cost plans in counties where at least two competing Medicare Advantage plans are available.

According to Medicare, the federal government has been attempting to remove cost plans as an option for those who are part of the program. Cost plans, which were established in the 1970s, were started as a way to help those enrolled in Medicare who are in rural areas where other competing Medicare Advantage Plan Options are not offered.

As the Medicare Advantage program continues to grow, the need for cost plans is diminished in many regions.

Gail Radke of the Senior LinkAge Line® has been talking about the Medicare changes with seniors, and recently was in Redwood Falls at Garnette Gardens. A room filled to capacity listened as she spoke about the changes.

According to Radke, there are a variety of options available for those whose Medicare cost plan option is eliminated, adding it is up to the individual to determine what is best.

She encouraged those who have been informed that their cost plan is ending to talk with their provider to determine the best option. She added it is important to ensure that whatever option is selected that it covers all of what is needed.

“The party is over,” said Radke.

Radke added there are some providers who have told Medicare beneficiaries that they have already been enrolled in another program, but she said one does not have to take that as the option. She emphasized the importance to research all of the options before enrolling.

When it comes to finding a new option, Radke said enrollees can work with three different providers – Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Medica and Health Partners.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce is urging seniors to be alert for confusing or deceptive advertising and sales offers regarding Medicare. When looking for information regarding Medicare, the Web site to visit is medicare.gov.

Others with a similar address that may include .com, .org or .net are private sites.

Those looking for more information are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Senior LinkAge Line® by calling 1-800-333-2433, or visit its Web site at www.seniorlinkageline.com