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Wednesday, June 23rd
BlueCross Blue Shield (known as Anthem in some states, as well as BCBS) is one of the biggest names in insurance. They have a website specifically dedicated to Medicare Supplement Plans, so you don't have to worry about sorting through health insurance information that doesn't apply to you.
Information-filled, but confusing layout
If you're looking for an online quote, you may have a hard time spotting where to start. The BCBS site for Medigap coverage is full of information you may or may not need: terms to know, enrollment periods, and so on. To get a quote, look on the right side of the page where it says Enter Zip Code and Find Coverage.
Finding the online quotes
From there, it'll take you to another page that asks you to fill in your information to talk to a Medicare Health Benefit Advisor or to call them directly (855-536-6475). However, if you look carefully, you'll spot links that say Browse or Find a Plan that let you get an initial idea of pricing online before you reach out to BlueCross Blue Shield.
Help Me feature
On that page, you can either choose to View All Plans or select Help Me Find a Plan. If you already know which Medicare Supplement Plan interests you, choose the first option. If you need some guidance and are willing to answer a few questions, the second choice will walk you through which available plans are a good fit.
Since we were interested in getting a quote to fit our designated profile, the 65-year-old female in Wisconsin looking for Plan G coverage, we opted to view all plans. Be sure to click on the tab that says Medicare Supplement Plans, because the page defaults to Medicare Advantage Plans instead. There, you'll have to enter your gender, date of birth, the date your Part B coverage was effective, and your desired coverage start date. We didn't get an option to start coverage right away, unlike some of BCBS's rivals.
The results page is fairly easy to understand. It clarifies the basic plan and any extra riders you may want to consider. It also described a $2/month savings if paying automatically every month via bank withdrawal, or a savings of $48/year when paying in full annually. There is also a household discount of 5% if more than one household member is enrolled in a BCBS Medicare Supplement Plan. That discount is lower than many other insurers, who typically offer anywhere from 7% to 15% off, and sometimes that applies even if no one else is currently enrolled with you.
Middle of the road premiums
The price that the BlueCross Blue Shield site gave us was $137.66/month. That included all of the riders necessary to equal Plan G coverage in Wisconsin. That's neither the highest nor the lowest premium we found, which was surprising given that BCBS is one of the major players in the Medicare space.
Start your application online
One nice feature is that BCBS allows you to start your application for a Medicare Supplement Plan online. Every other Medicare Supplement Plan provider required a phone call, but BCBS allowed us to create an account and get the ball rolling. You'll need your Medicare card handy, along with any applicable supporting documents like a POA or guaranteed issue notice.
BBB ratings vary by state
It can be tricky finding a Better Business Bureau listing for BCBS, because Blue Cross Blue Shield has separate offices in each state. Getting an overall BBB rating for BCBS is next to impossible. For example, their rating in South Carolina is A+ with 7 customer complaints, while their rating in New York is D-. This tells us that their service and customer response can vary greatly by where you live. For states where BCBS is graded highly, you can expect them to respond to questions and complaints quickly. For states where they have a lower grade, perhaps not so much.
Highly regarded by the experts
On the other hand, we found quite a few experts on Medigap coverage that had positive things to say about BCBS. People tend to like knowing that their insurance comes from a big-name provider, and they offer coverage in enough places to make it likely you can get the plan you're looking for.
Overall good choice
On the whole, BlueCross Blue Shield is a good source of Medicare Supplement Plans. And, we really like the fact that you can start your enrollment process online: no need to wait for business hours on a weekday if you're ready to go. Still, we'd like to see their web interface cleaned up and simplified, and some effort made to clean up their BBB ratings.
If you or a loved one is approaching the age of 65, or will be qualified for Medicare Parts A and B soon for another reason, it's the ideal time to start shopping around for supplemental coverage.
You are probably already aware that your Medicare insurance pays for most of your costs - but not all. That's why Medicare Supplement plans are often known as "Medigap": they close the distance between the 80% that's covered and the 20% that isn't, so that you have fewer or no out-of-pocket costs.
Medicare Supplement Plans are given letter names, so it can be easy to wind up confused. Plus, plans and their coverage are always changing. For example, Plan F was considered the go-to package, but it was discontinued for anyone starting coverage after January 1, 2020. Its replacement at the time, Plan G, offered similar benefits - fully covering that extra 20% and more - but added an annual deductible to the equation.
Another factor to keep in mind is the "guaranteed issue period". For the six months following your 65th birthday, you can get a Medicare Supplement Plan with no requirements beyond paying your premiums. By law, you can't be excluded for any health conditions, although your premiums will be higher if you're a smoker. But, once that grace period concludes, insurers can require more detailed information about your health conditions such as diabetes or heart conditions, and you can expect your premiums and available plans to change accordingly.
When buying a Medicare Supplement Plan, you have two basic routes: buy directly from an insurance company or go through a broker. Going to an insurance company you already trust can be an appealing option. You'll typically find the best rates for that particular insurer. On the other hand, using a broker often gives you access to not just your favorite insurance company but many others. So, with one process you can get the best rates from a number of providers at the same time - including that rate you got when you contacted the insurance company directly.
Whether you decide to use a broker or to buy directly from an insurance company, it's wise to do your research beforehand. The last thing you want is for an eager rep to steer you towards a plan that doesn't fit your needs, so take the time to browse several providers' websites before getting in touch. However, because Medicare rules state that all plans have to be sold in person or on the phone, you'll eventually have to speak with someone to finalize your Medicare Supplement Plan.
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