As you may know, Original Medicare Part B covers 80 percent of the cost of most services. But what about the remaining 20 percent, or even the other out-of-pocket costs like deductibles or copayments? This blog covers Medigaps, which can help cover the out-of-pocket costs with Original Medicare.

Let’s start by understanding what Medigaps are.  

Medigaps are health insurance policies that offer standardized benefits to work with Original Medicare. They are sold by private insurance companies. If you have a Medigap, it pays part or all of certain remaining costs after Original Medicare pays first. Medigaps are designed to cover outstanding deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments. If you have a Medigap, you would likely not have any out-of-pocket costs for an inpatient hospital stay or outpatient doctors’ visits if your provider accept Medicare assignment. Depending on where you live and when you became eligible for Medicare, you have up to ten different Medigap policies to choose from: A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M, and N. Each policy offers a different set of standardized benefits, meaning that policies with the same letter name offer the same benefits. However, premiums can vary from company to company. Remember that Medigaps only work with Original Medicare. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you cannot buy a Medigap.

Do note, though, that policies in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have different names. To learn about these Medigaps, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Use our online SHIP Locator or call 877-839-2675 (and say “Medicare” when prompted). 

Next, learn the best times to purchase a Medigap policy. 

If you wish to purchase a Medigap policy, you need to find out the best time to buy one in your state. In most states, insurance companies must only sell you a policy at certain times and if you meet certain requirements. If you miss your window of opportunity to buy a Medigap, your costs may go up, your options may be limited, or you may not be able to buy a Medigap at all. If you change your coverage to Original Medicare during Medicare's Open Enrollment Period, which runs from October 15 to December 7 each year, you may or may not be able to purchase a Medigap Policy to help with Original Medicare's out-of-pocket costs. 

Under federal law, you have the right to buy a Medigap policy if you are at least 65 and enrolled in Medicare, and you buy your policy during a protected enrollment period. There are two kinds of federally protected enrollment periods.

The first is your open enrollment period—the six-month period that begins the month you are 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B.

The second type of protected enrollment period is when you have guaranteed issue rights. You have a guaranteed issue right within 63 days of when you lose or end certain kinds of health coverage.

Some states offer additional protections as well. Residents of New York and Connecticut, for example, can buy a policy throughout the year, not just at select times. These two states also require insurers to sell to people with Medicare who are under age 65.

This is why it is so important to contact your SHIP to learn about your right to purchase a Medigap policy in your state. Use our online SHIP Locator or call 877-839-2675 (and say “Medicare” when prompted) to contact your SHIP.

Even if you do not have the right to buy a Medigap in your state, you may still be able to buy a policy if a company agrees to sell you one. However, know that companies can charge you a higher price because of your health status or other reasons.

And finally, you should know how to choose a Medigap policy. 

You should think about your monthly budget, expenses, and health care needs when considering if a Medigap is the right choice for you and if so, which policy best meets your needs. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

·         Am I enrolling while I am in my open enrollment period? If not, do I have a guaranteed issue right?

·         What is the Medigap policy’s monthly premium? How are premiums in my state set? Do they automatically increase as I age?

·         Does the policy impose a waiting period before covering services related to pre-existing conditions?

·         Do I already have a Medicare Advantage Plan? If so, you cannot buy a Medigap policy, and it is illegal for someone to try to sell you one. See to see a list of illegal Medigap practices.

Remember to keep track of who you spoke with, when you spoke with them, and the outcome of the call. You can call your local SHIP for to receive more detailed Medigap option information, including cost comparisons. It is important to make a good decision the first time because it can be difficult to change your Medigap policy after your protected enrollment period. Use our online SHIP Locator or call 877-839-2675 (and say “Medicare” when prompted) to speak to a SHIP counselor about choosing a Medigap that is right for you.

Still have questions?   

Your SHIP is here for you! You can contact your SHIP for questions about your Medicare coverage and any problems that arise with it. SHIP counselors are government funded to provide trusted, unbiased Medicare counseling at no cost to you. (Depending on your state, your SHIP may go by another name.)   

Use our online SHIP Locator or call 877-839-2675 (and say “Medicare” when prompted).

Download handout about Medigap Policies.