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Medicare in Louisiana

One in five Louisiana Medicare beneficiaries is under 65. Medigap insurers are required to offer them coverage, but the premiums are substantially higher

Photo credit: Bart Everson | Flickr

Key takeaways

Medicare enrollment in Louisiana

As of October 2020, there were 886,345 residents enrolled in Medicare in Louisiana, which is about 19 percent of the state’s population and roughly the same as the percentage of the total U.S. population with Medicare coverage enrollment.

For most Americans, filing for Medicare benefits goes along with turning 65. But Medicare eligibility is also triggered for younger people if they’re disabled and have been receiving disability benefits for 24 months, or are diagnosed with ALS or end-stage renal disease.

In Louisiana, 20 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are under the age of 65. That’s higher than the nationwide average of 15 percent; only five states have a higher rate of disabled Medicare beneficiaries.

Medicare options

Residents can choose how to access their Medicare benefits. The first choice is between Medicare Advantage plans, where coverage is through private health insurance companies, or Original Medicare, where medical claims are paid directly by the federal government. Medicare beneficiaries also have options around Medigap policies and Medicare Part D (prescription drug) coverage.

Original Medicare includes Part A (also called hospital insurance), which helps pay for inpatient stays at a hospital, skilled nursing facility, or hospice center, and Part B (also called medical insurance), which helps pay for outpatient care like physician services, kidney dialysis, outpatient surgeries, physical therapy, preventive health care, and durable medical equipment.

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Medicare Advantage plans include all the coverage of Parts A and B, although cost-sharing amounts (deductible, coinsurance, copays) can be very different. Advantage plans usually include extra benefits, such as Part D prescription drug coverage and dental and vision coverage. But Advantage plans also tend to have limited provider networks and higher out-of-pocket costs than a person would have if they enrolled in Original Medicare plus a Medigap plan. There are pros and cons to either option, and the “right” solution is different for each individual.

Medicare’s annual election period (October 15 to December 7 each year) allows Medicare beneficiaries the chance to switch between Medicare Advantage enrollment and Original Medicare (and add, drop, or switch to a different Medicare Part D prescription plan). And beneficiaries who are already enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans also have the option to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan or to change to Original Medicare during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, which runs from January 1 to March 31.

Medicare Advantage in Louisiana

Private Medicare Advantage plans are available throughout Louisiana. Every parish in Louisiana has at least 19 Medicare Advantage plans available for 2021, and as many as 44 plans are for sale in some counties.

34 percent of the state’s Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans as of 2018, which was the same as the percentage of Medicare beneficiaries with Medicare Advantage plans nationwide. As of October 2020, private Medicare enrollment in Louisiana stood at 377,741 people; the other 508,604 had Original Medicare. So by that point, Medicare Advantage enrollment had grown to nearly 43 percent of the state’s Medicare population.

Medigap in Louisiana

Original Medicare does not limit out-of-pocket costs (i.e., deductible and copay), so most enrollees maintain some form of supplemental coverage. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries get their supplemental coverage through an employer-sponsored plan or Medicaid. But for those who don’t, Medigap plans (also known as Medicare supplement plans) will pay some or all of the out-of-pocket costs they would otherwise have to pay if they had only Original Medicare. According to an AHIP analysis, 153,054 Louisiana Medicare beneficiaries had supplemental coverage under Medigap plans as of 2018. That was about 28 percent of the state’s Original Medicare beneficiaries (Medigap plans do not work with Medicare Advantage plans).

Medigap plans are sold by private insurers, but the plans are standardized under federal rules. There are ten different plan designs (differentiated by letters, A through N), and the benefits offered by a particular plan (Plan G, Plan N, etc.) are the same regardless of which insurer sells the plan.

There were 35 insurers that offered Medigap plans in Louisiana when the state published its most recent Medigap shopping guide in 2017. But as of 2020, Medicare’s plan finder tool showed 45 Medigap insurers offering plans in the state. Medigap insurers in the state are required to maintain minimum loss ratios of at least 65 percent for individual policies, and at least 75 percent for employer group policies. This means that at least 65 percent (or 75 percent for group plans) of the premium revenue that the insurers bring in must be spent on enrollees’ medical claims.

Unlike other private Medicare coverage (Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans), there is no annual open enrollment window for Medigap plans. Instead, federal rules provide a one-time six-month window when Medigap coverage is guaranteed-issue. This window starts when a person is at least 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B (you must be enrolled in both Part A and Part B to buy a Medigap plan).

People who aren’t yet 65 can enroll in Medicare if they’re disabled and have been receiving disability benefits for at least two years, and one out of every five Louisiana Medicare beneficiaries is under age 65. Federal rules do not guarantee access to Medigap plans for people who are under 65, but the majority of the states have implemented rules to ensure that disabled Medicare beneficiaries have at least some access to Medigap plans. Louisiana is among them, although the state’s 2017 Medigap guide indicates that is a fairly recent development in the state.

In Louisiana, disabled Medicare beneficiaries under the age of 65 have the same six-month open enrollment period for Medigap plans as a person who becomes eligible for Medicare in Louisiana due to age. But premiums are dramatically higher for enrollees under the age of 65 (in most cases, several times higher). People who are enrolled in Medicare prior to age 65 have another Medigap open enrollment period when they turn 65. At that point, they can switch to a plan with the lower premiums that apply to people who are aging into Medicare, rather than qualifying due to disability.

Disabled Medicare beneficiaries can opt for Medicare Advantage instead, as long as they don’t have kidney failure (as of 2021, beneficiaries with kidney failure will be able to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans). Medicare Advantage plans are otherwise available to anyone who is eligible for Medicare, and the premiums are not higher for those under 65. But as noted above, Advantage plans have more limited provider networks than Original Medicare, and total out-of-pocket costs can be as high as $6,700 per year for in-network care, in addition to prescription drug costs (note that this upper limit will increase to $7,550 as of 2021, although many Medicare Advantage plans will continue to have out-of-pocket maximums well below this amount).

Although the Affordable Care Act eliminated pre-existing condition exclusions in most of the private health insurance market, those rules don’t apply to Medigap plans. Medigap insurers can impose a pre-existing condition waiting period of up to six months if you didn’t have at least six months of continuous coverage prior to your enrollment. And if you apply for a Medigap plan after your initial enrollment window closes (assuming you aren’t eligible for one of the limited guaranteed-issue rights), the Medigap insurer can consider your medical history in determining whether to accept your application, and at what premium.

Louisiana Medicare Part D

Original Medicare does not provide coverage for outpatient prescription drugs. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries have supplemental coverage via an employer-sponsored plan (from a current or former employer or spouse’s employer) or Medicaid, and these plans often include prescription coverage.

But Medicare beneficiaries who do not have drug coverage through Medicaid or an employer-sponsored plan need to obtain Medicare Part D in order to have coverage for prescriptions. It can be purchased as a stand-alone plan, or as part of a Medicare Advantage plan with integrated Part D prescription drug coverage.

There are 26 stand-alone Medicare Part D plans for sale in Louisiana for 2021, with premiums that range from about $7 to $93/month.

324,389 beneficiaries of Medicare in Louisiana — about 37 percent of the state’s total Medicare population — had prescription coverage under stand-alone Medicare Part D plans as of late 2020. Another 364,527 had Medicare Part D coverage integrated with their Medicare Advantage plans.

Medicare Part D enrollment follows the same schedule as Medicare Advantage: Beneficiaries can pick a Medicare Part D plan when they’re first eligible for Medicare, and they can switch plans during the annual open enrollment period in the fall, from October 15 to December 7, with coverage that takes effect the following January.

Medicare spending in Louisiana

Average per-beneficiary spending on Medicare in Louisiana was $11,932 in 2018, based on data that were standardized to eliminate regional differences in payment rates, and did not include costs for Medicare Advantage enrollment. Per-beneficiary Medicare spending in Louisiana was the highest in the nation, and 18 percent higher than the national average. At the other end of the spectrum, per-beneficiary Medicare spending was lowest in Hawaii, at just $6,971.

How does Medicaid provide financial assistance to Medicare beneficiaries in Louisiana?

Many Medicare beneficiaries receive assistance through Medicaid with the cost of Medicare premiums, prescription drug expenses, and services not covered by Medicare – such as long-term care.

Our guide to financial assistance for Medicare enrollees in Louisiana includes overviews of these programs, including long-term care benefits, Medicare Savings Programs, and eligibility guidelines for assistance.

Medicare in Louisiana: Resources

These resources provide free assistance and information about Medicare programs and availability in Louisiana.

Contact the Louisiana Senior Health Insurance Information Program for help with Medicare enrollment in Louisiana or have questions about Medicare eligibility in Louisiana

The state has also created a user-friendly stoplight-style quick guide to private Medicare options.

The Medicare Rights Center website provides information geared to Medicare beneficiaries, caregivers, and professionals.

Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.

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