Medicare in Nebraska

More than a quarter of Nebraska counties don't have any Medicare Advantage plans available in 2019

At a glance: Medicare health insurance in Nebraska

Medicare enrollment in Nebraska

As of July 2020, 352,916 people had Medicare in Nebraska — about 18 percent of the state’s population.

Most beneficiaries filing for Medicare benefits are eligible for coverage because they’re at least 65 years old. But Medicare eligibility is also triggered when a person has been receiving disability benefits for 24 months. Nationwide, 15 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries are eligible due to disability. It’s a little lower in Nebraska, with just 13 percent of Medicare enrollment due to a disability.

Medicare Advantage in Nebraska

Although Medicare is funded and run by the federal government, enrollees can choose whether they want to receive their benefits directly from the federal government via Original Medicare or enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan offered by a private insurer, if such plans are available in their area.

Although most counties in the United States do have Medicare Advantage plans available for purchase, there are some areas in Nebraska where Original Medicare is the only option. Nebraska has 93 counties, and Medicare Advantage plans are available in 79 of them in 2020. Across those 79 counties, plan availability ranges from just two plans in several counties, up to 24 in Sarpy County.

Original Medicare includes Medicare Parts A and B. Medicare Advantage plans include all of the benefits of Medicare Parts A and B, and Advantage plans typically have additional benefits, such as integrated Part D prescription drug coverage and extras like dental and vision. But Advantage plans have limited provider networks (compared with the nationwide network of providers who participate with Original Medicare), and out-of-pocket costs are often higher than they would be under Original Medicare plus a Medigap plan. There are pros and cons to Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare, and no single solution that works for everyone.

Only 15 percent of beneficiaries of Medicare in Nebraska had Medicare Advantage plans as of 2018, compared with an average of 34 percent nationwide. The lower Medicare Advantage enrollment in Nebraska is due in part to the fact that some counties in Nebraska don’t have Medicare Advantage plans available for purchase. As of July 2020, there were 71,219 Medicare beneficiaries in Nebraska who were enrolled in private Medicare plans (as opposed to Original Medicare; that figure does not include people who had private coverage to supplement Original Medicare), although that had grown from only about 50,000 in late 2018. The private plan enrollment as of mid-2020 was about 20 percent of the state’s Medicare population.

Medicare’s annual open enrollment period (October 15 to December 7 each year) allows Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to switch between Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare and/or add or drop a Medicare Part D prescription plan. Medicare Advantage enrollees also have the option to switch to a different Advantage plan or to Original Medicare during the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, which runs from January 1 to March 31.

Medigap in Nebraska

Original Medicare does not limit out-of-pocket costs, so most enrollees maintain some form of supplemental coverage. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries receive their supplemental coverage through an employer-sponsored plan or Medicaid. But for those who don’t, Medigap plans (also known as Medicare supplement plans) are designed to pay some or all of the out-of-pocket costs (deductibles and coinsurance) that Medicare beneficiaries would otherwise have to pay themselves.

Medigap plans are sold by private insurers, but the plans are standardized under federal rules, with ten different plan designs (differentiated by letters, A through N). The benefits offered by a particular plan (Plan G, Plan F, etc.) are the same regardless of which insurer is selling the plan. So plan comparisons are much easier for Medigap policies than for other types of health insurance; consumers can base their decision on premiums and less tangible things like customer service, since the benefits themselves are uniform.

There are 47 insurers in Nebraska that offer Medigap plans, and according to an AHIP analysis, there were 180,773 Nebraska Medigap enrollees in 2018. So about 60 percent of Nebraska’s Original Medicare population (and about half of the state’s entire Medicare population) has supplemental coverage through Medigap plans. This is higher than the rate in most states; nationwide, about a quarter of Original Medicare beneficiaries have Medigap coverage.

Unlike other private Medicare coverage enrollment (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 13 percent of Nebraska Medicare beneficiaries are under 65 years old. But federal rules do not guarantee access to Medigap plans for people who are under 65. The majority of the states have stepped in to ensure at least some access to private Medigap plans for disabled enrollees under the age of 65, but Nebraska has not. Medigap insurers in Nebraska are not required to offer coverage to people under 65 years of age, although United American Insurance Company voluntarily offers some Medigap plans to disabled Medicare beneficiaries in Nebraska who are under age 65.

Instead of requiring private insurers to offer coverage, Nebraska’s safety-net option is to allow Medicare enrollees under the age of 65 to enroll in the state’s high-risk pool (NECHIP). But the pool does not sell regular Medigap plans (the way South Carolina’s high-risk pool does). Instead, NECHIP continues to offer the type of coverage that they provided prior to 2014, for people who couldn’t get coverage in the individual insurance market due to medical underwriting. The plans have deductibles that range from $5,000 to $10,000, and premiums vary based on age, tobacco use, and the deductible that the person selects. By state law, premiums are set higher than private individual market rates. But unlike regular individual market plans, the NECHIP coverage does work in conjunction with Medicare, helping to cover out-of-pocket costs that enrollees would otherwise have (AlaskaIowaNebraskaNew MexicoNorth DakotaSouth Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming also have high-risk pools that remain operational and offer supplemental coverage to Medicare beneficiaries).

As of 2019, however, there were only two people enrolled in NECHIP coverage in Nebraska. It appears that the vast majority of the state’s disabled Medicare beneficiaries either have supplemental Medicaid or employer-sponsored coverage, have obtained Medigap coverage via United American (the private Medigap insurer in Nebraska that does offer coverage to beneficiaries under age 65), or have enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans instead of Original Medicare (Medicare Advantage is available to Medicare beneficiaries of any age, although people with kidney failure generally cannot join a Medicare Advantage plan; this will change as of 2021, when Medicare Advantage will be available even to people with kidney failure). There are also likely some who are just relying on Original Medicare without any supplemental coverage. Disabled Medicare beneficiaries have access to the normal federally-required Medigap open enrollment period when they turn 65, regardless of how long they’ve been enrolled in Original Medicare at that point.

Although the Affordable Care Act eliminated pre-existing condition exclusions in most of the private health insurance market, those regulations 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 insurer can look back at your medical history in determining whether to accept your application, and at what premium.

Nebraska Medicare Part D

Original Medicare does not cover outpatient prescription drugs. More than half of Original Medicare beneficiaries have supplemental coverage via an employer-sponsored plan or Medicaid, and these plans often include prescription coverage. But Medicare enrollees without creditable drug coverage need to obtain Medicare Part D prescription coverage. Medicare Part D plans can be purchased as a stand-alone plan, or as part of a Medicare Advantage plan that includes Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

Insurers in Nebraska are offering 29 stand-alone Part D plans for sale in 2019, with premiums that range from about $13 to $90/month.

As of July 2020, there were 201,099 Medicare beneficiaries in Nebraska with stand-alone Medicare Part D plans. Another 62,343 had Medicare Part D coverage as part of their Medicare Advantage plans.

Medicare Part D enrollment follows the same schedule as Medicare Advantage enrollment: Beneficiaries can select a Medicare Part D plan when they’re first eligible for Medicare, and the annual election period each fall (October 15 to December 7) allows people to pick a different plan or enroll for the first time if they didn’t enroll when they were first eligible (there’s a late enrollment penalty for people who enroll in Medicare Part D after their initial enrollment window, unless they maintained creditable drug coverage from another source).

Medicare spending in Nebraska

In 2018, average per-beneficiary spending for Medicare in Nebraska was $9,610, based on data standardized to eliminate regional differences in payment rates (the data did not include costs for Medicare Advantage).

Nationwide, average per beneficiary Original Medicare spending was $10,096 per enrollee, so Medicare spending in Nebraska was about 5 percent below the national average. Per-beneficiary Original Medicare spending was highest in Louisiana, at $11,932, and lowest in Hawaii, at just $6,971.

Medicare in Nebraska: Resources

If you have questions about Medicare eligibility in Nebraska or Medicare enrollment in Nebraska, the Nebraska Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) can provide assistance with a wide range of topics related to Medicare in Nebraska.

Nebraska Medicare beneficiaries with limited income and assets may be eligible for Medicaid as well (nationwide, about 1 in 5 Medicare beneficiaries is also eligible for Medicaid). You can contact the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to learn more about Medicaid eligibility for people who are enrolled in Medicare.

The Nebraska Department of Insurance maintains a useful consumer information page about Medicare supplements (Medigap), including a list of the companies that offer Medigap plans and how much they charge for a 65-year-old applicant.


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 healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.

 

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