31 December 2009

Medigap Info Could Overwhelm

Blue Cross denies hiding its money-losing policy
Detroit Free Press

John and Rita Cox had to find another Medicare policy this fall after Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan eliminated their plan.

They wanted a Blue Cross Medigap plan for $112.12 a month each, just like Rita's cousin has. An independent insurance agent at the insurer's Southfield lobby gave them an application in October.

But back home, Cox, 81, a retired salaried Ford Motor Co. construction engineer, and his wife, 77, realized the policy the agent suggested was for Blue Care Network, a subsidiary of the insurer, a plan that would cost $203.33 a month for her and $254.49 for him.

Confused, they called their son, Mike, who happens to be Michigan's attorney general.

Mike Cox successfully fought to hold down a recent rate increase in Blue Cross Medigap policies. He has also accused the insurer several times in the past year of failing to adequately promote the money-losing Medigap policies.

Blue Cross spokesman Andy Hetzel said the insurer loses $1,000 on every Medigap policy.

Cox advised his parents to get the exact name of the policy from the cousin, then go back to the Southfield office and request an application. "And don't take no for an answer," Rita said her son told her.

They went back and left with an application for Legacy Medigap, the new name Blue Cross has given its Medigap policy. They also bought a separate Part D plan to pay for prescription drugs, as most seniors do because Medigap policies don't have drug coverage.

"They are hiding it," Rita Cox said of Blue Cross. "The ones being hurt are seniors."

The Coxes' experience underscores problems seniors have in trying to find out about Blue Cross Medigap policies.

Blue Cross denies it has hidden its Medigap policy or steered customers to its subsidiary. Some 2,200 seniors enrolled in the Legacy plan in the last month alone, a sign that "clearly there isn't a widespread issue with regard to accessing the application, filling it out or getting enrolled," Hetzel said. The insurer has made improvements to more prominently list Legacy Blue applications and information on its Web site.

Hetzel attributed confusion to the dozens of Michigan Medicare plans sold. "The Coxes' family experience unfortunately is what a lot of families go through right now," he said.

Some of the confusion stems from a new Medigap policy, MyBlue, offered by Blue Care Network, a subsidiary of Blue Cross.

MyBlue policies cost more because administrators can charge higher rates based on a person's age, gender, health status, weight and county of residence.

Blue Cross can't charge higher rates because it is required by state law, as Michigan's nonprofit insurer of last resort, to offer one price for its Medigap policies.

Insurance brokers also get no commission to sell Legacy Blue plans as they do for a Blue Care Network policy. The commission typically is 20% of a plan's monthly premium.

As a result, some brokers don't tell seniors about the Blue Cross Medicare products, according to several local insurance brokers. The ones that do, like Barbara Plecas, an insurance broker in Walled Lake, tell seniors about Legacy Blue because "it's the right thing to do," Plecas said.

Louis Isabell, general manager of the Wixom-based Allchoice insurance firm, said some of his clients who requested Legacy Blue applications in October still had not gotten them, so they bought plans from other insurers.

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