Medicare can be challenging. This is especially true when you first enter the program. First, you’ve probably had minimal experience shopping for individual insurance. Not only that, but Medicare is different than pretty much every other individual plan on the market. Finally, every insurance agent and call center in the nation is trying to earn your business.
This can be overwhelming as you prepare to exit the workforce, and you ultimately want unbiased advice. You may consider using a Michigan Medicare Counseling provider.
In today’s article, we’ll explore who these people are, what they do, and the limitations using one may present.
Before I start this article, I want to be very clear that I am not speaking negatively on the program, their representatives, or people who use them. Adding a somewhat side note, I can’t be one because I have an insurance license.
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What is Michigan Medicare Counseling?
Michigan Medicare counseling is a free service for all Michigan residents. They help seniors and their caregivers concerning Medicare and Medicaid questions and enrollments.
In Michigan, it’s called MMAP (pronounced MAP) and is a part of the Area Agencies of Aging. Their funding comes from the state of Michigan and falls under the federal SHIP program (State Health Insurance Assistance Programs.)
While counselors have a number of functions that an insurance agent would have, they are not licensed and are 100% unpaid volunteers. Their responsibility is to offer unbiased advice and information to seniors about their options and how Medicare works.
What Sort of Help Can You Expect With Michigan Medicare Counseling?
Counselors offer a number of services, as noted above, that traditional insurance agents offer as well. For example, you can expect a counselor to explain how Medicare works and how it applies to your specific situation, such as:
- How Medicare works with other forms of insurance (such as VA benefits, Tricare, Medicaid, or you/your spouse’s insurance plan.
- Extra Help resources that may be available for you to pay for drugs and Medicare premiums.
- Assist in enrollment, appeals, coverage, and claims.
- Explain Medicare insurance programs (Original Medicare vs Medicare Advantage)
- Help identify and report Medicare abuse
- Review drug plans and other sources of prescription assistance
- Review and compare Medicare Supplement plans.
Is it a Good Idea to Use a Michigan Medicare Counselor to Sign Up for Private Insurance?
SHIP Counselors and Michigan Medicare counseling are very knowledgeable in the technical aspects of Medicare and how to navigate those systems. They also understand the basics when it comes to private Medicare insurance programs (like Medigap, Medicare Advantage, and drug plans.)
However, unlike licensed insurance agents, counselors aren’t specialists when it comes to evaluating specific insurance companies. So, you may be getting incomplete advice when it comes to specific plans, and how companies interact within the state.
For example, a counselor can explain what Medicare Part’s A, B, C, and D are and generally how a Medigap plan works. However, they can’t explain to you that Company A is a better fit for you with your Medigap plan because they offer lifetime stable rates or they have a niche underwriting specialty that can get you approved easier (when required.)
There’s also the issue that SHIP counselors are reactive solutions and not proactive solutions. For example, SHIP counselors won’t reach out to you if there are changes in your plan that you aren’t alerted to yet. You must initiate contact.
For example, a SHIP counselor won’t contact you during annual enrollment to find out if your drugs have changed. That may mean you need to switch drug plans for maximum benefits.
Alternatives to Michigan Medicare Counselors
The best alternative to SHIP counselors are independent insurance agents that specialize in Medicare. They can help with all of the functions that a you can get out of a Michigan Medicare counseling session, but also have a financial incentive to keep you satisfied AND be proactive when something comes up.
What is an Independent Insurance Agent?
Insurance agents come in two flavors: Captive and Independent.
Captive agents work for one company. Their options are limited to only what the company allows them to offer. When they offer you a solution, their offering the only solution they have available.
Independent agents, on the other hand, do not work for an insurance company. They can represent/present multiple solutions for your consideration OR narrow down a solution to a specific company that offers you the best overall value for your situation.
How to Select an Insurance Agent
Not all independent insurance agents are created equal. Each agent has their own goals and motivations on why they’re in the industry.
1) The biggest thing to consider is if you can work with someone in the long run (do you like and trust them.) Medicare insurance is not a one-and-done decision. Your needs, costs, and interests will possibly change over time. Having a single resource that knows YOUR situation is paramount to ensure you’re getting the best advise.
2) Your agent should guide, but never make a decision for you. Their job is to advise and offer a solution. If that solution doesn’t fit your interests after you fully understand it, then they should stop pushing it for the time being.
3) What do you get from them after the sale? Insurance agents get paid YEARS based on your plan. It’s important to know that they’re not just hanging you out to dry why they collect the money. They should be evaluating your plan annually and helping you as you need to ensure to have the best value for your coverage.
Michigan Medicare counseling and SHIP Counselors are a great resource for people that have basic needs or need technical assistance concerning the program itself. However, when it comes to the private insurance aspect of Medicare, they’re not the best tool for the best value.
It’s important to work with someone (especially when it comes to the private insurance components of Medicare) that understands private insurance, like gap coverage and Medicare Advantage/drug plans, on top of your states Medicare program alternatives or Extra Help services.