Medicare Supplement Insurance Plans

Medicare Supplement Insurance policies help fill in the cost gaps that Original Medicare doesn't cover. These policies are not a government benefit, like Part A and Part B. Medicare Supplement Insurance policies are sold by private insurance companies.

What's covered?

The different standardized Medicare Supplement Insurance policies vary in which cost gaps in coverage they fill. You may receive coverage for:

  • Original Medicare deductibles, copays and coinsurance.
  • The cost of additional days in the hospital after you've used up your Part A benefits.
  • Excess provider charges not covered by Part B.
  • Some preventive care not covered by Original Medicare.
  • The cost of blood transfusions (first three pints).
  • Foreign travel medical emergencies.
  • At-home recovery.

The benefits in Medicare Supplement Insurance plans A through L are the same for any insurance company. For example, Medicare Supplement Insurance plan A offers the same benefits in California as it does in Colorado. Each insurance company decides which Medicare Supplement Insurance policies it wants to sell.

Not all plans may be available in all states. In addition, please note that different variations of plans are available to the residents of Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Please visit Medicare's official Web site to learn more about Medicare Supplement Insurance policies.

Are there limits to coverage?

All Medicare Supplement Insurance policies provide an additional 365 days of hospital care during your lifetime, beyond the 60-day lifetime reserve provided by Part A. No Medicare Supplement Insurance policy covers days in a skilled nursing facility beyond the 100 days that Part A will pay for.

As a rule, there are no geographic limits on where you receive the care covered by your Medicare Supplement Insurance policy, as long as care is received in the United States. Some policies do cover some emergency care outside the U.S.

How much does it cost?

You'll need to pay your Part B premium, in addition to a premium for your Medicare Supplement Insurance plan. Typically, the more generous the coverage, the higher the premium. However, premiums for Medicare Supplement Insurance policies can vary widely from insurer to insurer, even when the exact same coverage is being offered. For some plans, your premiums may rise as you get older, after you've bought the policy.

None of the standardized Medicare Supplement Insurance plans require copays. Plans K and L use coinsurance to split costs between you and your insurance company until you reach your out-of-pocket limit.

Some companies offer high deductible versions of plans F and J. With these plans, you'll pay a deductible first, before the plan begins covering any of your expenses.

How do I enroll?

You can apply to buy a Medicare Supplement Insurance policy any time after you reach age 65 and join Medicare Part B. Medicare guarantees you the right to buy any Medicare Supplement Insurance policy available where you live during the six months after you turn 65 and enroll in Medicare Part B. This six-month period is called your open enrollment period.

During this time, an insurer can't consider your medical history or current health when setting the plan's premium. However, they may be able to make you wait for six months before coverage begins if you have a pre-existing condition when you buy the plan. After your open enrollment period ends, insurers can refuse coverage or charge you a higher premium based on your health.

Each private insurance company that offers Medicare Supplement Insurance plans handles the enrollment process for its plans. You'll need to contact the company directly and ask how to enroll.

You can contact your state's State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to get a list of plans offered in your state. SHIPTalk offers access to one-on-one counseling, education programs and other assistance. State Health Insurance Assistance Programs are federally funded for people with Medicare and their families.