Banking Commerce and Insurance

Bill would expand eligibility for supplemental Medicare

Nebraskans who are younger than 65 and receiving Medicare benefits because of a disability could apply for supplemental Medicare coverage under a bill considered Feb. 15 by the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

LB1190, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would allow individuals within the first six months of becoming eligible for Medicare because of disability, or within 63 days following termination of group coverage, to purchase supplemental Medicare health insurance policies. Rates for such a policy could not exceed the cost charged to individuals who qualify for Medicare by age.

Lathrop said individuals who qualify for Medicare before turning 65 often are denied supplemental coverage or are required to pay prohibitively expensive premiums. The bill would protect Nebraskans who earn too much to qualify for Medicare but are unable to afford out-of-pocket medical costs, he said.

“These are people who have worked hard and saved and now we’re saying ‘you really don’t have any options until you get poor enough,’” Lathrop said.

Jean Kay of North Platte testified in favor of LB1190. Multiple sclerosis caused her to buy into Medicare before she was 65 to pay for medication that cost $8,000 a month, she said. Still, treatment and medication were too expensive without Medicare supplemental insurance, causing her husband to close his law practice and obtain a job with health insurance coverage. The closest job he could find was in Fargo, N.D., Kay said.

“We could call each other daily, that way he [could] rest assured that if I fell and couldn’t get up — and he couldn’t get ahold of me — he could send someone over,” she said. “No one plans to have a disease lead to a disability.”

Wendy Schrag of Fresenius Medical Care also testified in support. Her company operates in 49 states, she said, many of which allow individuals under 65 to purchase supplemental Medicare plans, and none have seen an increase in premiums for Medicare customers 65 and older.

Robert Bell, testifying on behalf of the Nebraska Insurance Federation, opposed LB1190. The bill could lead to increased premiums for older Nebraskans, he said, and those unable to buy into Medicare have access to other insurance products like Nebraska Advantage.

“If there’s an increase in claim amounts, premiums will have to increase,” Bell said. “How much, I can’t say.”

April Ayres of Mutual of Omaha also spoke in opposition. She said individuals younger than 65 who receive Medicare benefits make claims that average six times higher than traditional Medicare recipients.

The committee took no immediate action on LB1190.

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