MEDICARE HEALTH PLAN EXPANDS TO INCLUDE BENEFICIARIES IN COOK, KOOCHICHING COUNTIES, MINN.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved a request by First Plan of Minnesota Inc. to expand coverage to Medicare beneficiaries in two rural counties in northeastern Minnesota.
First Plan of Minnesota, based in Duluth, Minn., is now enrolling beneficiaries in Cook and Koochiching counties. About 4,100 Medicare beneficiaries live in the newly approved service area.
First Plan of Minnesota currently serves beneficiaries in Carlton, Itasca, Lake and St. Louis counties in northeastern Minnesota, and in parts of Pine County, Minn.
"First Plan of Minnesota is providing an important new option for Medicare benefi ciaries in these two northeastern Minnesota counties," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "The reality is, Medicare should provide all seniors - no matter where they live - with better health insurance options, including prescription drug coverage and preventive care. The President's goals for improving and modernizing Medicare will move us closer to that goal."
The plan will give beneficiaries in Cook and Koochiching counties another health plan option. Currently, two private-fee-for-service plans, Sterling Life Insurance Co. and Humana Insurance Co, operate in these counties. In addition, a Medicare HMO, Medica, is available in Koochiching County.
Members of both First Plan of Minnesota and Medica are able to use their plan’s providers at no or low co-payments. However, members may also obtain services outside of the plan's network and pay the standard Medicare deductibles and coinsurance. Medicare will pay its share of the approved charges.
"We want to make sure all Medicare beneficiaries are receiving the highest quality health c/are available, whether they are enrolled in a Medicare health plan or original Medicare," CMS Administrator Tom Scully said. "We are doing more to guarantee that beneficiaries understand the Medicare coverage options available to them. We also are reminding beneficiaries of the need to work closely with the doctors and other health care providers that give them medical care."
Medicare health plans are available where private companies choose to offer them. Currently, about 5.6 million Medicare beneficiaries -- out of a total of nearly 40 million aged and disabled Americans -- have enrolled in Medicare HMOs. Original fee-for-service Medicare, currently chosen by more than 34 million beneficiaries, is available to all beneficiaries.
Congress created Medicare+Choice in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 to expand the types of health care options available to Medicare beneficiaries, who in addition can now receive new preventive benefits and patient protections. There also is a far-reaching consumer information program that includes a national toll-free phone number -- 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or TTY/TDD, at 877-486-2048 -- an Internet site -- www.medicare.gov -- and a coalition of more than 200 national and local organizations to provide seniors more information.