Urgent Advice For Medicare Beneficiaries Dropped By HMO
Shop Now For New Coverage; Don't Switch Plans Until December 31

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla., November 9, 1998 -- For the hundreds of thousands of Medicare HMO beneficiaries losing their coverage on December 31, 1998 -- and for many more who could lose it in coming months -- Dr. Martin Weiss, chairman of Weiss Ratings, Inc. offers the following advice:

Step 1. Don't move yet. Stick with your HMO until December 31. If you drop out sooner, your withdrawal will be considered "voluntary," and you will immediately forfeit certain kinds of guaranteed coverage for next year.

Step 2. Start checking into alternatives right away. To avoid any coverage gaps, you will want to have your new policy in place on January 1.

Step 3. Seriously consider leaving HMOs entirely and using traditional Medicare plus a supplemental policy. Provided you don't withdraw until December 31, you are guaranteed eligibility in Medicare supplement insurance ("Medigap") regardless of your health status. Under this guarantee, you can choose among four different Medigap plans -- called Plans A, B, C and F. Depending on your health, you may also be eligible for six other Medigap plans available. With Medicare and Medigap, it's far less likely you will get dropped again. Plus, you will have more freedom to choose your provider or hospital and better access to specialists.

Warning: Your last day to take advantage of this guarantee is March 4 -- 63 days after your HMO coverage ends.

Step 4. Shop around for the least expensive Medigap policy that meets your needs. The cost of Medigap insurance can vary drastically by insurance provider -- even for identical plans offering the same benefits in the same location. For example, a 65-year-old male in Tucson, Arizona could pay $1,748 for Plan F from United American Insurance Company, but only $961 if he signed up with Kanawha Insurance Company.

So, if the policy that your agent quotes for you is too expensive, don't give up. There could be much cheaper policies available with the same benefits.

Step 5. Beware of future premium increases. Before you sign on the bottom line, find out if the insurance company will automatically raise your premiums as you get older. If it does, that may help explain why they're cheaper up-front.

Step 6. Approach HMOs with caution. Most HMOs are either losing money or not making "enough" on Medicare patients. So don't be surprised if many more decide to duck out of this business next year. However, if you can't afford Medigap, you may be able to find another HMO in your area. Ask your current HMO to give you the phone numbers.

Step 7. Investigate Medicare+Choice. As a future option, start investigating Medicare+Choice, a new program created by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The programs are still in the implementation process, and many plans are not even registered yet. Therefore, we do not advise replacing your coverage at the beginning of 1999, but you may want to consider it once the program is up and running smoothly. This month, the federal government is sending out an information booklet on the new program to all Medicare beneficiaries, or you can call 1-800-677-1116 to get a referral to your local counseling agency.

To help you shop for the least expensive and most stable Medigap policies, Weiss offers the Weiss Health Insurance Report for Seniors. Weiss will ask you to provide your age, gender, zip code, and county of residence. The Weiss report then provides you a customized listing of the actual premium rates that are offered to you for each of the 10 Medigap plans. It also gives you a guide to nearly all Medicare HMOs in the country. The report is available for $49 by calling 1-800-289-9222.

Weiss Ratings is the only independent rater of insurance companies, providing ratings on over 16,000 financial institutions, including life and health insurers, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, HMOs and other financial institutions. Weiss Safety Ratings are available at many local libraries or through insurance agents.

15430 Endeavour Drive, Jupiter, FL 33478 · (561) 627-3300 · www.weissratings.com