For agents selling Medicare plans, the stereotypical prospect has been someone with graying hair, approaching the age of 65 or already past it, and retired. There have always been those who don’t fit this stereotype; however, lately, you’ve probably noticed more of them.
Traditionally, getting to the big 6-5 has meant two things: one, that you’re now eligible for Medicare based on your age; and two, that you’re able to retire with full benefits. While this milestone birthday still marks the age of Medicare eligibility, it’s no longer the Social Security full-benefit retirement age. For those born in 1955 (and turning 65 next year), the full-benefit retirement age is 66 years and two months; this age will slowly increase to 67 for those born in or after 1960.
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, by 2024, the work force will include 36 percent of 65-to-69-year-olds. In addition, a 2014 AARP study tells us that 70 percent of experienced workers plan to work full-time or part-time in retirement. This whole paradigm shift not only affects seniors, but also those who closely work with this population. If you’re an insurance agent who sells Medicare plans, it’s time to consider how you need to adjust to better serve your clients and their changing needs.
You Must Be Able to Answer Questions About Medicare While Still Working
If your client is receiving employer coverage from an employer with 20 or more employees, they have options. They don’t have to switch to Medicare. They could delay Medicare Parts A and B without penalty. Your client could also sign up for Original Medicare, but it’s probably not worth it for them to pay for Part B since their employer coverage would be the primary payer. However, as long as they qualify for premium-free Part A, they should probably enroll in that.
Is your client receiving employer coverage from a company with fewer than 20 employees? The employer could require the client (and their spouse, if the spouse is on the insurance) to switch over to Medicare once they’re eligible. If this happens, Medicare will likely act as the primary payer and the employer plan will pay secondary.
You Must Be Ready to Help People Who Plan to Rejoin the Workforce
One Home Instead survey found that, after retirement, approximately 39 percent of U.S. workers aged 65 or older rejoined the workforce. If a client with Medicare “unretires” they’ll have to decide if they want to go on employer coverage, keep their Medicare coverage, or both. It’s important to be aware, and make your client aware, that, if they decide to unenroll from Medicare Part B when they (or their spouse) rejoin the workforce, they may have to pay a penalty when they re-enroll in it later on. The exception would be if they get a Special Enrollment Period to join Medicare Part B after their employer coverage ends.
One Home Instead survey found that, after retirement, approximately 39 percent of U.S. workers aged 65 or older rejoined the workforce.
You Must Explain How to Sign Up for or Delay Medicare Parts A and B
With your clients possibly having to make changes to their coverage, you’ll want to be sure they know how to do it. You don’t want a client assuming their Medicare coverage will start, or be delayed, automatically. Instruct your clients that they should contact their local Social Security office for assistance in enrolling in or dropping Medicare coverage. Let your client know that, if they receive their Medicare card in the mail, they can delay enrollment by following the instructions for sending back their Medicare card, which should come with the card.
You Must Tell Clients When Their Medicare Supplement OEP Occurs
During one’s Medicare Supplement (or “Medigap”) Open Enrollment Period (OEP), they don’t have to pass underwriting to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan, which is fantastic if they have health problems. Additionally, companies cannot charge individuals more for their plan if they have health problems.
If your client has employer coverage and there are less than 20 employees at the company, they should get a 63-day period after their employer coverage ends to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan with guaranteed issue rights. For a client with employer coverage through a company with 20+ employees, or a client without employer coverage, their Medicare Supplement OEP should start when they sign up for Part B. People who miss this OEP likely won’t be able to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan with guaranteed issue rights.
People who miss this OEP likely won’t be able to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan with guaranteed issue rights.
You Must Warn Your Clients of the Possibility of Late Enrollment Penalties
What your clients don’t know, they don’t know. Late enrollment penalties can exist for Medicare Part A, B, and D. Whether or not someone incurs a penalty depends on their unique situation — mainly whether they have employer coverage and what kind, the size of their employer, and when they sign up for Medicare. If a client incurs any penalties, they’ll pay them for the rest of the time they’re on Medicare. The penalties themselves may only be a few extra dollars a month, but they’ll add up over time!
You Must Ensure Clients Know You Can Help with the Transition to Medicare
Around the time people approach retirement age, they start receiving a lot more mail and papers. To stay at the forefront of your clients’ minds, we recommend reaching out to clients who are 64, and let them know that postponing their retirement may affect their Medicare enrollment deadlines. To rise above the noise even more, consider giving your clients a unique way to remember you. Don’t just hand them a business card or flyer that could get lost among all the other papers they’re receiving. Give them something with your info on it that’s harder to lose, like a backscratcher, fly swatter, or magnet!
Don’t just hand them a business card or flyer that could get lost among all the other papers they’re receiving. Give them something with your info on it that’s harder to lose!
You Must Be Increasingly Careful to Not Make Assumptions
By now, you know it’s important not to assume your clients will leave their job once they turn 65, or that they’ve already left their job if they’re over 65. There are also a few other items you need to make a conscious effort to avoid assuming. For example, if they’re still working, don’t assume that it’s full-time, and don’t assume they have employer coverage. On that note, don’t assume that a client who isn’t working doesn’t have employer health coverage. They may have it through a spouse.
How can you best avoid making assumptions like these and others? Make it a habit to ask your clients specific questions that get you the information you need to really help the client and serve them best.
As an agent, you already likely assist clients in all walks of life, all ages, incomes, and health backgrounds. Just because someone may fit the mold for a product based on one factor, like their age, it doesn’t mean that product is the right solution for them at that time. The world is changing, as it always will with time. The participation rate of older Americans is shifting in the labor force. And, this should mean more to you than a simple change in statistics. It means there’s a change in YOUR book (of business). If you recognize this transition and shift your business strategy, you’ll be well ahead of the curve.
A modified version of this article was previously published by InsuranceNewsNet.com in October 2019.