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Pause to Remember Memorial Day

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Memorials in Cemetery with American FlagsBlue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina knows a lot about working to give the residents of NC the peace of mind that comes from knowing you and your family are covered for all of your health care needs.  BCBSNC understands the value implicit in being covered when it counts.  As Americans, however, Memorial Day is a sobering reminder that peace of mind and knowing someone has your back in times of trouble doesn’t come free.   That is what Memorial Day is all about.  This weekend we celebrate the men and women of the Armed Forces, both past and present, who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom and protection.

Although Memorial Day is typically, and I think appropriately, celebrated by throwing some burgers on the grill in the backyard, the holiday has some important origins.  Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed every year on the last Monday of May.  The holiday originated after the American Civil War to honor soldiers of both the Union and Confederate armies who had died during the war.  Even today, many people visit cemeteries or war memorials on this day and hundreds of volunteers place a small American flag on each grave in the national cemeteries.  Not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, which honors all the men and women of the Armed Forces, Memorial Day is a day specifically intended to celebrate and remember the service members who died while serving.

The traditional observance of Memorial Day is as follows:  The United States flag is raised to the top of the staff and then slowly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon.  The half-staff position is in memory of the more than one million men and women who have given their lives in service of their country.  At noon, the flag is then raised by the living to full-staff as a symbolic resolution not to let the sacrifice of the dead be in vain, but to stand in their place and continue to fight for liberty.

This Memorial Day, while we are grilling burgers, taking our kids to the beach or taking our boats out to sea with friends, let us a take a moment and be thankful for the freedom we still enjoy.  It may sound pithy, but freedom really isn’t free and the fact that we can do the things we love the most is a gift for which many men and women have given their lives.

For more information on acquiring Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina health insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

 

Medicare Supplement Plan F vs Plan G

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

For years, the Medicare Supplement Plan F has been the most popular of the Supplemental plans.  The plan is currently the richest benefit Medicare Supplement available in most states.  It provides coverage for all the gaps in Original Medicare.  The extremely high level of benefits has drawn Medicare shopper’s attention and has helped it develop a well-known reputation with consumers of Medicare Supplement plans.  Despite being the richest benefit plan, we often find there is a better plan option when a comparison is made.

The Plan G is almost identical to the Plan F with one exception- the Part B deductible.  The Part B deductible in 2018 is $183.  The Plan G does not provide coverage for this deductible which means the member would be responsible for paying this amount of $183 out of pocket when incurring Medical expenses for things like doctor’s office visits.  Once the Part B deductible is met, the Plan G pays exactly the same benefits as the Plan F.

In recent years, the monthly premiums for the Plan G have become significantly less than the Plan F premiums.  These lower premiums have made the Plan G a very attractive plan for shoppers.

Comparing the two plans is actually pretty simple.  If the premium savings over the course of the year exceeds the Part B deductible, the Medicare beneficiary will be better off on a Plan G.  For example: If the Plan F is $150/month and the Plan G is $120/mo, the beneficiary will save $30 per month on Plan G.  That is a $360 difference in premium over a year, but then figure in the Part B deductible (which is $183 in 2018) and the total savings over the year equals $177.  Because the math almost always makes the Plan G a better fit, we have seen this plan significantly grow in popularity over the past several years.

It’s important to do this comparison when considering these two options.  Let our Medicare Advisors help you through this process and see whether you could save money by comparing the difference in the Medicare Supplement Plan F vs Plan G.  If you are an existing Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC Medicare Supplement member, you are able to make a change to your Medicare Supplement plan during the month of May without having to answer health questions in order to qualify.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

6 Topics to Consider Outside Open Enrollment

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Whether you are enrolled in Medicare, Health Insurance, or are uninsured, there are some concepts, rules and requirements to consider outside the Annual Enrollment Periods.  Here is a list of a few basics to consider about insurance despite currently being outside the heavily publicized Open Enrollment Periods.

  1. 1095 Tax Forms– As most are filing taxes this time of year, don’t forget the IRS may require you to show proof of health insurance. The 1095 tax forms serve as proof of health insurance coverage.  These 1095 forms can be provided by the Health Insurance Marketplace or by a private insurance carrier, depending on how you are enrolled.  We recommend consulting a Certified Public Accountant for more information on about the need for these forms.
  2. Short Term Health Insurance– If you are currently uninsured and have not recently experienced a Qualifying Event that would allow you to enroll in a qualified health insurance plan, a short term health plan may be an option. Short term plans do not comply with the Affordable Care Act regulations which allows shoppers to enroll in these plan outside the Open Enrollment Period.  You could qualify for coverage to begin as early as the next day.
  3. Medicare Supplements “Blue to Blue”– If you are an existing Blue Cross of NC Medicare Supplement member, you are currently able to make a change to your Medicare Supplement plan during the month of May to take effect on June 1st. See rates for alternative Medicare Supplement plans here.  The capability to change plans during this time frame is through the Blue to Blue program.
  4. Dental Insurance– Don’t forget your smile! Dental insurance plans can be enrolled in anytime throughout the course of the year.  These plans are not regulated like health insurance plans by separate enrollment periods.  Learn More about BCBSNC Dental Insurance
  5. Qualifying Life Events– If you have experienced a Qualifying Life Event, this could allow you to make a change to your health plan or enroll in a new plan. Get a Blue Cross Quote to see whether any of the Qualifying Events apply to you.
  6. Report Income Changes to the Marketplace– If you are enrolled in a health insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace and you have experienced an income change, it’s important to report this change to the Marketplace. Income changes can impact health insurance plan rates and coverage.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

Kennon Wainwright a Leader in the North Carolina Medicare Market

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

At Jerry Ballard & Associates we strive for excellence and like to recognize outstanding performance by our Agents.  We would like to announce some of these achievements in our Medicare, over 65 Market through Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), for high standards and production.  Our Agency Manager, Kennon Wainwright,  finished Number 1 in our region for top production in Medicare Supplement coverage and Number 2 overall in the State of North Carolina.  He also placed Number 2 in our Region on Medicare Advantage sales and Number 3 overall in the State of North Carolina.  We offer all North Carolina Medicare products through our Carrier, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC.

If you are turning 65 or transitioning to Medicare in the next 6 months, give Kennon a call and let him guide you through this cumbersome and confusing process.  He is happy to to go over all the different supplement plans offered through our Agency and provide all the tools and information necessary to make the best choice.  If you would like to generate a quote for these Medicare Plans CLICK HERE to begin.

We also offer Senior Dental Plans through BCBSNC.  If you would like to generate a quote and/or Apply on Line, please CLICK HERE to get started.

Kennon resides on the coast in beautiful Morehead City, North Carolina with his wife and children.  He attended Virginia Episcopal for High School before entering The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   Kennon is a tremendous asset to our agency and brings knowledge about all BCBSNC products to best serve you and all your insurance needs.

2018 Open Enrollment for Health Insurance and Medicare Plans

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

The Annual Open Enrollment Period is the one time of the year when eligible customers can start new coverage or make changes to existing coverage.  The Medicare Annual Open Enrollment Period and the Health Insurance Annual Open Enrollment Period have different dates and serve different groups of eligible customers.

Individual Health Insurance

The 2018 Health Insurance Annual Open Enrollment Period under the Affordable Care Act will begin on November 1st, 2017 and last until December 15th, 2017 for a plan that will take effect on January 1st, 2018.  These dates are different than prior years and the time period is much shorter.  Any new enrollment or change to an existing health plan must be done between these dates unless one has experienced a Qualifying Life Event which could allow for changes outside this window.  If an Individual Health Insurance plan is not required to follow these enrollment guidelines, the plan is likely not compliant with the Affordable Care Act regulations.

During the Open Enrollment Period, applications and changes to plans can be made through numerous different avenues.  For this reason, it’s always a good idea to contact an agent for guidance on the easiest ways to enroll or make changes to your health plan.  You can speak with one of our qualified representatives for more information or assistance enrolling in a plan.  Call our toll free number today 888-765-5400.

Medicare Plans

The 2018 Medicare Annual Open Enrollment Period will begin on Oct 15th, 2017 and last until December 7th, 2017 for a plan that will take effect on January 1st, 2018.  This Enrollment Period is set up for Medicare Advantage Plans and Part D Prescription Drug Plans.  Both plans are offered through private insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC.  Medicare also has other Enrollment Periods for times like a 65th birthday or Qualifying Events, which may also enable customers to enroll in Medicare Plans.

Medicare eligible customers are typically over the age of 65 or under 65 with certain disabilities.  If a person is enrolled in Medicare, they would not also be eligible for an Individual Health Insurance plan.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

Happy July 4th from NC Health Plans

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

NC Health Plans wishes you a Happy Independence Day.  July 4th has always been one of my favorite holidays. Because freedom is something to savor. To enjoy. To celebrate. But most of all to appreciate.

Never should we take the precious freedoms we daily enjoy for granted. Freedom was not cheap. Freedom was a dream purchased with the blood of our forbearers.

One of the most enjoyable and exciting ways to celebrate our nation’s independence is to set off some fireworks. This 4th of July, it’s important to remember that fireworks can be dangerous. They can cause burns and eye injuries in both children and adults, as well as more serious injuries. Of course, the best way to protect your family is not to use any fireworks at home and take your family to your local public fireworks display and leave the show to the professionals.

So today, as we celebrate with parades, BBQ and fireworks. Let’s remember and be thankful. God Bless America, and may we continue to be the shining example of freedom.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

2018 Plans and Rates with Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

As controversy and debate continue in Washington over the future of the healthcare system, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC is planning for 2018.  In late May, Blue Cross filed 2018 plans and rates with the North Carolina Department of Insurance.  Insurance rates were filed for health insurance plans in all 100 counties of North Carolina for an average rate increase of 22.9%.  The Director of Actuarial and Pricing Services at BCBSNC wrote an article explaining these rate increases.

BCBSNC has also been very clear that while filing for rates and health plans in all 100 North Carolina counties for 2018, many uncertainties continue.  The health insurance industry still expects significant change. However, the makeup and impact of this change is not known.  The timeframe and timeline of this change is also unknown.  These unknowns make preparation for the coming year very difficult for the insurance companies.  There are tremendous amounts of laws, regulations, and factors that are currently being discussed in Washington which directly impact the plans and rates of health insurance in North Carolina.

These unknowns also make preparation very difficult for the thousands of customers that depend on Individual and family health insurance plans in NC.  Blue Cross NC currently has over 500,000 customers enrolled in Individual ACA plans.  These rates, however, will impact this group differently.  The customers receiving a subsidy through the Health Insurance Marketplace will likely be less impacted if these plans and rates are approved.  The customers that do not receive any subsidy will likely be most impacted by these changes.

Despite the potential future changes, our commitment to North Carolinians will not change.  We are committed to providing North Carolinians with updates, advice, and the guidance needed to navigate this unique health insurance market.  We feel people need straight forward advice on the impacts of the health insurance industry changes now more than ever.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

NC Health Plans Remembers Memorial Day

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Flags And Graves

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The above lines were written by Robert Laurence Binyon in September of 1914, but they are still and most especially, true today.  As residents of North Carolina, one of the largest state contributors of military service members in the nation, the agents at NC Health Plans would like to take a moment and remember those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  Although Memorial Day is often celebrated by eating a burger on a boat or having a beer at the beach, we are sincerely grateful we enjoy the freedom to work and relax as we see fit.

And we recognize that such freedom was purchased at a price.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

 

 

 

Known Changes to NC Health Insurance in 2018

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Between media outlets and elected officials in Washington, there is no shortage of discussion and published content about the future of health insurance in North Carolina and across the country.  However, we still have very little concrete direction about what consumers, insurance companies and the healthcare industry can expect moving forward.  In the beginning of 2017, we provided our thoughts on the health insurance market in North Carolina moving forward.  Now, in May, we have some information about known changes, but uncertainty still exists.

The most recent and significant changes will impact all health insurance shoppers during the coming years Open Enrollment Period.  On April 13th, the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services introduced final “Market Stabilization” rules for the Individual health insurance market.  From these changes, the Open Enrollment Period is now set to begin on November 1st and end of December 15th for an effective date of January 1st.  This will be the shortest Open Enrollment Period thus far and is the first time only one effective date option is available.  The previous Open Enrollment lasted until January 31st and offered effective dates of both February 1st and March 1st.  This means shoppers will need to make sure they have completed the enrollment process during these new Open Enrollment dates, otherwise, Special Enrollment Period requirements will apply.

Other notable changes impact Special Enrollment Periods and the requirement for documentation to prove Qualifying Life Events in order to enroll in health insurance plans outside the Open Enrollment Period.  This has been a request of insurance companies for several years now and simply requires customers to verify with supporting documentation that a Qualifying Life Event has occurred.

Other major changes are expected, but timelines and impacts of possible changes are very difficult to calculate now.  As we receive further guidance, we will continue to update the consumer community and empower you with the knowledge needed to navigate this constantly changing health insurance market.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

Affordable Health Insurance in NC- What We Can All Do

Friday, March 17th, 2017

The cost of health insurance and healthcare is growing and has been for a long time; but what can be done?  First, let’s understand that the health insurance industry is very complicated and unlikely to be accurately summarized in a short article.  The topic can be broken down into so many segments, each of which deserves its own time and attention.  Few segments are as important as the concept of affordability.  Without affordability, health insurance begins to lose its value and is capable of serving less people.

The concept of affordability is no simple matter.  Analyzing Medical Loss Ratios and actuarial values is a task performed by some of the best and brightest the insurance companies have to offer.  There’s no question these professionals have earned a seat at the table when discussing the cost of health insurance.

When looking beyond the highly publicized drivers of health insurance costs, there are a few much more simple concepts that can have significant impact on the affordability of health insurance in North Carolina and the entire country.  These are ways consumers can help in the fight to lower healthcare spending and health insurance premiums.

  1. Eat Healthy and Exercise Regularly: There is no shortage of available information about healthy diets and exercise. Positive Health Wellness is a great resource for ideas that can help us live healthier lifestyles and feel better as a result.  Large insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina have been open about concerns regarding the health status of so many insured members.  This has initiated the insurance company to become more active in paving the way for their member to live healthier lifestyles.
  2. Take advantage of preventive care doctor visits: Most health insurance plans have coverage for services like routine physicals and screenings.  Typically, these visits are covered at 100%.  Utilizing these covered services may help identify potential illnesses before they become more severe.
  3. Use the Emergency Room for Emergencies: BCBSNC has found that a very large percentage of emergency room visits are for non-emergency situation that could have been handled in a Primary Care Doctors Office or an Urgent Care facility.  Emergency Rooms are often one of the most expensive places to seek care.  Emergency Rooms serve an important purpose and are recommended for certain situations.  However, it’s important to make sure this is the best place to be seen based on the circumstances.

Understanding that we all have some control of the cost of health insurance can change the conversation.  The recommendations listed don’t provide an immediate fix to the on-going problems but they can certainly contribute to a solution.

Obamacare too Expensive? Let’s Talk Alternatives…

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

“Obamacare” is a popular term used to describe the Affordable Care Act.  As insurance advisors, one question customers frequently ask is “Do you offer anything other than Obamacare?”  Understanding this question is most important before answering it.

First, Affordable Care Act compliant plans are not only health insurance plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace or “Exchange.”  They are also health plans offered “Off Exchange” or directly through insurance companies, as long as they meet all requirements under the Affordable Care Act.  In North Carolina, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina offers the vast majority of the ACA compliant health plans both on and off the Exchange.  Blue Cross offers plans in all 100 counties and in 2017 was the only company offering “On Exchange” plans in 94 of the 100 North Carolina counties.  When considering alternatives to ACA compliant plans, the most common is Short Term, also known as Temporary Health Insurance.

Temporary health insurance plans are not compliant with the ACA regulations which allows customers to enroll outside the Open Enrollment Period without the requirement of a Qualifying Life Event.  In the past, these plans were created and structured to bridge gaps in coverage.  However, recently their attraction has grown and individuals and families have begun enrolling in Short Term plans for extended policy periods as an alternative to the ACA compliant options.  The ACA compliant plans lack the flexible plan structure and low premiums that are attractive aspects of Short Term health insurance.  Short Term plans exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions which is a requirement under Obamacare.  Additionally, you must answer health questions on a Short Term application in order to be eligible to enroll.  For these reasons, the plans are usually significantly less expensive than ACA compliant plans.  These factors and others drive the premium prices down and often surprise shoppers when making a price comparison.

Furthermore, the Short Term health insurance regulations are expected to change on April 1, 2017.  The policy periods will be limited to 3 months.  For applicants that enroll prior to April 1, the policy period can last until Dec. 31, 2017 with certain carriers like United HealthOne.

For more information on North Carolina insurance coverage, please visit our website at www.nchealthplans.com or call our toll free number 888-765-5400 and speak with one of our experienced and professional agents.

Health Insurance in North Carolina- Change Expected to Continue

Monday, February 13th, 2017

bigstockphoto_questions_and_answers_signpost_4006719In early 2017, the North Carolina health insurance landscape is again expecting change.  The past several years have created an individual health insurance market unlike anything North Carolinian’s have seen before.  The full implementation of the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare” in 2014 led insurance companies to make changes to the way they offered, sold, and priced insurance plans.  Individuals and families were forced to adapt to the changes in the plans offered and how they enrolled in these new plans.  Additionally, the Federal Government was in a central, governing position which impacted both the companies and the customers that purchased these plans.  Over the course of a few years, North Carolinian’s weathered the storm.  These changes have impacted our rates for the plans, doctor and hospital networks, the available insurance companies in our state and many other components of the North Carolina insurance market. (more…)