by Michael R. Wickline | Arkansas Democrat Gazette
February 5, 2023
About 12,500 retirees in the state’s public school and state employees’ health insurance plans have opted out of group Medicare Advantage with prescription drug coverage for this year, choosing to retain their former coverage in the plans, according to the state Department of Transformation and Shared Services’ figures.
About 14,400 other retirees in these health insurance plans have been enrolled in the new group coverage, figures from the department show.
These enrollment figures are as of Jan. 30, Department of Transformation and Shared Services spokeswoman Alex Johnston said last week.
Retirees who are 65 or older or who are otherwise eligible for Medicare were automatically enrolled in the group Medicare Advantage program for this year and were given the opportunity to opt out or to retain existing benefits in November.
In mid-December, a few state lawmakers said they heard from retirees who said they turned in forms to opt out of the group Medicare Advantage coverage this year only to later be informed that they will be enrolled in it.
The formal period for retirees to opt out of the Medicare Advantage coverage for this year was in November, but the state’s employee Benefits Division accepted forms for retirees to opt out through the end of January.
Johnston acknowledged that 1,102 retirees were initially assigned the wrong coverage before the problem was fixed.
“We’ve encountered some challenges throughout the opt-out process due largely to the size of the retiree population and the novelty of the new MAPD offering,” she said in a written statement.
“In addition to processing forms in the opt-out period, [Department of Transformation and Shared Services’ Employee Benefits Division] experienced a large increase in retiree interaction,” Johnston said.
The state’s Employee Benefits Division continues to work with its partner, United Healthcare Insurance Co. that provides the group Medicare Advantage with prescription drug coverage, to conduct the transition, she said.
As to whether retirees can continue to opt out of the Medicare Advantage coverage this year, Johnston said, “The period in which retirees can opt out of the Medicare Advantage plan was extended through Jan. 31 to accommodate those who had difficulty opting out during the open enrollment period during the month of November.
“Individuals will have an additional opportunity to opt out of the Medicare Advantage plan in the fall of 2023,” she said. “In addition, retirees who have opted out will have the opportunity to enroll in the Medicare Advantage plan throughout the year.”
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