Hundreds to lose health plan in 2019

UnitedHealthcare to drop Medicare Part C program in Humboldt County

UnitedHealthcare has dropped Medicare Part C coverage for more than 700 county residents. The Area 1 Agency on Aging will host a workshop on Wednesday to assist those who need help finding a replacement plan.( Michael Dodge — Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This is the eleventh installment of “Healthy in Humboldt,” an ongoing monthly series profiling health challenges in Humboldt County and what’s being done to overcome them.

More than 700 Humboldt County residents who have purchased a Medicare Part C advantage plan through UnitedHealthcare will lose that coverage in 2019.

Local residents started getting letters about the coverage change in October and it’s led to a lot of uncertainty among locals who have purchased the plan or who use Medicare.

The drop in coverage will not impact those on Medicare or those who use other Medicare supplemental programs; it only applies to Medicare Part C as offered by UnitedHealthcare.

“It only affects this particular private plan that is mainly used by UnitedHealth in rural counties in California,” said Nancy Cloward of the Area 1 Agency on Aging, who assists seniors in acquiring health care with the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program also known as HICAP. “I don’t know how many people I have talked to who don’t know the difference or who get confused between a UnitedHealthcare supplement plan and a Medicare Advantage plan. It’s really specific and the folks who will lose Medicare Part C will still have original Medicare and they will go back to Medicare Parts A and B.”

People who signed up for Medicare Part C through private insurers did so to cover gaps in the basic Medicare plan and for those who will lose the coverage, there are other options available locally, specifically Medicare Part D which covers prescription medication.

Because UnitedHealthcare made the decision to drop the plan, they can purchase a Medicare Supplement Plan through February through the Special Election (enrollment) Period, so they will have time to find another coverage option.

Cloward has already hosted two workshops on the options available for those with questions about their coverage and another will be offered Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the Area 1 Agency on Aging office on Seventh Street in Eureka.

Cloward added that for those who have lost coverage and who need additional coverage there are no requirements to meet any health requirements or fill out any questionnaires “so even if you’re in really bad health you can still purchase a supplemental plan,” Cloward added.

There are options available for those losing the coverage according to Jack Cheevers, public information officer for U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“Once they go back to original Medicare, there will be gaps in coverage,” Cheevers said Friday. “There will be no coverage for prescription drugs so what folks will have to do is sign up for Medicare Part D. You can go to the Medicare website and punch in your zip code and there are 30 different plans available in Humboldt County. We rate the plans using a five-star system with five being the best so people can see what’s the best plan for them.”

People who want to enroll in Part D drug coverage will have an extended deadline until Feb. 28. Prices for Part D plans available in Humboldt County range from $12.90 per month to $117.80 per month. Cheevers also said there are options such as Medigap coverage that will cover things like deductibles and copays, for an additional monthly premium.

“Go to to find a drug plan or a health plan,” Cheevers said. “You plug in your zip code and it will show you the providers and their various premiums and it will also show the ratings for each plan. There you can buy additional drug coverage.”

There were no specific reasons provided by UnitedHealthcare on why they are dropping Medicare Part C plans in nine California counties including Humboldt and Del Norte counties, but the company did issue a short statement by email.

“We are proud to serve the nearly 1.2 million Medicare beneficiaries in California and are committed to providing people with a broad choice of Medicare plan options to help meet their health and well-being needs,” wrote Taylor Joseph, associate director of external communications with UnitedHealthcare. “To ensure our members have ample opportunity to select a new plan, UnitedHealthcare implemented an outreach campaign earlier this fall to assist people with questions and help guide them through the process of finding health care coverage to fit their needs in 2019.”

For those concerned about their coverage and who need questions answered about supplemental coverage plans, the Area 1 Agency on Aging is offering help locally.

At the meeting scheduled for next week, Cloward will cover a series of topics on how seniors can find the health care plan that best works for them.

“We will be discussing Medicare supplement plans and Medicare prescription drug plans you will need to consider in order to prevent gaps in your Medicare coverage,” she said in an email earlier this month. “We will discuss the timeframes you will need to act to secure coverage for yourself.”

You can reach the Area 1 Agency on Aging at 707-444-3000 and check for coverage online at the website

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.


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