NU Online News Service, July 17, 2003, 4:34 p.m. EDT – Disparities in Medicare supplement insurance prices may be even greater this year than they were in 2002, according to statistics from Weiss Ratings Inc., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Medicare supplement insurers sell 10 standard Medigap plans, ranging from Plan A to Plan J, in the District of Columbia and all states but Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Weiss researchers asked the insurers for Medigap rate quotes for a hypothetical 65-year-old female applicant.

The two most commonly purchased Medigap policies are Plan F policies and Plan C policies.

Weiss researchers found that the most expensive Plan F policy available this year, which is sold in Ohio, is 7.2 times as expensive as the least expensive Plan F policy, which is sold in Indiana.

The ratio of the cost of the most expensive Plan F policy to the cost of the least expensive Plan F policy has increased from 5.8 in 2002.

When the researchers looked at Plan C policies, they found that the cost ratio for the most expensive and least expensive policies has increased to 7.0, from 6.0.

In 2003, the most expensive of all Medigap policies, a Plan H policy in Arkansas that provides $1,250 in prescription coverage, costs 28 times as much as the least expensive Medigap policy, a barebones Plan A policy in Indiana that merely eliminates coinsurance costs and covers the cost of 365 days of hospital care after Medicare coverage ends.

Medigap rates “vary for a number of reasons, including regional differences in the cost of health care, insurers’ underwriting and pricing methodologies, the health status of the target population, and state policies regulating premium rates,” says Melissa Gannon, a Weiss vice president.

Private insurers sell Medicare supplement policies to fill in the many gaps that exist in basic Medicare coverage.

Thirty-seven percent of Medigap purchasers buy Plan F policies, which eliminate Medicare deductible costs and skilled nursing facility coinsurance costs and also cover what the government says are excessively high physician charges, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Twenty-six percent of purchasers buy Plan F policies, which eliminate deductible costs and skilled nursing facility coinsurance costs without covering excess physician charges.