All posts by Robert Griffin

doctor and nurse visiting senior woman at hospital

Top Five Questions have about Skilled Nursing Facility Care (and how Medicare bills you!)

Top Five Questions have about Skilled Nursing Facility Care (and how Medicare bills you!)

Top five questions seniors have about Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) care (like how Medicare bills you!)

You’ve heard about the term SNF, and maybe you thought nursing home, but there’s a lot more to it.

1. What defines SNF?

An easy way to think of SNF is as a specialized type of care that only skilled RNs or therapists can provide to treat, manage, observe, and evaluate a high level of medical care. Most commonly, SNF patients are recovering from an illness, injury, or surgery. Facilities must meet certain requirements to be certified as an SNF, and sometimes hospitals are also SNF facilities.

Most people do not receive SNF care for very long, with an average stay of 28 days. SNF care is only designed to treat a health concern for as long as it requires daily care. For example, if you broke your leg, you would go to an SNF after being released from the hospital. The initial care you receive would be considered SNF because it requires staff members specializing in surgery recovery. After you no longer need specialized follow-up care, you would then receive custodial (everyday) care, if you still needed assistance.

Here’s another example of SNF care: You’re hospitalized for a stroke, after which you receive occupational therapy at an SNF in order to relearn impacted basic daily tasks (eating, writing, etc.). If your doctor decides that the occupational therapy treatment isn’t working and that you instead need assistance with basic daily tasks, you are switched to custodial care, which is not covered by Medicare. Depending on the decision you and your doctor make together, you may next receive custodial care in the same facility, be sent home, or be transferred to a facility specializing in daily custodial care. This is because SNF facilities are not meant for maintenance of a health issue but rather for improvement.

2. Is SNF care the same thing as an assisted living?

No. The important difference between a skilled nursing facility and, say, an assisted living facility, is that you receive specialized services at an SNF. These terms are often interchanged mistakenly, so it is important to check your sources when gathering information. Remember Medicare rarely covers custodial care, which can be thought of as help with basic personal tasks. These other non-SNF facilities offer mostly custodial care. Custodial care facilities may have some medical equipment on the premises and may even have some medically trained staff, but the purpose of the facility is different. If your care is defined more by assistance than treatment, then, by most counts, it won’t count as SNF care. Custodial care may sometimes appear medical but is not considered specialized; custodial care can range from assistance with meals to using eye droppers or help bathing. Medicare doesn’t cover custodial care and thus does not cover assisted living facilities.

3. How do you get SNF care covered by Medicare?

Medicare has a number of requirements for your stay at an SNF to be covered, which are all outlined on The most important one for seniors is the requirement of a qualifying inpatient hospital stay. This means an inpatient hospital stay of three consecutive days or more, starting with the day the hospital admits you as an inpatient, but not including the day you leave the hospital (see our previous blog post to learn about inpatient status). The second most important point is that you must enter the SNF within 30 days of leaving the hospital. Click here to read the full list of requirements.

4. How does a benefit period play in?

As puts it, a benefit period is “the way that Original Medicare measures your use of hospital and skilled nursing facility (SNF) services.” A benefit period refers to the length of time that Medicare covers your care. As an SNF patient, your benefit period lasts 100 days, which means that on day 101, you will pay out of pocket for your SNF care.

You are also allowed up to 30 days after you leave SNF care to re-enter an SNF if needed, without needing a new qualifying inpatient hospital stay. But if it’s been more than 30 days since you had SNF care, Medicare does have some particular requirements:

  • Longer than 30, but less than 60: Your current benefit period continues, but you are required to have another three-day qualifying hospital stay.
  • Longer than 60: It’s like starting over. You’ll need a new 3-day hospital stay, and you’re eligible for a new 100-day benefit period.

There’s no limit to the number of benefit periods you can use. As long as 60 days have passed, you’re starting fresh. And with every new benefit period, there’s a new deductible.

It is important to note that breaks in SNF care can happen even without moving facilities. If at any time your care transitions from specialized to custodial, that is technically a break in SNF care, in which case the countdown to 30 days begins. We recommend that if you are expecting to need SNF care and you have days left on your benefit period, try to re-enter within 30 days so you can avoid the expense and hassle of another inpatient hospital stay.

5. What will I pay?

If you have a Medicare Supplement, or Medigap Plan, in most cases, you shouldn’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket. Medicare covers your qualifying hospital stay except for the deductible—which your Medigap covers—and 100% of your SNF care for the first 20 days.

Starting on day 21, SNF care Medicare requires a daily copay, currently $167.50. Medigap plans C, D, F, F-high deductible, G, M, and N all cover 100% of the copay until day 100, when your benefit period ends.

Your 100th day in an SNF is the last day of your benefit period, and thus your Medicare coverage. On day 101, you start paying full cost out-of-pocket.


With SNF care, the high costs can add up quickly without meeting Medicare’s hospital and benefit period requirements, so it’s important to stay informed. When you are discharged from the hospital after your qualifying stay into SNF care, a hospital liaison should coach you through your financial transition with Medicare. If you are in the process of being discharged and you haven’t received that help, you can and should ask for it. If you can, ask a loved one to be with you and ask questions and to help you keep track of your days for both your inpatient hospital and SNF stays.

If you have questions about your coverage or your Medigap plan, we can help provide guidance. Our clients trust us and refer us because of availability and willingness to give help and advice throughout the year, not just when it’s time to renew. Please call us at 800-774-1434 or email with any questions you have while navigating this complex process. Call an agent to help shop around for a Medigap Plan to help cover this cost.


Going to SHIIP? What you need to know

Going to SHIIP? What you need to know

What you need to know before your next visit to SHIIP

In North Carolina, one of your best resources to learn about the basic workings of Medicare is SHIIP, or the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program, a non-biased source run by the NC Department of Insurance. But completing your coverage through them may cause some unintended (and unexpected) headaches down the road. Here’s our do’s and don’ts guide for your next conversation or visit with SHIIP.

So, who should visit SHIIP?

If, after researching online, you still feel unsure about how Original Medicare works or how to complete your coverage, SHIIP may be the place to go for your in-person consultation with your local SHIIP “Counselor.” Most Counselors are unlicensed volunteers who have enough training to answer basic questions about Medicare in North Carolina. But, make sure you prepare ahead with all your questions because SHIIP is by-appointment only.

Can I sign up for Medicare with them?

No and yes, but you shouldn’t. Here’s why:

For Parts A and B, no. The only way to enroll in Medicare A and B is either online or at your local Social Security office, and SHIIP directs you to do so.

For Medicare Supplements, they cannot sign you up, but they do offer estimates. Unfortunately, the estimates they give you are not up-to-date and may not be the best you can get. So, although SHIIP gives you an estimate to an appealing plan and may even provide you with a direct phone number of the supplying insurance company, you might miss out on some of the finer points and discounts that an independent licensed agent can help you find, like if you are eligible for a spousal discount. So, you might leave the SHIIP office paying more for your coverage than necessary.

For Prescription Drug Plans, they can assist you with signing up, and their prices are accurate. But we strongly recommend that you don’t enroll with SHIIP because you will need an agent to maintain and adjust your coverage over the coming years. If you enroll in a drug plan without an agent, he or she cannot step in on your behalf with the insurer if/when you later find a problem or need to make any changes, like to cover a new prescription or to switch pharmacies.

For Medicare Advantage Plans, SHIIP can also help you enroll, but, again, given how many moving parts there are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, we wouldn’t advise that you enroll with them. Between the annual changes, the varying prescription coverage, the networks, and the co-pays versus the deductibles, it’s very difficult to find a tailored fit without the expertise of an independent agent and the options he or she can offer.

If you’ve already signed up for a Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage Plan through SHIIP, never fear, you can still re-enroll with an agent at the annual open enrollment time (between Oct 15 and Dec 7th).


SHIIP is a valuable resource for learning about all aspects of Medicare, but when it comes to enrolling, you are best served by finding an independent agency like Griffin Insurance Solutions who can give you unbiased guidance to make the best decision for your Medicare coverage needs. We use quote engines to find the best rates and offer plans from over 15 different insurers to help seniors find the best plans tailored for them every day, and we can do the same for you. Contact us today for an in-person appointment by email or phone at 919-704-6147 or 800-774-1434.

Outpatient care word cloud

Inpatient Care vs Outpatient Care: Knowing the difference could save you thousands

Inpatient Care vs Outpatient Care: Knowing the difference could save you thousands

Outpatient vs Inpatient: The difference could save you thousands

So what exactly are these terms, outpatientinpatient, observational care, skilled nursing facility? And how do they affect you? If you have a Medicare Supplement Plan, then possibly by thousands of dollars.

No one wants to think about going to the hospital. But when you’re in the hospital, the last thing on your mind is how you will be billed. Understanding the subtleties ahead of time—of how they admit, treat, and bill Medicare patients—can potentially save you thousands of dollars, especially in long-term care costs. If you or a loved one does need to visit the hospital, you’ll be ready after reading our guide.

Outpatient vs Inpatient at-a-glance

An inpatient is a person who is formally admitted to a healthcare facility, like a hospital or skilled nursing facility. If you have not been formally admitted to the hospital by a doctor, you are not an inpatient. An outpatient is a patient who a doctor treats, who may receive ambulatory care at a hospital, and may even spend the night, but is not formally admitted to that facility. Outpatient and inpatient can look and feel very similar because they both take place in a hospital, but you can ask the doctor who is working with you if you are being formally admitted.

Remember: the key phrase for distinguishing between inpatient and outpatient care is ‘FORMALLY ADMITTED.’

How does observational care (aka hospital outpatient care) fit into this?

Observational services are the hospital outpatient services you get while your doctor decides whether to admit you as a patient or discharge you. That can happen in the emergency room or any other part of the hospital. Observational care can even be overnight and last up to 48 hours (although 24 is more typical, some cases have exceeded 48 hours). Due to medical and technological advances, many more health services are available without a formal hospital stay, and hospital observational services are increasing according to the CDC. For seniors, the distinction is even more pertinent, because observational services are most common among people 65 years and over. Please refer to this publication, page 3 for a few specific examples of how different hospital situations would be covered between Parts A and B.

Will the hospital tell me if I am receiving observational care?

Yes, after 24 hours, as a Medicare patient, you have the right to what is known as a MOON, or Medicare Outpatient Observation Notice. A MOON is a written legal notice that explains if the patient is receiving observational care and the doctor’s reasons for that care. This notice is a written document that also requires an oral explanation by a hospital worker.

With a MOON, you have the right to be informed of the medical and coverage implications of the observational care. This is your chance to get as much clarity of your status from the hospital as you can. Medicare legally requires the hospital to obtain your signature saying that all details have been explained to you, so don’t hesitate to ask every question that you have.

Although you have a right to a MOON after 24 hours, the hospital is not legally bound to give it to you until after 36 hours of observational care has lapsed or upon your release, whichever comes sooner.

Our advice? If you realize that your or your loved one’s stay in the hospital may be a longer visit than expected, keep track of your time, and as your time nears 24 hours, start asking for your MOON to help expedite the progress of your notice. If you anticipate a longer stay, you can advocate to be formally admitted for better coverage. Learn more about MOON.

How does my patient status affect my Medicare charges?

The majority of your charges will be covered in some way with your Medigap plan. When you are an inpatient, Medicare Part A has a $1,340 deductible for all of your hospital and inpatient services for the first 60 days you’re in the hospital (that’s why Medicare refers to Part A as “hospital insurance”). An important distinction: Part B covers 80% of your doctor services, even while formally admitted.

These deductibles and leftover costs are why you have a Medicare Supplement Plan. All Medigap plans cover the Part A deductible, and after paying the Part B deductible, Plans like F and G will cover the other copays and deductibles from Part B. The other Medigap plans vary in how they cover the remaining Part B costs, so refer to your specific plan to understand your coverage. For a further breakdown of the Part A long-term costs, see Medicare and You 2018, page 31.

When you are an outpatient, Part B covers your hospital services and your doctor services after you have met your Part B deductible. Although, because of how Part B functions, you will likely have a copayment for each hospital service, and the amount you pay will vary on the type of Medicare Supplement Plan you have. For the full list of the Part B services and their costs, see pages 35-59 in Medicare and You 2018. You supplement plan will vary in how it covers Part B services, so refer to the specific coverage booklet for your plan.  If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, your costs will be covered, but will vary with the amount of coinsurance you pay.

So how does Skilled Nursing Facility, or SNF, play in?

This is where the biggest drain on your wallet can come in. Sometimes hospitals transfer you to a skilled nursing facility, or SNF.  Medicare Part A covers 100 days of SNF care, but Part A will only cover it if you have been an inpatient for at least three days and check into a Medicare-approved SNF facility within 30 days. So, if you are expecting skilled nursing facility (SNF) care, you must be keep track of whether or not you are inpatient because three days as an inpatient in a hospital is required before SNF coverage kicks in. This can be confusing because you can spend three consecutive days in a hospital without being considered an inpatient for all three days. So, when you are transferred to a rehabilitation center, and you didn’t reach the three day mark prior to your discharge, you may pay completely out-of-pocket for those SNF costs. Keep an eye out for our upcoming post that gives a more detailed rundown on how Medicare works with skilled nursing facility (SNF) care.

What do I do while I am in the hospital?

Ask questions and look out for yourself. You have a right to have them answered, whether it regards the doctor’s treatment decisions, your status as an inpatient or outpatient, or if Medicare will cover your SNF stay. Remember the golden rule; you are not considered an inpatient nor receiving the financial benefits of an inpatient unless you areformally admitted by a doctor even if you have been in the hospital for a longer stay. If you are not being admitted, ask the hospital for documentation as to the reason. If you are admitted, ask the hospital for documentation on why and when you are formally admitted. Later on, if you feel their decision was in error, you can submit a claim for an appeal.

Finally, bring someone along as your advocate; don’t go to or remain at the hospital alone if you are in the middle of health crisis or treatment. Although you may have your head wrapped around the billing structure now, it can be near impossible to have the wherewithal to apply that knowledge while in the midst of experiencing it. Bring along a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate and handle the line of questioning. And share this article with them so that they are informed of your hospital Medicare needs.

We can help!

Here at Griffin Insurance Solutions, we know that your hospital experience is a unique and individual one that requires expert advice. Our clients trust us and refer us because of availability and willingness to give guidance and advice throughout the year, not just when it’s time to renew. Please call or email with any questions you have while navigating this complex process.

hand pointing to the year 2020

Plan F: Changes Coming in 2020

Plan F: Changes Coming in 2020

Do you have a Medigap Plan F? 

You may have heard that changes are coming to Medicare Supplements in 2020.

Here’s what you need to know.

In 2015, Congress passed MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act), a bipartisan law to provide physicians with incentives and higher pay to accept and treat more Medicare patients. MACRA added value and quality to Medicare plans, but in order to pass this, Congress needed to make changes to how Medicare patients used their supplement plans. MACRA specifically phases out Plan F and C because these plans don’t require patients to meet a deductible (essentially, it was rolled into your monthly premium), and this resulted in patients sometimes over-visiting the doctor for minor complaints.

Am I losing my plan F?

Most directly, MACRA affects those who will be eligible for Medicare in or after the year 2020.

For all those enrollees, Plan F, High Deductible F, and the less popular C will no longer be offered. For those who are eligible before 2020, but are waiting to enroll because of employer coverage, you will still have the option to enroll in Plan F (although we don’t recommend it—keep reading to see why).

What if I currently have Plan F?

If you are currently enrolled in Plan F, you have the option to be grandfathered in and keep Plan F, but because fewer people will be on Plan F, your rates will continue to go up for the same coverage! A better option is to switch to a Plan G or N and not worry about the 2020 change. For those on the high deductible Plan F, our understanding is that a high deductible Plan G will be introduced (we’ll update this post with those details when we know them).  We strongly recommend that you switch from Plan F to a Plan G, because this won’t result in a significant change in coverage, and it’s quite likely that your rates will decrease.

How do I choose between Plan G and Plan N?

For those who are younger than the age of 70, we recommend Plan G, as it provides the same level of coverage as Plan F; the difference being a lower monthly premium with an annual deductible of $183. For those who are older than age 70, we generally recommend Plan G or N, although with Plan N, we advise a direct conversation with an independent agent who can carefully review that plan with you, as holds unique complexities. If you still feel reluctant to switch plans, you can review how the coverage compares here, and review how current sample rates compare in the chart below.*

  Male Female  Male Female  Male Female  Male Female
Plan F$130.12$114.82$133.15$116.13$153.67$133.63 $192.15$167.09
Plan G$103.87$94.43$111.55$101.41$134.19$120.62$155.11$141.01
Plan N$87.71$76.30$98.21$85.38$116.12$100.96$136.28$118.54

*(1) All rates are non-tobacco and non-discounted rates. Household discounts may be available on a case-by-case basis. And, tobacco user rates may be higher.

As you can see, Plan G and Plan N are already less costly than Plan F and the savings more than compensate for the $183 annual deductible that Plan G and N require; in our example, a 65-year-old non-smoking male on Plan G annually pays—with deductible included—a total of $1,429.44, while annually paying $1,561.44 with Plan F.

What should I do next?

Your next step should be to discuss the 2020 changes with an informed, reliable, and independent agent. An independent agent can advise you to implement the most valuable changes to your Medicare plan. At Griffin Insurance Solutions, we are successfully guiding our current clients through these changes, and we can help advise you as well. To learn more about the changes coming in 2020 or any other questions you may have about Medicare, please contact us for an in-person appointment, by email, or phone at 919-704-6147 or 800-774-1434.

Feet at a crossroad

Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplements

Medicare Advantage vs Medicare Supplements

Difference Between Medicare Advantage Plans and Medicare Supplement Plans

Given how often we hear this question from clients, we thought it was time to clarify this topic.

First, the most important distinction is to point out that they really can’t be compared as plans, but rather as different paths.

Here’s why. Medicare A and B, or Original Medicare is the coverage you sign up for through Social Security when you turn 65 (for the majority of cases). Everyone signs up for that, and the coverage is fairly standardized: generalized, Part A provides hospital care while Part B covers 80% of a variety of medically necessary services, such as surgeries, doctor visits, screenings, and equipment. (For a complete list, visit here for Part A, and here for Part B).

So the next step is to complete coverage—for the remaining 20% that you must pay for Part B services (there is no out-of-pocket maximum, by the way) and to cover prescription drugs. That’s where the choice between Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Supplement plans come in.

When considering a Medicare Advantage plan, or a Part C plan, think of the Medicare Advantage (MA) plan company a bit like the trustee of your insurance. You sign up with a government-approved independent company, and they now assume the responsibility of covering you as Original Medicare does. Additionally, you receive coverage for many of the holes in Parts A and B—like an out-of-pocket maximum—at an additional monthly premium. The most common MA plans are Health Maintenance Organization (HMO, as you know them) plans and Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans.

If going the way of the Advantage plans is the “trustee” route, think of the Medicare Supplement plans, or Medigap plans, as your insurance “partner” plan route. You keep Original Medicare Parts A and B just as they are under the government’s jurisdiction, but you add on two additional partners—the Medicare Supplement plan to cover the 20% left from Part B and a Part D Prescription Drug plan to cover your prescriptions.

How does the coverage differ?

At a glance, most MA plans are going to have significantly cheaper monthly premiums, and for healthier individuals, that can be an attractive draw. In addition, those plans may include dental, hearing, and vision that would not be available through a Medicare Supplement plan or Original Medicare. But, with that low monthly premium comes higher copays and deductibles than with Medigap plans and often a lot of caveats and restrictions. For example, your policy may leave you with a very narrow list of in-network providers that may not include your doctor or hospital of choice. Another consideration is that MA plans provide prescription drug coverage at their discretion. If you have particular prescription needs that are less common, your policy may not cover it. And, if your MA doesn’t cover your Rx, you cannot purchase an additional Part D plan, as per the regulations. Remember, the Medicare Advantage plan is a closed trust; if some part of coverage is not already included, it can’t be tacked on.

With Medicare Supplement plans route, you have more flexibility to tailor your coverage, but it does usually come with a higher monthly premium than the MA plans. Both paths require a yearly evaluation, but Medigap plans require you to reevaluate two different plans a year (both your Medigap plan and a Part D plan) rather than just one. Since your primary insurance remains under Original Medicare, you don’t have to worry about networks—you can go to any Medicare-participating providers. Just as with the MA plan, your Medigap plan provides out-of-pocket maximum protection when your Medicare-covered expenses run high (like unexpected surgeries or long hospital stays). Medigap plans will not offer dental, vision, and hearing, and your Part D plan needs to be chosen carefully to ensure that all your prescriptions are in fact covered.

Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage, which one is right for me?

As with all things insurance-related, that answer depends on your individual health needs. For very healthy individuals who have very few prescriptions and doctor visits, MA plans may be better because of the lower monthly premiums. Those savings are immediate, and they continue as long as the insured stays healthy and out of the doctor’s office and hospital. Since MA plans have higher copays, frequent appointments and procedures can quickly eat away at what would otherwise your monthly savings. But when only 9% of seniors self-report their health as excellent, Medicare Supplement plans may be the more viable option. Medigap plans usually end up saving you more money on annual basis because of the lower copays.

Both routes require careful consideration, and before you sit down with a licensed insurance agent, it’s important to consider your finances and your healthcare needs. Conduct some research, start perusing plans on your own with Medicare’s Plan Finder tool, and when you meet with an agent, ask every question that is important to you.

Also, directly ask if he or she is an independent agent or if s/he receives benefits from promoting certain plans and paths over others. Don’t settle for an agent who isn’t, because your personal insurance needs should be first and foremost, and not sullied by the enticement of special promotional commissions.

If you have any questions about your Medicare choices, Griffin Insurance Solutions is an independent agency, and we will happily address them and help you find the best plan for you. Contact us today for in-person appointment by email or phone at 919-704-6147 or 800-774-1434.



Part A (Hospital Insurance)


and Part B (Medical Insurance)

(We can help you with this step)

Covers the “gaps” in services from Original Medicare

Private company assumes the coverage for Parts A & B

Will likely cover
prescription drugs*

Covers prescription drugs

Covers additional services

*You cannot add separate
Part D coverage if your Part C Advantage
Plan does not include Part D.





Medicare is sending you a new card. Starting this month, Medicare has started issuing and mailing out a new type of Medicare card to all enrollees. These new cards comply with a bi-partisan 2015 law that requires Medicare to remove all Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from Medicare cards by Spring of 2019.

First and foremost, we can tell you that the new cards will not affect or change your Medicare coverage at all. But, there a few important points you need to know about them.

Old Medicare Card vs. New Medicare Card

Most importantly, the new cards no longer carry the cardholder’s SSN. Instead, you will be issued a unique Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) that you can find on your new card. The primary goal of the new cards and MBI numbers is to improve security and fight medical identity theft. Doctors and healthcare providers know about this change and will ask for your card and will use new Medicare number. Your MBI will replace your SSN for all Medicare transactions like billing, eligibility status, and claims. And just like with your SSN, only give out your Medicare number to providers that you know and trust.

Second, the new Medicare cards have a new design and are now made of paper, making it easier for medical providers to make photocopies

How do I get my new Medicare card?

You will automatically receive it in the mail. Processing takes time, so not all Medicare enrollees will receive their new cards at the same time. You do not need to call to request a new card unless you have a new address or will be moving. To update your address, or to request a replacement card because yours is lost or stolen, visit your mySocial Security account.

What else should I know?

Once you receive your new card, bring it to all new medical appointments, and destroy your old card in a secure way. You will not need the old one any more. Your new card may not come right away, so don’t worry about using it until it arrives.

Destroy only your old Medicare card. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan ID card (because you have an HMO and PPO), you will continue using that card as your primary Medicare card. However, since medical providers may also ask to see your new Medicare card, bring that to your appointments as well.

If you forget your Medicare card at home when you go to the doctor, don’t worry; they will most likely be able to look up your new MBI.

Anything else?

Be aware of scammers. Social Security and Medicare will not call you for any reason regarding these new cards. If you receive a call asking for your personal information, your credit card, or your SSN, for “processing reasons” or “to receive your new card,” hang up and report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

You can also report it over the phone at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

Griffin Insurance Solutions can address any other questions or concerns that you have about your new Medicare cards. Please reach us by email or phone at 919-704-6147 or 800-774-1434