Thousands of Neighbor Island seniors on Kaiser Permanente's Medicare Advantage plans will have to pay substantially higher premiums if they want to remain covered by the insurer in the new year.
Beginning Jan. 1, Kaiser will discontinue its "basic" and "enhanced" individual Medicare plans on Maui and offer one combined plan.
The new monthly premium will be $194. Maui members currently pay $38 for basic and $180 for the enhanced plan.
On the Big Island, meanwhile, the "essential" and "essential plus" individual Medicare plans will also be discontinued and replaced with a combined plan.
Big Island residents will pay a $194 monthly premium, from $63 for essential and $202 for essential plus.
The changes are causing some confusion for Kaiser members, in part because of the messaging they're receiving.
"I get this letter in the mail and right out the gate it just tells me Kaiser Permanente will not offer your Medicare plan in 2017," said
Maui resident Robert Newell says a Kaiser letter he got stated his coverage through would end Dec. 31, but the letter didn't clarify if he'd be able to remain with Kaiser or be forced to find a new provider.
"They could maybe tell you there's still a possibility you can stay with Kaiser," Newell said. "It wont be on your same senior advantage basic, but you can still stay and they don't indicate that, and you're in shock."
Kaiser apologized for the confusion, but is reassuring its Medicare members will have the option to join its new plan or find a different one.
"Everybody that's currently a Kaiser Permanente member will be offered a new plan and that information should be in your mailboxes by Thursday or Friday at the latest," said Laura M. Lott, communications director for Kaiser Permanente Hawaii.
Lott says the changes are necessary to keep up with the rising costs of medical care, prescription drugs and other services.
Medicare expert and radio host Martha Khlopin says those affected need to start taking action now.
"First of all, you want to make sure any physician you're seeing or specialist is part of the new plan option you look at," she said. "Also, you want to make sure your medications that you take are covered and lastly, affordability."
There are approximately 4,000 individual Senior Advantage members on Maui and about 3,900 on Hawaii Island.
Kaiser Permanente says residents on those islands must complete paperwork to re-enroll. Oahu Medicare members do not need to re-enroll.
For more information on Kaiser's plans, click here.