Senate passes Lawson bill to protect
seniors from Medicare discrimination


            STATE HOUSE – The Senate today passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Valarie Lawson that would protect seniors from being denied supplemental Medicare coverage or charged higher rates based on pre-existing conditions.

            “Many people don’t realize this could be a problem for them until it’s too late. They decide they want to change their health care plan and are denied or charged higher rates,” said Senator Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence). “This bill will ensure seniors, who have worked their whole lives, can choose the care plan that works for them without facing discrimination.”

            Most individuals over 65 years old are eligible to enroll in Medicare, a health insurance plan from the federal government. Medicare has four parts, A, B, C and D.

Medicare Part A covers hospitalizations and some other inpatient services. Part B covers doctors’ visits and some other outpatient services. Both are administered directly by the federal government and include costs such as deductibles, copays and coinsurance. Part D is prescription coverage.

Under Part C, seniors can purchase insurance from private companies to cover costs that Medicare Parts A and B do not cover such as copays, coinsurance and deductibles. Such plans are known as Medicare Advantage plans. Seniors who wish to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan must do so during an initial open enrollment period (when they first become eligible for Medicare) or after a qualifying life event such as a move or loss of a job.

If a senior wishes to change their Medicare Advantage plan later on, they may be subject to a complex underwriting process including health screenings and blood work. Individuals can even be charge higher rates or denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

The bill (2023-S 0583Aaa) would prohibit insurers from subjecting seniors to this underwriting process, denying them coverage or charging higher rates due to pre-existing condition, as long as the individual is currently enrolled in some Medicare Advantage plan and seeks to change plans during an annual open enrollment. Other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, have similar legislation.

The bill now heads to the House where Rep. Susan Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) has similar introduced legislation (2023-H 6179).