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Medicare Advantage

How do Medicare Advantage Plans work?

Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called “Part C” or “MA Plans,” are an “all in one” alternative to Original Medicare. They are offered by private companies approved by Medicare.  If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan, you still have Medicare.  These “bundled” plans include Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance), and usually Medicare prescription drug (Part D).

Covered services in Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage Plans cover all Medicare services.  Some Medicare Advantage Plans also offer extra coverage, like vision, hearing and dental coverage.  Learn more about what Medicare Advantage Plans cover.

Rules for Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare pays a fixed amount for your care each month to the companies offering Medicare Advantage Plans. These companies must follow rules set by Medicare.

Each Medicare Advantage Plan can charge different out-of-pocket-costs. They can also have different rules for how you get services, like:

  • Whether you need a referral to see a specialist
  • If you have to go to doctors, facilities, or suppliers that belong to the plan for non-emergency or non-urgent care

These rules can change each year.

Costs for Medicare Advantage Plans

What you pay in a Medicare Advantage Plan depends on several factors. Learn about these factors and how to get cost details.

Drug coverage in Medicare Advantage Plans

Most Medicare Advantage Plans include prescription drug coverage (Part D). You can join a separate Medicare Prescription Drug Plan with certain types of plans that:

  • Can’t offer drug coverage (like Medicare Medical Savings Account plans)
  • Choose not to offer drug coverage (like some Private Fee-for-Service plans)

You’ll be disenrolled from your Medicare Advantage Plan and returned to Original Medicare if both of these apply:

  • You’re in a Medicare Advantage HMO or PPO.
  • You join a separate Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.

Can Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policies work with Medicare Advantage Plans?

Medigap policies can’t work with Medicare Advantage Plans. Learn about your options related to Medigap policies and Medicare Advantage Plans.

Medicare Advantage Plans cover all Medicare services

Medicare Advantage Plans must cover all of the services that Original Medicare covers. However, if you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan, Original Medicare will still cover the cost for hospice care, some new Medicare benefits, and some costs for clinical research studies. In all types of Medicare Advantage Plans, you’re always covered for emergency and urgently needed care.

The plan can choose not to cover the costs of services that aren’t medically necessary under Medicare. If you’re not sure whether a service is covered, check with your provider before you get the service.

Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer coverage for things that aren’t covered by Original Medicare, like vision, hearing, dental, and wellness programs (like gym memberships). Plans can also cover more extra benefits than they have in the past, including services like transportation to doctor visits, over-the-counter drugs, adult day-care services, and other health-related services that promote your health and wellness. Plans can also tailor their benefit packages to offer these new benefits to certain chronically ill enrollees. These packages will provide benefits customized to treat those conditions. Check with the plan to see what benefits are offered and if you qualify. Most include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). In addition to your Part B premium, you usually pay a monthly premium for the Medicare Advantage Plan. In 2020, the standard Part B premium amount is $144.60 (or higher depending on your income).

If you need a service that the plan says isn’t medically necessary, you may have to pay all the costs of the service. But, you have the right to appeal the decision.

You (or a provider acting on your behalf) can request to see if an item or service will be covered by the plan in advance. Sometimes you must do this for the service to be covered. This is called an “organization determination.” If your plan denies coverage, the plan must tell you in writing.

You don’t have to pay more than the plan’s usual cost-sharing for a service or supply if a network provider didn’t get an organization determination and either of these is true:

  • The provider gave you or referred you for services or supplies that you reasonably thought would be covered.
  • The provider referred you to an out-of-network provider for plan-covered services.

What you pay in a Medicare Advantage Plan

Your out-of-pocket-costs in a A type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans provide all of your Part A and Part B benefits, excluding hospice. Medicare Advantage Plans include:

  • Health Maintenance Organizations
  • Preferred Provider Organizations
  • Private Fee-for-Service Plans
  • Special Needs Plans
  • Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans

If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan:

  • Most Medicare services are covered through the plan
  • Medicare services aren’t paid for by Original Medicare

Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage.

Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) depend on:

  • Whether the plan charges a monthly premium.  Some plans have no premium.
  • Whether the plan pays any of your monthly Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) premium.  Some plans pay all or part of your Part B premium.
  • Whether the plan has a yearly deductible or any additional deductibles.
  • How much you pay for each visit or service (copayment or coinsurance). For example, the plan may charge a copayment, like $10 or $20 every time you see a doctor. These amounts can be different than those under Original Medicare.
  • The type of health care services you need and how often you get them.
  • Whether you go to a doctor or supplier who accepts assignments if:
    • You’re in a PPO, PFFS, or MSA plan.
    • You go out-of-network .
  • Whether you follow the plan’s rules, like using  network providers.
  • Whether you need extra benefits and if the plan charges for it.
  • The plan’s yearly limit on your out-of-pocket costs for all medical services.
  • Whether you have Medicaid or get help from your state.
Note

Each year, plans set the amounts they charge for premiums, deductibles, and services. The plan (rather than Medicare) decides how much you pay for the covered services you get. What you pay the plan may change only once a year, on January 1.

Medigap & Medicare Advantage Plans

Medigap policies can’t work with Medicare Advantage Plans. If you have a Medigap policy and join a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C), you may want to drop your Medigap policy. Your Medigap policy can’t be used to pay your Medicare Advantage Plan copayments, deductibles, and premiums.

If you want to cancel your Medigap policy, contact your insurance company. If you leave the Medicare Advantage Plan, you might not be able to get the same, or in some cases, any Medigap policy back unless you have a “trial right.”

If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, it’s illegal for anyone to sell you a Medigap policy unless you’re switching back to Original Medicare. Contact your State Insurance Department if this happens to you.

If you want to switch to Original Medicare and buy a Medigap policy, contact your Medicare Advantage Plan to see if you’re able to disenroll.

If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan for the first time, and you aren’t happy with the plan, you’ll have special rights under federal law to buy a Medigap policy. You have these rights if you return to Original Medicare within 12 months of joining.

  • If you had a Medigap policy before you joined, you may be able to get the same policy back if the company still sells it. If it isn’t available, you can buy another Medigap policy.
  • The Medigap policy can no longer have prescription drug coverage even if you had it before, but you may be able to join a  

    Part D adds prescription drug coverage to:

    • Original Medicare
    • Some Medicare Cost Plans
    • Some Medicare Private-Fee-for-Service Plans
    • Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans

    These plans are offered by insurance companies and other private companies approved by Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans may also offer prescription drug coverage that follows the same rules as Medicare Prescription Drug Plans.

  • If you joined a Medicare Advantage Plan when you were first eligible for Medicare, you can choose from any Medigap policy.
  • Some states provide additional special rights.

What’s Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap)?

Medigap is Medicare Supplement Insurance that helps fill “gaps” in Original Medicare and is sold by private companies. Original Medicare pays for much, but not all, of the cost for covered health care services and supplies. A Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy can help pay some of the remaining health care costs, like:
  • Copayments
  • Coinsurance
  • Deductibles

Note:

As of January 1, 2020, Medigap plans sold to new people with Medicare aren’t allowed to cover the Part B deductible. Because of this, Plans C and F are not available to people new to Medicare starting on January 1, 2020. If you already have either of these 2 plans (or the high deductible version of Plan F) or are covered by one of these plans before January 1, 2020, you’ll be able to keep your plan. If you were eligible for Medicare before January 1, 2020, but not yet enrolled, you may be able to buy one of these plans.

Some Medigap policies also cover services that Original Medicare doesn’t cover, like medical care when you travel outside the U.S. If you have Original Medicare and you buy a Medigap policy, here’s what happens:

  • Medicare will pay its share of the Medicare-approved amount for covered health care costs.
  • Then, your Medigap policy pays its share.

8 things to know about Medigap policies 

  1. You must have Medicare Part A and Part B.
  2. A Medigap policy is different from a Medicare Advantage Plan.  Those plans are ways to get Medicare benefits, while a Medigap policy only supplements your Original Medicare benefits.
  3. You pay the private insurance company a monthly premium for your Medigap policy. You pay this monthly premium in addition to the monthly Part B premium that you pay to Medicare.
  4. A Medigap policy only covers one person. If you and your spouse both want Medigap coverage, you’ll each have to buy separate policies.
  5. You can buy a Medigap policy from any insurance company that’s licensed in your state to sell one.
  6. Any standardized Medigap policy is guaranteed renewable even if you have health problems. This means the insurance company can’t cancel your Medigap policy as long as you pay the premium.
  7. Some Medigap policies sold in the past cover prescription drugs. But, Medigap policies sold after January 1, 2006 aren’t allowed to include prescription drug coverage. If you want prescription drug coverage, you can join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D).
  8. It’s illegal for anyone to sell you a Medigap policy if you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, unless you’re switching back to Original Medicare.

Medigap policies don’t cover everything

Medigap policies generally don’t cover long-term care, vision or dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or private-duty nursing.

Insurance plans that aren’t Medigap

Some types of insurance aren’t Medigap plans, they include:

  • Medicare Advantage Plans (like an HMO, PPO, or Private Fee-for-Service Plan)
  • Medicare Prescription Drug Plans
  • Medicaid
  • Employer or union plans, including the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP)
  • TRICARE
  • Veterans’ benefits
  • Long-term care insurance policies
  • Indian Health Service, Tribal, and Urban Indian Health plans

Dropping your entire Medigap policy (not just the drug coverage) 

You may want a completely different Medigap policy (not just your old Medigap policy without the prescription drug coverage). Or, you might decide to switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers prescription drug coverage.

If you decide to drop your entire Medigap policy, you need to be careful about the timing. When you join a new Medicare drug plan, you pay a late enrollment penalty, if one of these applies:

  • You drop your entire Medigap policy and the drug coverage wasn’t creditable prescription drug coverage
  • You go 63 days or more in a row before your new Medicare drug coverage begins

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