Medicare Advantage 101
Medicare Advantage Explained
You can get your Medicare benefits through Original Medicare, or you can choose a Medicare Advantage Plan. With Original Medicare, the government pays for your Medicare benefits when you get them. Medicare Advantage Plans, the Part C of Medicare are offered by private companies that have been approved by Medicare. Medicare pays these companies to administer your Medicare benefits. If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan, the plan will provide all of your Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) coverage. They are completely different than a Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy.
There are the several types of Medicare Advantage Plans:
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans: In most HMOs, you may only go to doctors, other health care providers, or hospitals that are in the plan’s network, except in an emergency or urgent situation. You probably also need to get a referral from your primary care doctor for diagnostic tests or to see other doctors or specialists.
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans: With a PPO, you pay less if you use doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers that belong to the plan’s network. You generally pay more if you use doctors, hospitals, and providers outside of the network.
Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plans: PFFS plans are similar to Original Medicare in that you can generally go to any doctor, other health care provider, or hospital as long as they agree to accept the plan’s payment terms. The plan will determine how much it will pay doctors, other health care providers, and hospitals, and how much you must pay when you get care.
Special Needs Plans (SNPs): SNPs provide specialized and focused health care for specific groups of people, like those who have both Medicare and Medicaid, live in a nursing home, or have certain chronic medical conditions.
HMO Point-of-Service (HMOPOS) plans: These are HMO plans that may allow you to get some services out-of-network for a higher copayment or coinsurance.
Medical Savings Account (MSA) plans: These plans combine a high-deductible health plan with a bank savings account. Medicare will deposit money into the account (usually less than the deductible). You can use the money to pay for your health care services throughout the year. MSA plans do not offer any Medicare drug coverage. If you want drug coverage, you have to join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, Part C of Medicare.
To be eligible enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan you must have both Medicare Parts A and B and live in the plan’s service area. People with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure) generally cannot enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan.
You must continue to pay your Part B premium and generally pay one monthly premium for the services included in a Medicare Advantage Plan. Each Medicare Advantage Plan has different premiums and costs for services, so it’s important to compare plans in your area and understand plan costs and benefits before you join. Some may have a $0 premium.
Medicare Advantage Plans have to cover all of the services that Original Medicare covers except for hospice care. Original Medicare will cover hospice care even if you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan. In all types of Medicare Advantage Plans, you will always be covered for emergency and urgent care. Medicare Advantage Plans must offer emergency coverage outside of the plan’s service area (but not outside the U.S.). Many Medicare Advantage Plans also offer extra benefits such as dental care, eyeglasses, or wellness programs.
Most Medicare Advantage Plans include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). In addition to your Part B premium, you usually pay one monthly premium for both the plan’s medical and prescription drug coverage.
Remember, plan benefits can change from year to year. Make sure you understand how a plan works before you join.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD). If you or your spouse have worked full time for 10 or more years over a lifetime, you are probably eligible to receive Medicare Part A for free. If you have to buy Part A, you'll pay up to $413 each month.
Part A (hospital insurance) covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care. What Medicare covers is based upon, Federal and state laws, National coverage decisions made by Medicare about whether something is covered, local coverage decisions made by companies in each state that process claims for Medicare. These companies decide whether something is medically necessary and should be covered in their area.
Medicare Part B (medical insurance) is available at a monthly rate set annually by Congress ($134 in 2017 for incomes $85000.00 or less for an individual). Part B covers certain doctors' services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services. Some seniors are eligible to receive the medical insurance portion (Part B) free as well, depending on their income and asset levels. For more information, inquire about the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB), Special Low Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB), and Qualifying Individual programs through your county social services office.
Remember, in most cases, if you don't sign up for Part B when you are first eligible, you will have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Part B. Your monthly premium for Part B may go up 10% for each full 12-month period that you could have had Part B, but didn't sign up for it. Also, you may have to wait until the General Enrollment Period (from January 1 to March 31) to enroll in Part B, and coverage will start July 1 of that year. Usually, you don't pay a late enrollment penalty if you meet certain conditions that allow you to sign up for Part B during a Special Enrollment Period.
Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans) is a type of Medicare health plan offered by a private insurance company that contracts with Medicare to provide you with all your Part A and Part B benefits. Medicare Advantage Plans include Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO’s), Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO’s), Private Fee-for-Service Plans (PFFS’s), Special Needs Plans (SNP’s), and Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans (MSA’s). If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, most Medicare services are covered through the plan and are not paid for under Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans have prescription drug coverage included.
Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) adds prescription drug coverage to Original Medicare, some Medicare Cost Plans, some Medicare Private-Fee-for-Service Plans, and 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. Keep in mind, you may owe a late enrollment penalty if you go without a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D), or without a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) (like an HMO or PPO) or other Medicare health plan that offers Medicare prescription drug coverage, or without creditable prescription drug coverage for any continuous period of 63 days or more after your Initial Enrollment Period is over.
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