Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans)
People with Medicare can get their coverage through Original Medicare (the traditional fee-for-service program) or from Medicare private plans (the Medicare Advantage program also known as Medicare Part C). Depending on where you live, you may be able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan offering one or more of the following types of health care: HMO, PPO, PFFS, MSA.
If you choose coverage under the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program, you can generally get care from any doctor or hospital you want and receive coverage for your care anywhere in the country. However, traditional Medicare has high cost-sharing requirements and does not currently cover the costs of certain services. To help pay for uncovered benefits and to help with Medicare’s cost-sharing requirements, many people in the traditional Medicare program have supplemental insurance, known as Medicare Supplements or Medigap Plans (these supplemental insurance plans fill in gaps that Medicare does not cover but unlike Medicare Part C and Part D, these plans are not part of the government Medicare program).
Medicare Advantage Plans
Medicare HMOs cover the same doctor and hospital services as the original Medicare program, but out-of-pocket costs for these services are usually different. HMOs appeal to some people with Medicare because they may provide additional benefits, such as eyeglasses, which are not covered by the traditional Medicare program. Medicare HMOs may charge a premium that you would need to pay in addition to the Part B monthly premium.
You should be aware that Medicare HMO enrollees generally can only use doctors, hospitals, and other providers in the HMO’s network. For an additional fee, some HMOs offer point-of-service (POS) benefits that partially cover care received outside the network.
If you join a Medicare HMO, you will usually have to select a primary care doctor who is responsible for deciding when you should see a specialist and which specialist you should see.
Most HMOs will not pay for unauthorized visits to specialists in the plan, providers outside the HMO’s network, or for non-emergency care outside the HMO’s service area.
Medicare PPOs, or “Preferred Provider Organizations,” are private health plans, much like Medicare HMOs. HMOs and PPOs differ in two key ways:
- Medicare PPOs cover some of the costs of your care if you use doctors and hospitals outside the network.
- Medicare PPOs generally do not require that you see a primary care physician before going to a specialist.
Regional PPOs became available under Medicare in 2006. These plans are similar to local Medicare PPOs, but serve a larger geographic area (either a single state or multi-state area) and must offer the same premiums, benefits, and cost-sharing requirements to all beneficiaries in the region. Regional Medicare PPOs offer all Medicare benefits, including the prescription drug benefit. These plans often but not always have a single deductible for hospital and physician services and an annual out-of-pocket limit on cost sharing for benefits covered under Parts A and B of Medicare. Keep in mind that the out-of-pocket limit will vary depending on the plan you select. As with local PPOs, individuals who sign up for a regional PPO will typically pay more if they go to providers outside of the network.
Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) Plans
Private fee-for-service plans cover Medicare benefits like doctor and hospital services, much like Medicare HMOs and PPOs. Unlike Medicare HMOs and PPOs, private fee-for-service plans do not have a formal network of doctors and hospitals. Still, not all doctors and hospitals are willing to treat members of a private fee-for-service plan. If considering enrolling in a private fee-for-service plan, make sure your doctor and hospital are willing to accept the private fee-for-service plan’s payments for services before you enroll. Also, be sure you understand a plan’s benefits and cost sharing requirements before you enroll because private fee-for-service plans decide how much enrollees pay for Medicare-covered services and may charge higher cost sharing for certain health care services than the original Medicare program. While private fee-for-service plans are not required to offer the Medicare drug benefit, most do. If you enroll in a private fee-for-service plans without drug coverage, you can also enroll in a Medicare stand-alone prescription drug plan for your drug coverage.
A Medicare Advantage Private Fee-for-Service plan works differently than a Medicare supplement plan. Your provider is not required to agree to accept the plan’s terms and conditions of payment, and thus may choose not to treat you, with the exception of emergencies. If your provider does not agree to accept the terms and conditions of payment, they may choose not to provide health care services to you, except in emergencies. If this happens, you will need to find another provider that will accept the terms and conditions of payment. Providers can find the plan’s terms and conditions of payment on the plan’s website.
Medicare MSA Plans
A Medicare MSA Plan is a health insurance policy with a high deductible coupled with a Medical Savings Account (MSA). Medicare pays the premium for the Medicare MSA Plan and makes a deposit to the Medicare MSA that you establish. You use the money deposited in your Medicare MSA to pay for medical expenses. If you don’t use all the money in your Medicare MSA, next year’s deposit will be added to your balance. Money can be withdrawn from a Medicare MSA for non-medical expenses, but that money will be taxed. If you enroll in a Medicare MSA, you must stay in it for a full year.
Special Needs Plans (SNPs)
Special needs plans are private plans that provide Medicare benefits, including drug coverage for beneficiaries with special needs. These include people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, those living in certain long-term care facilities (like a nursing home), and those with severe chronic or disabling conditions.
For additional information about Medicare Advantage plans, call 1-800-MEDICARE, or get information about Medicare options in your area on the Medicare Personal Plan Finder website, http://www.medicare.gov/MPPF/home.asp.
Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drugs
All companies offering Medicare Advantage plans must offer prescription drug coverage in at least one of their plans. Medicare Advantage plans with drug coverage may vary in their premiums, deductibles, formularies and cost-sharing, depending on the type of Medicare Advantage plan you select.