Medicare Advantage enrollment extended

Medicare Advantage enrollment extended
Although the annual Medicare Part D enrollment period has closed, one lesser-known prescription drug coverage option remains open for many seniors. The so-called "Medicare Advantage" plans, which were expanded as part of the legislation that created Part D, provide health insurance through private insurers and often include drug insurance.

"Many seniors are finding that Medicare Advantage plans are a great way to control their personal health care costs while on a fixed income. Some of the newer plans are particularly appealing because they offer the costs savings of the old Medicare HMOs with the flexibility of a Medigap," said Senior Educators President Brian Poger. "And equally important, these Medicare Advantage plans are now available nearly nationwide, including in previously underserved rural areas."

In addition, Medicare Advantage may offer a second chance to seniors who have encountered problems with their current prescription drug plan or who are looking for additional health savings in 2007. Most Medicare beneficiaries can sign up for or switch their Medicare Advantage plans through March 31.

Newer Medicare Advantage plans do not limit or penalize members for choosing their physicians or seeing specialists without referral. Medicare HMOs, which have been around for over 15 years, provided savings, but traded off patients' freedom to see any doctor. Because they don't require comprehensive networks, the newer Medicare Advantage plans are available in nearly every county across America in 2007.

These Medicare Advantage plans limit financial exposure to people in original Medicare without a Medigap plan and save most people money. According to information released by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the average senior that switches from original Medicare or Medigap into a Medicare Advantage plan will save an average of $82 per month, or about $1,000 a year. Additionally, seniors who are in original Medicare without a supplement will generally be better protected against high medical costs with a Medicare Advantage plan.

"Medicare Advantage offers total health care coverage for Medicare members tailored to a wide range of health needs and individual budgets," said Brian Poger. "This is Medicare for the 21st Century."

The Medicare Advantage plans were one of the most important changes to Medicare in 2007, and often cost less than a stand-alone drug plan. Most Medicare beneficiaries have low-priced plans availables.

In 2006, nearly 7 million, or about 17 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans; CMS estimates enrollment will reach 30 percent of beneficiaries by 2013.

"Prescription drugs are definitely not the 'end-all' when it comes to total senior health costs," said Brian Poger. "Prescription drug costs receive a lot of attention because seniors used to have to pay 100 percent of their costs before Part D, but the most expensive part of health care is actually all the services covered under original Medicare, including hospitalization, doctor's visits, testing, and skilled nursing. And seniors in original Medicare pay dearly for those costs, either through Medigap premiums or Medicare co-pays. In the search to lower personal health care costs, it pays to look at the big picture."

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