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Medicare Advantage Plans: More Choices, More “Extras,” Maybe More Confusion

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This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released a report analyzing the Medicare Advantage (MA) plan landscape for 2022. The report found that, for 2022, the average Medicare beneficiary has access to 39 MA plans—more than double the number available in 2017. About six in ten plans offered in 2022 are HMOs, 37% are local PPOs, and the balance are regional PPOs and a declining number of private fee-for-service plans. In 2022, almost 90% of available plans will include prescription coverage, and 59% of those plans charge no premium (beneficiaries still must pay their Part B premiums). Beneficiaries in Alaska and Wyoming will not have access to plans with no additional MA monthly premium, but 98% of beneficiaries have access to at least one such plan.

The large number of available plans can cause problems for beneficiaries. More plans, more (and varied) extra benefits, and more special plans means more choices, but more choice is not always better. Especially when plans are remarkably similar, benefits have a lot of fine print, and costs associated with narrow networks or other restrictions can be hard to determine, more choices can be overwhelming and impede good decision-making.

In addition to considering premiums, drug coverage, and plan networks, beneficiaries must also consider what additional or extra benefits are offered by different plans. Recent changes to Medicare laws and rules have expanded the supplemental benefits that Medicare Advantage plans can offer. These benefits, however, continue to vary in the “scope of specific services.” The KFF report notes that “a dental benefit may include cleanings only or more comprehensive coverage, often subject to an annual cap on the amount covered.” Other extra benefits that are frequently offered in 2022 include meal benefits, transportation benefits, and over the counter supplies like bandages. Less frequently, plans cover bathroom safety devices, telemonitoring, or caregiver respite supports.

Medicare Rights encourages people with Medicare to compare MA and Part D plans each year before the deadline and to reach out to our helpline or to local State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) for unbiased, personalized help in choosing 2022 Medicare coverage.

Read the KFF report.

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