Medicare vs. Medicare Advantage

Posted by Phil Dougherty
September 28, 2022

Most of you reading this have Medicare as your primary insurance with a Medicare Supplement to fill in gaps. We have been advocates for this type of arrangement for nearly 30 years for its high level of insurance and the extensive provider access it provides.

As we approach open enrollment season, you will undoubtedly be receiving a deluge of mailings, be exposed to TV advertisements, and even phone and text messages about Medicare related health plans that seemingly cover everything for a low, low price. These are most likely Medicare Advantage plans that fall under Part C of Medicare. These should not be confused with your insurance program. It is an entirely different way one receives their Medicare health benefits and I want to share with you some important differences.

Medicare Advantage is a strategy promoted by Medicare to transfer health care costs to the private market. In essence, you “transfer” your Medicare benefits (Part A, Part B, and Part D) over to a private insurance company who is then responsible for delivering your care. Medicare subsidizes these plans with your Medicare allotted benefits.

Medicare Advantage plans include hospital and medical benefits, and usually include prescription drug coverage. They most always include additional ancillary benefits and services such as vision, hearing, acupuncture, transportation, gym memberships, and more. By being subsidized by the government, premiums can be as little as zero dollars per month. So, what’s the catch?

The promotions often fail to accurately explain their restrictions and limitations. Provider access and financial exposure are the most misunderstood aspects of Medicare Advantage plans. First, many of these plans are HMO’s that restrict your provider access to a local network that require referrals to specialists from a Primary Care Provider (PCP). In some counties PPO style options are available that don’t require referrals but will have separate in and out of network benefit schedules. In a Medicare Advantage plan your share of costs may include deductibles, copays, and coinsurance. All MA plans will have a maximum out-of-pocket that protect you against major claim years BUT, I have seen MA plans with maximums over $7000 per year.

Compare this with Medicare as your primary insurance which gives you access to any Medicare contracted provider in the country. And, when combined with a Medicare Supplement, can provide virtually 100% coverage for hospital and medical expenses. Standalone Part D drug plans can be added to help with outpatient prescriptions. Although this combination can be higher in monthly premiums, you have the peace of mind knowing in a high-claim year your out-of-pocket costs can be minimal.

Marketing tactics purposely attempt to cause confusion in order for the “target” to reach for the phone. Phone calls with MA sales reps can lead to be more confusion and often failing to educate the consumer of the consequences of enrollment…losing your Medicare Supplement and Part D drug coverage (you can’t have both).

Medicare Advantage plans aren’t necessarily a wrong choice, but they are not the same insurance as what you are used to and they are not always easily interchangeable. Medicare Advantage plans are a different way to receive your Medicare benefits and in a way you may not want. Read the plan’s summary of benefits first before making your decision and call us if you have any questions.