Medicare Advantage insurers are adding more supplemental benefits to their plans in 2020. 

Medicare Advantage, also called Part C, is an alternative to Original Medicare. Private insurers offer Medicare Advantage coverage. 

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Meanwhile, Original Medicare comprises Parts A and B. Part A covers hospital stays; Part B handles physician services. The federal government provides Parts A and B coverage. If you have Original Medicare, you need to add Part D to get prescription drug coverage. 

Most people with Medicare have Parts A and B. However, that’s been changing over the past decade. Now, about one-third of Medicare enrollees have a Medicare Advantage plan. Roughly 11 million more people have Medicare Advantage than 10 years ago. 

One reason for its increased popularity is Medicare Advantage’s supplemental benefits. The plans often offer dental, vision and prescription drug coverage. In recent years, the federal government has allowed Medicare Advantage insurers to expand benefits further.


More Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits in 2020

Medicare Advantage can now offer expanded services, such as meal delivery, home safety, rides to doctor appointments and preventative care.

Roughly 500 plans will provide nearly 2.6 million Medicare Advantage enrollees with access to expanded health-related supplemental benefits, such as adult care services or caregiver support services, in 2020. 

It'll also expand opportunities for chronically ill patients. Medicare Advantage plans can now offer benefits that improve health but aren’t connected directly to medical care. For instance, transportation for non-medical needs, grocery shopping and improved home environments. 

About 250 plans will provide these types of supplemental benefits in 2020. Cathryn Donaldson, director, Communications & Public Affairs, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said the offerings will vary. 

"The supplemental benefits offered are really going to depend on the plan, the insurance provider and the population/market they serve," stressed Donaldson. "For example, if they serve a more rural area, they may be investing in transportation for doctor's appointments… Or if they serve an area that is considered a food desert, they may help their members access fresh produce and groceries."

Experts say food deserts, which are areas that lack supermarkets with fresh food, can lead to worse health. Food deserts are more common in poor and rural areas. These regions are also more prone to poor health. 


Seven Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits

It’s critical to dig into plan information when comparing Medicare Advantage options. One plan may offer specialized benefits to someone with diabetes, while another might focus more on fitness. 

Here are seven Medicare Advantage benefits that you may not know about: 

  1. Monthly Grocery Benefit: Alignment Healthcare is among the Medicare Advantage insurers that will add a benefit to address food insecurity. Alignment is implementing a $10 to $20 per month grocery benefit for qualifying members. Certain plans will partner with stores, such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.
  2. Healthy Food Deliveries: Amerigroup announced that it'll add up to 16 delivered meals four times each calendar year (64 total) for qualifying members. To qualify, Medicare Advantage members must either be discharged from an overnight stay at a hospital, have a Body Mass Index (BMI) more than 25 or less than 18 or have an A1C level of more than 9.0. Many other Medicare Advantage plans, including Zing, are providing similar healthy-food delivery type benefits.
  3. Personal Home Helper: Medicare Advantage insurers are adding this to their offerings of "wellness" packages. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut is one example. The insurer is providing up to 124 hours of an in-home personal care aide to help with daily activities, such as dressing, grooming and bathing.
  4. Transportation Services via Uber and Lyft:  Some Medicare Advantage insurers offer free "on-demand" transportation to doctor appointments using Uber and Lyft. Alignment, Blue Shield of California, Humana and Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield are among those with the benefit. Amerigroup, for instance, gives its Medicare Advantage plan participants up to 60 one-way trips per year to health-related appointments or to obtain a service covered by the health plan.
  5. "Grandkids On-Demand": This Medicare Advantage added benefit is "to help solve the growing loneliness epidemic," according to Alignment. The benefit will offer “companion care” that “connects college students with qualifying members who need assistance with non-medical services.” These services could be light housekeeping, technology lessons and general companionship. Vibra Health Plan is adding a similar Medicare Advantage plan benefit called "Papa Pals.” The program is an arrangement that links college students with members who need assistance with light household chores and errands.
  6. House Calls: UnitedHealthcare, which is the largest Medicare Advantage insurer, has a program called HouseCalls. The program offers people an annual health and wellness visit from the comfort of home, helping make it easier to get needed care, tests and treatment. The company expects to complete 1.7 million HouseCalls for its members in 2019.
  7. Service Dog Support: Several Medicare Advantage insurers are including service dog support. Anthem/MaineHealth, which heads into its first year offering Medicare Advantage plans, will provide a wellness option of up to $500 annual allowance to help pay for items used to care for a member's service dog, such as leashes and vests. The dog must be certified under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When comparing benefits and supplements, it's important to put a magnifying glass to the fine print. They vary by insurer. For instance, while Amerigroup offers a slew of new health care coverage options, several are for those with the "Everyday Extras" package. These participants can select only one of the 10 "extra" services. So, do you pick food or a ride? That's the kind of thing you've got to make sure you understand.


How to buy a Medicare Advantage plan

The open enrollment period to make changes to your Medicare plan is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2019. Consumers can also enroll at that time, as well as three months before or after they turn 65 years old. Individuals about to turn 65, or who are otherwise eligible due to a disability, should visit or call 1-800 Medicare.

Donaldson said many Medicare Advantage plans offer no premiums. Nearly half of enrollees who stay with their current Medicare Advantage plan will have a $0 premium, she added. 

Also, those eligible can select a plan using the Medicare Advantage Star Ratings program to assess the different quality measures. 

For the first time in a decade, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently launched a modernized and redesigned Medicare Plan Finder. On the Medicare Plan Finder, you can shop and compare Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. That can help you find the right Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan for you.