Medicare Advantage insurers are adding more supplemental benefits to their plans in 2021. 

Medicare Advantage, also called Part C, is an alternative to Original Medicare and is offered by private insurance companies. 

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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. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estaimted that 42% of Medicare enrollees will have a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021. 

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.

 

Medicare Advantage plan benefits

Medicare Advantage combines coverage that people with Original Medicare get in Parts A and B (hospitals and physician services) and usually combines it with prescription drug coverage and other benefits.

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 2021

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

Here are some of the expanded supplemental benefits in 2021:

  • More than 94% of Medicare Advantage plans will have telehealth benefits. That's an increase from 58% of plans in 2020. 
  • More than 900 plans will offer help with non-medical care services for people with chronic conditions, such as help with housekeeping, grocery shopping and meal delivery. 
  • More than 400 plans will help with money for healthy food, meals and transportation. 
  • A new program will increase access to pallative care and integrated hospital care. Fifty-three Medicare Advantage plans will offer the program. 
  • About 730 plans will offer expanded adult day health servcies, caregiver services, in-home support services and home-based pallative care. 
  • About 500 plans will be geared to help people with certain chronic conditions, such as diabates. These plans will offer lower copays and expanded benefits, such as help with meals and transportation. 

Cathryn Donaldson, director, Communications & Public Affairs, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said the offerings will vary by plan. 

"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 has a benefit to address food insecurity. Alignment has 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 provides 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 have expanded "wellness" packages. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut is one example. The insurer provides 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 offers “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 has 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. 
  7. Service Dog Support: Several Medicare Advantage insurers include service dog support. Anthem/MaineHealth provides 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.

 

Medicare Advantage vs. Medicare supplemental insurance plans

People with Original Medicare can get a Medicare supplement insurance plan called Medigap. Medigap helps people pay for their out-of-pocket Medicare costs, such as copays and deductibles. 

Medicare Advantage members don’t qualify for Medigap. Instead, people with Medicare Advantage have to pay out-of-pocket costs themselves. 

A benefit of getting Original Medicare and Medigap is that some Medigap policies will help cover international medical costs. Original Medicare doesn’t cover you if you’re out of the country, but Medigap plans may help pay for health care costs abroad. 

 

How to buy a Medicare Advantage plan

The open enrollment period to make changes to your Medicare plan is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. 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 medicare.gov 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.