28- Oct2016
Posted By: Tony Fischer

Beware of Medicare Advantage Plans

As open enrollment for health insurance approaches, people all over the country are weighing the cost of their health care plans.  For seniors with Medicare coverage, there is pressure to convert straight Medicare insurance into an HMO or Advantage Plan. 

Late night infomercials and even entire TV channels are dedicated to promoting the advantages of Medicare HMOs with some insurers even promising lower monthly premiums if your join their network.  There are several positives to joining a Medicare HMO but can also be several disadvantages.

Before you join a Medicare based third party insurance plan there are several general concepts you should understand before sitting down with your insurance agent.

Medicare Advantage Plans vs. Medigap

The difference between Medicare based health plans and Medigap insurance are often misunderstood.  Medicare based heath insurance plans, often called Advantage plans, combine your Medicare and third party health insurer into one plan.  In most cases, members of Medicare based insurance plans pay one premium to their insurance company. The two insurance coverage’s become one and cannot be separated.

Medigap insurance plans are billed separately from your Medicare coverage and serve as a secondary insurance or co-payer to Medicare.  Medigap insurance can also be used to cover prescription medications.

How Medicare HMOs work.

Medicare based health plans get a monthly stipend from Medicare to manage your health insurance cost.  It helps the government control medical cost by allowing the insurer to determine coverage’s depending on the insured’s contract.

Medicare based plans still follow guidelines set forth be Medicare but they have their own rules regarding coverage amounts and the types of services covered.  In short the insurance company, not Medicare, is calling the shots.

Advantages of Medicare HMOs

Medicare HMOs offer a couple of unique advantages over having straight Medicare.  They can often lower monthly premiums and offer the ease of dealing with a single insurance company.  Depending on the company, Medicare based insurance plans also offer outreach and health maintenance programs as part of their coverage.

Medicare based plans coming from large employers as part of a pension benefit often have the most benefits. The ease of use, additional programs and lower premiums are the major reasons some seniors choose these types of insurance plans.


It is important to note that most every healthcare provider is licensed by Medicare and accepts Medicare insurance coverage.    However, not all healthcare providers accept all Medicare HMOs. Providers have to negotiate contracts with health insurance companies in order to be a part of their network.  So even if your insurance is Medicare based, it may not be accepted by every provider.

Additionally, insurance coverage rules are standard for every provider billing Medicare.  Not so for Medicare HMOs as each company has there own rules and coverage based on the contracts they have with their members and providers.  Deductibles also vary based on the insurance company.

Not All Insurances Are Created Equal

We are getting closer to a universal single payer healthcare system but we have a long way to go. Even though an insurance is Medicare based, the types of services, networks, costs and deductibles vary greatly form company to company.  HMOs offer some nice advantages but they aren’t a fit for everyone.

Before You Enroll

Before you make any changes to your insurance coverage you should ask the following questions:

  • Will all the Doctors I use be covered with my new insurance?
  • How will my out of pocket expense change related to how I use my coverage now?
  • What is the process for appeals if I don’t agree with a coverage decision?
  • Are the services covered by the insurance network close to home and convenient to use?
  • How does the insurance company service their customers?

Insurance companies offering Medicare based plans boast extensive networks and coverage’s. But straight coverage is often more widely accepted and covers most costs.

Whatever choice you make understand how your insurance coverage fits into lifestyle and unique healthcare concerns. Developing a senior care plan is a great way to define you unique healthcare needs and coordinate care based on your human, insurance and financial resources.  We can help you develop this plan.  For more information of our senior care planning services CLICK HERE.

Tony Fischer

As an advocate for elders and their families, Tony has experience in the entire healthcare continuum. He has worked in hospitals, nursing homes, home care, hospice, and non-profits.

His vast and unique experience led him to become a consultant that helps clients navigate the senior healthcare system. Tony also works hand and hand with healthcare providers to improve and streamline customer service.