What are your Medicare Advantage Plan options in California?
Medicare Advantage Plans offer a few key differences that distinguish them from Parts A and B of the Original Medicare system managed by the federal government. While Part A pays for inpatient care at a hospital and Part B covers services and supplies used to treat or prevent medical conditions, Medicare Advantage Plans come with a few added benefits. Plans are required to offer the same level of care as Original Medicare and may include additional health care benefits, such as prescription drug coverage, routine hearing, vision, and dental exams, and fitness club memberships:
Designed to be an all-in-one solution, Medicare Advantage Plans are offered by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. There are several types of Medicare Advantage Plans available, depending on your insurance provider and location. Learn the differences between these plans and how they affect your coverage so that you can make the right choice for your medical situation.
Compare ratings of some of California’s Medicare Advantage Plan providers:
|Insurance company||Medicare rating||A.M. Best rating||BBB rating||NCQA rating||J.D. Power ranking|
|Aetna||4 stars||A||A+||2.5 to 4.5 stars||Fifth out of 10|
|Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield||4 to 4.5 stars||A+||A+||Not rated||Sixth out of 10|
|Cigna||4 stars||A-||Not rated||2.5 to 4.5 stars||Seventh out of 10|
|Humana||4 stars||A-||A+||1.5 to 4.5 stars||Third out of 10|
|Kaiser||5||A||A-||4.5 to 5 stars||First out of 10|
|UnitedHealthcare||3.5 stars||A-||A-||4 stars||Fourth out of 10|
Medicare Advantage Plans cover benefits from Original Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance), usually Part D (prescription drug coverage), and sometimes additional benefits that Original Medicare doesn’t cover. Each Medicare Advantage Plan insurer sets the rules about how you receive and pay for these benefits.
|Hospital and skilled nursing facility inpatient care||Home health care||Prescription drug coverage (if included in your plan)|
|Medically necessary outpatient services, such as:
||Preventive services, such as:
||Additional benefits (depending on your plan), such as:
There are four types of plans available in California’s Medicare Advantage program: Health maintenance organization (HMO), preferred provider organization (PPO), private fee-for-service (PFFS), and special needs plan (SNP). Each offers a different level of flexibility in your network of care providers and varies in price. All Medicare Advantage Plans provide the same coverage as Original Medicare, but additional benefits may come with an increased premium.
|HMOs||HMOs typically require that you receive all services from in network providers:
|PPOs||PPOs include a preferred network of providers, but you have the option of choosing doctors or hospitals from outside of the network for a higher cost.
|PFFS Plans||PFFS plans don’t require a primary care physician or referrals for specialists:
|SNPs||SNPs are only for people with specific conditions and characteristics, and include care coordination and targeted benefits tailored to meet your specific needs:
If you want to enroll in a California Medicare Advantage Plan, you need to be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, and you cannot be enrolled in Medigap. Enrollment is available to seniors 65 and older and those with a qualifying disability.
Your disability typically qualifies if you’ve received at least 24 Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) Disability Insurance payments. You can also enroll in Medicare Advantage Plans if you have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
There are three periods when you can enroll:
Medicare provides special enrollment periods for unusual life circumstances, such as losing your job (and health coverage) and moving out of the area your insurance carrier services.
Consider these factors as you compare Medicare Advantage Plans available in your area:
|Monthly premium||This is in addition to your Part B monthly premium. so it affects your monthly cash flow. You pay whether or not you access your benefits. You should have access to at least one zero premium plan with drug coverage in your area.|
|Provider network||Check to make sure your doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies are in network to keep costs as low as possible.|
|Out-of-pocket max||This is the most you’ll spend ― not including your premium, deductible, and drug costs ― for Medicare-covered services as long as you follow the plan’s rules for in and out of network coverage.|
|Deductibles, coinsurance & copays||Also known as cost-sharing, these expenses apply when you access your benefits. Check to see what your plan charges for doctor’s visits, services, treatments, and prescription drugs.|
|Drug coverage/formulary||See if your drugs are on the plan’s formulary and how much they cost each time you fill a prescription. You may want to talk with your doctor about a generic or alternative version of a drug you need.|
|Additional benefits||Consider which additional benefits are important to you. Most plans require you to use network providers and may charge extra premiums for more comprehensive coverage.|
If you’re feeling confused by the multitude of plan options available, getting in touch with trained, unbiased counselors can be a good first step. California is home to several organizations that can help you make an informed decision.
|California Association of Area Agencies on Aging||Website | (916) 443-2800||California Association of Area Agencies on Aging can connect you with one of its regional agencies, all of which provide a comprehensive selection of services for the region’s older adults. The agencies have programs designed to help seniors 60 and older maintain their health and independence, including resources to guide you through the Medicare enrollment process, and the counselors will help you understand the available benefits fully.|
|California Department on Aging||Website | 800-434-0222||The Department offers HICAP Medicare counseling services to help you navigate the program and Medicare Advantage plans.|
|California Health Advocates||Website | 916-231-5114||California Health Advocates provides information about Medicare, including Part D prescription coverage, and how to access financial aid. .|
|Health Services Advisory Group||Website | 818-409-9229 or 415-897-2400||If you already have Medicare, you can turn to the Health Services Advisory Group with any complaints about quality of care, delays in care, or other issues.|
Tammy Burns is an experienced health insurance advisor. She earned her nursing degree in 1990 from Jacksonville State University, obtained her insurance billing and coding certification in 1995, and holds a health and life insurance license in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Burns is Affordable Care Act (ACA)-certified for health insurance and other ancillary, life, and annuity products. She maintains an active nursing license and practices private-duty nursing.
Burns’ background as a nurse, insurance biller and coder, and insurance consultant includes infectious disease, oncology, gynecology, phlebotomy, post operative, family medicine, geriatrics, home health, hospice, human resources, management, billing, coding, claims, fixed annuities, group and individual health and life products, and Medicare. She’s always been driven by a desire to help people, spending more than 25 years as a practicing nurse in hospitals, private doctors’ offices, home health, and hospice. As a nurse, Burns supported patients filing insurance claims with Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies as well as responding to billing questions from confused patients.
Seeing firsthand how unsuspecting patients are frequently confused by an overly complex system they don’t understand led Burns to become an insurance agent and health care consultant, now helping people understand the medical system. Since becoming an insurance agent in 2013, she has worked with some of the largest and most reputable insurance carriers and agencies in the nation, and she has built a large and loyal clientele by way of her commitment to transparency and personalized service.