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Medicare Advantage Plans Save You Money, but Limit Your Choices

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If you’re presently enrolled in Medicare, or are planning to enroll soon, you’ll be interested in this just-published article we found on the website of the news service Reuters. This article will provide helpful food for thought for those trying to choose between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. As with many similar decisions, buyers face a trade-off: pay higher rates for more choice, or save money but find your medical options limited.

The gist of the article is that, while Medicare Advantage plans are growing rapidly in popularity, policy holders of these popular plans may find themselves unable to use some of the best medical care providers in their locales. That’s because Medicare Advantage plans are basically HMOs (health maintenance organizations) or PPOs (preferred provider organizations) offered by private insurance companies. Medicare Advantage plans generally save money compared with traditional Medicare by limiting policy holder’s choices to the doctors and service providers on their approved list.

Lower costs are definitely driving seniors to Medicare Advantage, says Reuters. In 2010 about 11 percent of Medicare enrollees were in Advantage plans – today that percentage has nearly tripled, and projections by the Congressional Budget Office suggest that in the next decade the figure will hit 41 percent. Experts say these plans can benefit seniors who are on fixed incomes, so long as they aren’t facing severe health crises. “Medicare Advantage may be just fine if you are healthy,” says Reuters, “but problems may crop up if your healthcare needs become more complex and you have very specific healthcare provider preferences.”

In other words, if you need special care but the best specialists in your area aren’t on your plan, you’ll be out of luck. For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation studied Medicare Advantage Plans and concluded that only 40 percent of them included top quality cancer centers. Twenty percent did not offer coverage at a regional academic medical center, traditionally home to the top specialists in any given field. You may be saving money with Medicare Advantage but there may be a hidden downside.

One step in the right direction, Reuters suggests, would be for Medicare Advantage companies such as Humana, United HealthCare and Blue Cross Blue Shield to make certain their provider lists are up to date. That way, policy buyers can check to ensure if the doctors and clinics they prefer are part of the plan. But the Kaiser study found that that provider data from Medicare Advantage firms “often is very difficult to review [and] can be out of date.” The Reuters article said researchers found provider directories “often were riddled with errors, omissions and outdated information.”

This isn’t to suggest that Medicare Advantage plans are always a bad idea. As we said above, there are trade-offs, and Medicare Advantage plans do offer some attractive benefits beyond their lower cost. But once you choose which way to go with your Medicare coverage, you’re pretty much locked in until the next open enrollment which takes place between October 15th and December 7th each year. That means now would be a good time to start thinking about your options, since open enrollment will be here sooner than you think.

A good place to start might be to read the Reuters article here. Then give AgingOptions a call. We specialize in walking our clients through the maze of options involved with retirement planning, including medical choices, financial plans, family communications, housing options and legal preparation. All these aspects of retirement are encompassed in the process we call LifePlanning. With a LifePlan in place you can make informed choices as you build the retirement you’ve always hoped you would have. You can enjoy peace of mind knowing that your assets will be protected and you’ll never have to worry about becoming a burden to those you love. LifePlanning is the answer to your concerns about retirement.

We invite you to take a bit of time out of your busy schedule and attend one of our free information-packed LifePlanning Seminars. There’s absolutely no obligation – and the information you glean will change the way you think about retirement planning! There’s a LifePlanning Seminar coming soon to a location near you, so click on the Upcoming Events tab for information and online registration – or contact us here at AgingOptions. It will be our pleasure to serve you with objective, comprehensive information you can use today to ensure a brighter tomorrow.

(originally reported at

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