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Medicare Advantage Plans (MAs) and Medicare Advantage Plans with Prescription Drug Coverage (MA-PDs)

Medicare Advantage Plans are health plans that are approved by Medicare and provided by private companies such as Aetna, Cigna, Coventry, Health Net, Humana, United HealthCare, WellCare, and many others. Medicare sets the rules for Medicare Advantage Plans and regulates the private companies who operate the Plans.

Medicare Advantage Plans are also sometimes referred to as Medicare Health Plans, Medicare Part C Plans, and MAs/MA-PDs (and originally, Medicare Advantage Plans were called Medicare+Choice plans). A Medicare Advantage Plan combines your Medicare Hospitalization (or Medicare Part A) and Medical insurance or Doctor's Visit Coverage (or Medicare Part B) into one Health Plan that provides the same Medically-Necessary Services as Original Medicare. Some, but not all Medicare Advantage Plans also offer Prescription Drug Coverage (or Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D) at no additional cost and are called MA-PDs.

Can anyone join a Medicare Advantage Plan?

No. A person must meet a few conditions to eligible for a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you wish to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan (a MA or MA-PD), you must be:

  • eligible for Medicare,
  • enrolled in both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B (you can check this by referring to your Red, White, and Blue Medicare Card),
  • live within the Plan’s service area (which is county-by-county - not state-by-state), and
  • not have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). However the ESRD rule is changing. Beginning in 2021, you can join a Medicare Advantage plan (MA or MAPD) even If you have End-Stage Renal Disease.
For example, if you and a friend both have Medicare Part A and Part B, but live in different counties, your friend my be able to join a Medicare Advantage Plan that has a prescription drug benefit (MA-PD) with a $0 monthly premium. However, this same MA-PD may not be available in your county a few miles away.
If you have a question click here to let us know.

Remember that a Medicare Advantage Plan is not the same as a Medicare Supplement. A Medicare Supplement works in addition to your Original Medicare coverage and a Medicare Advantage Plan works in place of your Original Medicare and may provide additional features.
Do you lose your Original Medicare Part A and Part B when you enroll in Medicare Advantage Plan?

No. Once enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, the private company offering your Plan will take over some of the administrative processes to implement your Medicare benefits; however, you do not lose your Original Medicare. Later, if you wish to leave a Medicare Advantage plan, you can return to your Original Medicare Part A and Part B coverage during either the Annual Coordinated Election Period (AEP) (October 15th through December 7th) .
Still have more questions? Click here to let us know.

What are the types of Medicare Advantage Plans?

There are only a few primary types of Medicare Advantage Plans and most of the different Medicare Advantage Plans may also include prescription drug coverage:
  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) - A Health Maintenance Organization that is contracted with Medicare provides you with access to a network of doctors and hospitals that coordinate your care, with an emphasis on prevention. This allows you to get more benefits than the Original Medicare Plan and many Medicare Supplement plans. An HMO has the tightest or most restrictive network where your care may not be covered if you go outside the HMO network without obtaining prior approval.
  • Health Maintenance Organization with a Point of Service Option (HMO POS) - This is a Health Maintenance Organization that provides a more flexible network allowing you to seek care outside of the traditional HMO network under certain situations or for certain treatment. You may pay some additional fees for using the POS (out-of-network) option.
  • Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) - A Preferred Provider Organization provides access to a network of doctors and hospitals that coordinate your care. As with an HMO, a PPO allows you to get more benefits than the Original Medicare Plan and many Medicare supplement plans. PPOs have a network of doctors and facilities, but also allow you to use any doctor or hospital outside of the network for a higher copay or coinsurance.
  • Private Fee-For-Service (PFFS) - A Private Fee-For-Service Plan is a type of Medicare Advantage Plan in which you may go to any Medicare-approved doctor or hospital that accepts both Medicare and the plan’s payment (or terms and conditions). The insurance plan, rather than the Medicare Program, decides how much it will pay and what you pay for the services you get. You may pay more or less for Medicare-covered benefits. You may have extra benefits the Original Medicare Plan doesn’t cover. The PFFS Plans are the most flexible, but a doctor or hospital can make patient-by-patient or visit-by-visit decisions of whether to accept the PFFS Plan Member.
  • Medicare Special Needs Plans (SNPs) - A Special Needs Plan is a Medicare Advantage Plan with coverage designed especially for Medicare beneficiaries with certain chronic conditions (like Diabetes) or have some other specific need. Usually only people with certain conditions or needs are allowed into a SNP.
  • Medicare Medical Savings Account (MSAs) - A Medical Savings Account is a combination of a high-deductible health plan and a bank account where your Plan deposits a certain amount of money per year. You use the money in your account to pay for Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B expenses, and when your Plan deductible is met, the Plan pays for any further Medicare-covered services. MSAs are only MAs and not MA-PDs. That is, MSAs do not offer Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

Does each Medicare Advantage Plan offer the same type of health coverage?

No. Each Medicare Advantage Plan is different. Although all Medicare Advantage Plans must cover at least the Medicare Medically-Necessary Services, Medicare Advantage Plans can charge different deductibles, offer copayments (for instance $30 per office visit) or various coinsurance terms (such as 20% of the procedure cost). Some Medicare Advantage Plans have a limit on how much you can spend in a year and some MAs do not have a limit on spending. Medicare Advantage Plans also offer additional services like eye care, dental care, and fitness programs.
Bottom Line: Be sure to understand the coverage before enrolling - if you are unsure, ask questions or telephone Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 for assistance.

How does a person choose a Medicare Advantage Plan?

It is of course important to compare the benefits between your current coverage and the Medicare Advantage Plan. Be sure that you understand the additional benefits and any benefits (or freedoms) that you may loose. In general, we usually remind people to look at the Cost, Coverage, Convenience, Company reputation, and Comments from other Members. In particular, be sure to look at the following:
  • Can you change your current doctor(s) or are they in the new plan’s network?
  • If prescription drug coverage is provided, are your medications on the plan’s formulary?
  • How much is the monthly premium?
  • How much will your coverage cost? Copayments and coinsurance as explained in the plan’s Summary of Benefits.
  • Which additional services are offered, such as preventative care, vision, dental, and health club membership.
  • Are there any treatments that you need that are not covered by the Plan?
  • Can you work within the network restrictions (like paying extra when you visit a doctor who is out-of-network)?

Helpful Links:

A good illustration of coverage choices (Original Medicare with Prescription Drug Coverage or a Medicare Advantage Plan) can be found in the 2007 Medicare and You handbook (unfortunately, this section was eliminated from the newer Medicare and You editions). Click here.

What Are Medicare Advantage Plans - provides a more detailed definition of Medicare Advantage plans with follow through links.

Deciding How to Get Your Medicare Benefits. More help on how to choose a plan.

Compare how a PPO, HMO, and PFFS Medicare Advantage plans work.

Tips & Disclaimers
  • Q1Medicare®, Q1Rx®, and Q1Group® are registered Service Marks of Q1Group LLC and may not be used in any advertising, publicity, or for commercial purposes without the express authorization of Q1Group.
  • The Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plan data on our site comes directly from Medicare and is subject to change.
  • Medicare has neither reviewed nor endorsed the information on our site.
  • We provide our Q1Medicare.com site for educational purposes and strive to present unbiased and accurate information. However, Q1Medicare is not intended as a substitute for your lawyer, doctor, healthcare provider, financial advisor, or pharmacist. For more information on your Medicare coverage, please be sure to seek legal, medical, pharmaceutical, or financial advice from a licensed professional or telephone Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.
  • We are an independent education, research, and technology company. We are not affiliated with any Medicare plan, plan carrier, healthcare provider, or insurance company. We are not compensated for Medicare plan enrollments. We do not sell leads or share your personal information.
  • Benefits, formulary, pharmacy network, provider network, premium and/or co-payments/co-insurance may change on January 1 of each year. Our PDPCompare.com and MACompare.com provide highlights of annual plan benefit changes.
  • The benefit information provided is a brief summary, not a complete description of benefits. For more information contact the plan.
  • Limitations, copayments, and restrictions may apply.
  • We make every effort to show all available Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plans in your service area. However, since our data is provided by Medicare, it is possible that this may not be a complete listing of plans available in your service area. For a complete listing please contact 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048), 24 hours a day/7 days a week or consult www.medicare.gov.
    Statement required by Medicare:
    "We do not offer every plan available in your area. Any information we provide is limited to those plans we do offer in your area. Please contact Medicare.gov or 1-800-MEDICARE to get information on all of your options."
  • When enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must continue to pay your Medicare Part B premium.
  • Medicare beneficiaries with higher incomes may be required to pay both a Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). Read more on IRMAA.
  • Medicare Advantage plans that include prescription drug coverage (MAPDs) are considered Medicare Part D plans and members with higher incomes may be subject to the Medicare Part D Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA), just as members in stand-alone Part D plans. In certain situations, you can appeal IRMAA.
  • You must be enrolled in both Medicare Part A and Part B to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. Members may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan only during specific times of the year. Contact the Medicare plan for more information.
  • If you are enrolled in a Medicare plan with Part D prescription drug coverage, you may be eligible for financial Extra Help to assist with the payment of your prescription drug premiums and drug purchases. To see if you qualify for Extra Help, call: 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048, 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week or consult www.medicare.gov; the Social Security Office at 1-800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. TTY users should call, 1-800-325-0778; or your state Medicaid Office.
  • Medicare evaluates plans based on a 5-Star rating system. Star Ratings are calculated each year and may change from one year to the next.
  • A Medicare Advantage Private Fee-for-Service plan (PFFS) is not a Medicare supplement plan. Providers who do not contract with the plan are not required to see you except in an emergency.
  • Disclaimer for Institutional Special Needs Plan (SNP): This plan is available to anyone with Medicare who meets the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) level of care and resides in a nursing home.
  • Disclaimer for Dual Eligible (Medicare/Medicaid) Special Needs Plan (SNP): This plan is available to anyone who has both Medical Assistance from the State and Medicare. Premiums, co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles may vary based on the level of Extra Help you receive. Please contact the plan for further details.
  • Disclaimer for Chronic Condition Special Needs Plan (SNP): This plan is available to anyone with Medicare who has been diagnosed with the plan specific Chronic Condition.
  • Medicare MSA Plans combine a high deductible Medicare Advantage Plan and a trust or custodial savings account (as defined and/or approved by the IRS). The plan deposits money from Medicare into the account. You can use this money to pay for your health care costs, but only Medicare-covered expenses count toward your deductible. The amount deposited is usually less than your deductible amount, so you generally have to pay out-of-pocket before your coverage begins.
  • Medicare MSA Plans do not cover prescription drugs. If you join a Medicare MSA Plan, you can also join any separate (stand-alone) Medicare Part D prescription drug plan
  • There are additional restrictions to join an MSA plan, and enrollment is generally for a full calendar year unless you meet certain exceptions. Those who disenroll during the calendar year will owe a portion of the account deposit back to the plan. Contact the plan provider for additional information.
  • Medicare beneficiaries may enroll through the CMS Medicare Online Enrollment Center located at www.medicare.gov.
  • Medicare beneficiaries can file a complaint with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services by calling 1-800-MEDICARE 24 hours a day/7 days or using the medicare.gov site. Beneficiaries can appoint a representative by submitting CMS Form-1696.