How Medicare Advantage Plans Work

Navigating the world of healthcare coverage can be overwhelming, but understanding your options is crucial for making the best decision for your needs.

Medicare Advantage Plans offer an alternative to traditional Medicare, providing a comprehensive solution that combines hospital, outpatient, and prescription drug coverage through private insurance companies.

Read on to learn more about how Medicare Advantage Plans work and the benefits they offer to help you make an informed choice.


Key Takeaways



  • Consider personal healthcare needs when selecting a plan to make an informed decision.

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The Basics of Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage Plans are often referred to as Part C. They provide a private health insurance option that covers many of the same Medicare benefits as traditional Medicare and Medicare supplement insurance.

These plans encompass hospital insurance (Part A), medical insurance (Part B), and in many cases prescription drug coverage (Part D). Offered by private insurers, Medicare Advantage Plans often include additional benefits not covered by Original Medicare, such as vision, hearing, and dental services.

As of 2021, approximately 43 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were Medicare Advantage enrollees, and this number is expected to grow in the Medicare Advantage plans.


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What is a Medicare Advantage Plan?

A Medicare Advantage Plan is a private health insurance plan that offers coverage for Medicare Part A, Part B, and in some cases Part D, in addition to other benefits.

These plans include the same benefits as Medicare Part A and Part B. They are also likely to cover prescription drug coverage offered by Medicare Part D. Additional benefits not covered by Medicare are usually included, such as routine dental care, eye exams and glasses, and hearing aids.


How Do Medicare Advantage Plans Differ from Traditional Medicare?

While both traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans provide essential health coverage, there are some key differences between the two. Here are the main differences:


  1. Medicare Advantage Plans tend to have provider networks, meaning you may need to use doctors and hospitals within the plan’s network to receive coverage.
  2. Medicare Advantage Plans frequently provide extra benefits like dental, vision, and hearing services, not covered by traditional Medicare.
  3. The cost structures of Medicare Advantage Plans can vary, as they are provided by private insurance companies, while traditional Medicare is administered by the federal government.

Components of Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage Plans are designed to provide comprehensive healthcare coverage, encompassing hospital insurance (Part A), medical insurance (Part B), and often prescription drug coverage (Part D).


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By offering all of these components in one plan, Medicare Advantage Plans simplify the healthcare process and often include additional benefits not covered by traditional Medicare.


Hospital Insurance (Part A)

Part A of Medicare Advantage Plans covers the following hospital services:


  • Inpatient hospital care
  • Skilled nursing facility care
  • Hospice care
  • Some home health care services


All Medicare Advantage Plans are required to provide the same coverage for hospital services as traditional Medicare, ensuring that enrollees receive necessary care.


Medical Insurance (Part B)

Medicare Advantage Plans also provide medical insurance through Part B, covering services such as doctors’ visits, outpatient care, and preventive services.


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Unlike traditional Medicare, where Part B coverage is provided by the federal government, in a Medicare Advantage Plan, Part B coverage is provided by a private insurance company, which means coverage and costs may vary depending on the specific plan.


Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D)

Many Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage through Part D, ensuring that enrollees have access to necessary medications. While Part D coverage is not included in every Medicare Advantage Plan, most plans do offer this coverage, making it an important consideration when choosing a plan.

Before enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you should confirm if Part D coverage is available.

Types of Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage Plans come in various types, each with its own set of features and benefits. The most common types of plans include:


  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)
  • Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs)
  • Other plan types such as Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plans, Special Needs Plans (SNPs), and Medical Savings Account (MSA) plans.


Grasping the differences between these plan types is beneficial in choosing a plan that best matches your requirements.


Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)

HMOs are a type of Medicare Advantage Plan that require members to use in-network providers and obtain referrals for specialist care. This means that you’ll need to receive care from doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers within the plan’s designated network to be eligible for coverage.

HMOs typically have lower out-of-pocket costs than other plan types, but may offer less flexibility in choosing healthcare providers.


Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs)

PPOs, on the other hand, offer more flexibility in choosing healthcare providers. In a PPO Medicare Advantage Plan, you have the option to see any doctor or specialist without a referral, although you may have higher out-of-pocket costs for out-of-network care.

PPOs give you more freedom in your healthcare choices, but may come with higher premiums compared to other plan types, such as HMOs.


Other Medicare Advantage Plan Types

In addition to HMOs and PPOs, there are other types of Medicare Advantage Plans available. Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plans provide healthcare coverage through a network of contracted providers.


List of medicare advantage plans



Special Needs Plans (SNPs) are designed for individuals with specific health conditions or needs, such as those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, or those with chronic illnesses.

Medical Savings Account (MSA) plans combine a high-deductible health insurance plan with a medical savings account, allowing you to save money for healthcare expenses tax-free. Understanding the differences between these plan types can help you determine the best option for your healthcare needs.

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Extra Benefits and Services

One of the key advantages of Medicare Advantage Plans is that they often include extra benefits and services not covered by traditional Medicare. These extra benefits can include:


  • Dental coverage
  • Vision coverage
  • Hearing coverage
  • Preventive services
  • Wellness programs


This added coverage can help you maintain your health and well-being while minimizing out-of-pocket expenses.


Dental, Vision, and Hearing

Many Medicare Advantage Plans offer Medicare coverage for:


  • Routine dental services, including cleanings, fillings, crowns, and other preventive and restorative care
  • Vision services, such as eye exams and an allowance for eyewear
  • Hearing services, including coverage for hearing aids and related services


These additional benefits can help you maintain your overall health and well-being.


Preventive Services and Wellness Programs

In addition to dental, vision, and hearing coverage, Medicare Advantage Plans often offer preventive services and wellness programs, such as gym memberships, health coaching, and disease management programs.


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These programs are designed to support your overall health and wellness, helping you stay active, manage chronic conditions, and prevent future health issues. Additionally, some Medicare Advantage plans may include Medicaid services, further expanding the range of benefits available to you.

Costs and Out-of-Pocket Expenses

It’s important to understand the costs and out-of-pocket expenses associated with Medicare Advantage Plans before enrolling. These costs can vary depending on the plan and can include:


  • Premiums
  • Deductibles
  • Copayments
  • Cost-sharing for covered services


Comprehending these costs enables you to opt for a plan that aligns with your budget and health care requirements.



Premiums for Medicare Advantage Plans can range from $0 to several hundred dollars per month, depending on the plan and location.

Factors that can affect the premium cost include health status, supplemental coverage, household income, and participation in wellness programs.

When choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan, comparing plan premiums and considering other costs like deductibles and copayments is recommended.


Deductibles and Cost-Sharing

Deductibles and cost-sharing vary by plan and are essential components of your healthcare expenses.


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Here are some key points to understand:


  • Deductibles are the amounts you must pay out of pocket before your plan begins to cover medical expenses.
  • Cost-sharing refers to the division of medical costs between the plan and the beneficiary.
  • Cost-sharing can include copayments and coinsurance for covered services.


Comprehending these costs aids in making a knowledgeable choice about which Medicare Advantage Plan to select.


Out-of-Pocket Maximums

Out-of-pocket maximums are an important feature of Medicare Advantage Plans, as they limit the amount you will pay for covered services in a year, providing financial protection. Once you reach the out-of-pocket maximum, the plan will cover all costs for covered services for the remainder of the year.

Out-of-pocket maximums can vary depending on the plan, but they provide a safeguard against high medical expenses and help limit your financial liability.

Enrollment and Switching Plans

Enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan or switching between plans requires an understanding of the available enrollment periods and the specific circumstances under which you can make changes.

Being aware of the enrollment process and timings can guarantee access to the necessary coverage and benefits.


How to Enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan

You can enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan during the Initial Enrollment Period, Annual Enrollment Period, or Special Enrollment Periods.


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The Initial Enrollment Period is a 7-month period when you first become eligible for Medicare, typically starting 3 months before your 65th birthday and ending 3 months after your 65th birthday.

The Annual Enrollment Period runs from October 15th to December 7th each year, allowing you to enroll in or change Medicare Advantage Plans.

Special Enrollment Periods may be available under certain circumstances, such as moving out of the plan’s service area or losing other health coverage. Additionally, the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment period offers another opportunity for plan changes.


How to Switch Medicare Advantage Plans or Return to Original Medicare

If you wish to switch Medicare Advantage Plans or return to Original Medicare, you can do so during the Annual Enrollment Period or under specific circumstances, such as moving out of the plan’s service area or if your plan is no longer offered.

Understanding these enrollment periods and the reasons for switching can help you make the best decision for your healthcare needs.

Evaluating and Choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan

Evaluating and choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan involves:


  • Comparing plan options
  • Considering your personal healthcare needs
  • Investing time to comprehend the different plan types, their costs, coverage options, and quality ratings


This enables you to make a knowledgeable decision about the plan that suits you best.


Comparing Plan Options

When comparing Medicare Advantage Plans, consider the following factors:


  • Coverage
  • Costs
  • Provider networks
  • Quality ratings


Utilize tools like the Medicare Plan Finder on to compare the benefits, prescription drug coverage, and costs of various plans.


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Also, evaluate the provider network of the plan to confirm the inclusion of your preferred healthcare providers.


Considering Personal Healthcare Needs

It’s important to consider your personal healthcare needs when selecting a Medicare Advantage Plan. Here are some factors to consider:


  • Preferred providers: Make sure the plan includes your preferred doctors and specialists.
  • Prescription drug coverage: Check if the plan covers the medications you take regularly.
  • Additional benefits: Consider any additional benefits you may require, such as dental or vision coverage.


By reflecting on your healthcare preferences and assessing the benefits and costs of different plans, you can choose a Medicare Advantage Plan that best suits your individual healthcare needs.


In conclusion, Medicare Advantage Plans offer a comprehensive alternative to traditional Medicare, providing hospital, outpatient, and prescription drug coverage through private insurance companies.

By understanding the different types of plans, their costs, coverage options, and enrollment periods, you can make an informed decision about which plan best meets your healthcare needs.

With careful consideration and research, you can select a Medicare Advantage Plan that provides the coverage and benefits you need to maintain your health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions



What are the disadvantages of having a Medicare Advantage Plan?

Medicare Advantage plans can have restrictive networks, high out-of-pocket costs, prior authorization requirements, changes each year, and aggressive marketing and sales tactics, making it important to know your Medicare insurance options and consider current and future needs.


→  Why are people leaving Medicare Advantage plans?

The most commonly cited reasons for leaving Medicare Advantage plans include excessive prior authorization denial rates, slow payments from insurers and alleged billing fraud. Consequently, many MA carriers are being probed by lawmakers for their high denial rates.


Do Medicare Advantage plans really save you money?

Medicare Advantage plans typically have lower copays, no deductible and potentially $0 premiums, suggesting they can help you save money compared to traditional Medicare plans.

However, they may also use financial tactics to increase their profits, which could result in higher costs for consumers.


What is the difference between Medicare Advantage Plans and traditional Medicare?

Medicare Advantage Plans offer different provider networks, additional benefits, and cost structures compared to traditional Medicare.


How can I determine if a Medicare Advantage Plan includes prescription drug coverage (Part D)?

To determine if your Medicare Advantage Plan includes prescription drug coverage (Part D), visit the official Medicare website at

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Russell Noga
( Medicare Expert )

Russell Noga is the CEO of ZRN Health & Financial Services, and head content editor of several Medicare insurance online publications. He has over 15 years of experience as a licensed Medicare insurance broker helping Medicare beneficiaries learn about Medicare, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medigap insurance, and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.