Medicare Advantage Plans Explained

Considering a Medicare Advantage plan?

Understand what they entail: Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative to Original Medicare, offered by private companies. They typically include additional services such as vision, dental, and prescription drugs.

This article will provide “Medicare Advantage Plans Explained” – covering the essentials of Medicare Advantage plans, including the types, benefits, cost considerations, eligibility requirements, and enrollment procedures to guide you through your decision-making process.


Key Takeaways

  • Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative to traditional Medicare, offering broader coverage including additional benefits, but often require using network providers and residing within the plan’s service area for eligibility.



  • Medicare Advantage Plans’ costs, benefits, and quality can vary greatly, with factors such as geographic location and health status influencing premiums and expenses. Comparing plans using the Medicare Star Ratings and understanding your enrollment period are essential for making informed healthcare decisions.

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Understanding Medicare Advantage Plans


Medicare Advantage Plans Explained, Understanding Medicare Advantage Plans


Medicare Advantage plans, a form of medical insurance, are an alternative to traditional Medicare, offering hospital insurance, and outpatient, and prescription drug expenses coverage.

They are provided by private companies that have agreements with the federal government. When comparing options, it’s important to consider other Medicare Advantage plans as well.

Typically, individuals with pre-existing conditions are eligible to enroll in these plans and enjoy their benefits.


What is a Medicare Advantage Plan?

Medicare Advantage plans, provided by private companies, serve as an alternative to traditional Medicare. Their design aims to provide a broader coverage package including hospital, outpatient, and prescription drug coverage, thus offering a comprehensive healthcare solution.

These plans often provide reduced out-of-pocket costs compared to traditional Medicare and may include extra benefits not part of the original Medicare, such as vision, hearing, dental, and health and wellness programs.

However, there are certain limitations. Individuals are typically obligated to utilize healthcare providers within the plan’s network, and receiving out-of-network care may incur higher costs. Moreover, residence within the plan’s service area is usually a requirement, potentially limiting coverage while traveling.


Eligibility for Medicare Advantage

To be eligible for Medicare Advantage, individuals must possess both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B and reside within the plan’s service area. Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital care and additional services, while Medicare Part B covers outpatient care, doctor’s services, preventive services, and prescription drug benefits.

Individuals with pre-existing conditions are generally eligible for many Medicare Advantage plans, ensuring that everyone can access the healthcare they need. Each individual must have their own Medicare Advantage plan policy, as there are no policies for couples.

Types of Medicare Advantage Plans


Medicare Advantage Plans Explained, Types of Medicare Advantage Plans


There are various types of Medicare Advantage plans, such as:

  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)


  • Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs)


  • Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plans


  • Special Needs Plans (SNPs)


  • HMO Point of Service (HMOPOS) plans


  • Medical Savings Account (MSA) plans


Each of these plans offers unique benefits and has different rules for how you get services, like whether you need a referral to see a specialist or if you must go to only doctors, facilities, or suppliers that belong to the plan for non-emergency or non-urgent care.


Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)

Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs, are a type of Medicare Advantage plan where care is generally received from healthcare providers within the plan’s network. These HMOs offer coverage for most Part A and Part B benefits in place of Original Medicare, providing a comprehensive health plan in exchange for a monthly or annual fee.

HMOs are characterized by their organized network of healthcare providers and potential cost-saving benefits. However, these plans require members to stay within the plan’s network to receive care and services.

Out-of-network care may lead to increased out-of-pocket expenses or denial of coverage, except in emergencies.

Despite these limitations, HMOs remain the predominant type of Medicare Advantage plan due to their cost-saving potential and organized network.


Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs)

Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) are a type of Medicare Advantage plan that offers more flexibility in choosing healthcare providers. PPOs provide beneficiaries with a range of additional benefits, including prescription drug coverage.

With PPOs, individuals can access coverage from any healthcare provider, though costs are reduced when utilizing in-network providers. However, using out-of-network providers can lead to higher copayments or coinsurance.

The main advantage of PPOs is the ability to utilize out-of-network providers for Medicare-covered services, which is not typically possible with HMOs.

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Comparing Medicare Advantage Plans


Medicare Advantage Plans Explained, Comparing Medicare Advantage Plans


Comparing Medicare Advantage plans is vital to identify the one that aligns best with your healthcare needs and budget. Differences in costs, coverage, and benefits among plans can significantly impact your healthcare experience and out-of-pocket expenses.

For instance, while Medicare Advantage HMO and PPO plans cover similar costs for essential medical services, PPO plans usually entail higher expenses, such as a higher monthly premium.


Costs and Premiums

Evaluating the costs and premiums across different Medicare Advantage plans can assist in identifying a plan that aligns with your budget. The projected average premium for a Medicare Advantage plan in 2024 is $18.50 per month.

However, this amount can vary significantly based on the plan and the individual’s health status and healthcare utilization.

PPO plans, for instance, typically have higher costs, including higher monthly premiums, compared to HMO plans. Factors such as health status, healthcare utilization, geographic location, and risk adjustment based on health status and characteristics of enrollees can influence the costs and premiums of Medicare Advantage Plans.


Coverage and Benefits

The coverage and Medicare benefits offered by Medicare Advantage Plans encompass all services provided by Original Medicare. Certain plans also include extra benefits such as:

  • Prescription drug coverage


  • Vision and hearing care


  • Dental services


  • Wellness programs


However, it’s important to note that certain benefits, like routine eye exams and most dental procedures, are not covered by Original Medicare.

Medicare Advantage Plans often cover additional services not covered by Original Medicare, such as Medicaid services, and these Medicare Advantage plan benefits include:

  • Vision


  • Hearing


  • Dental services


  • Fitness programs


Prescription drug coverage may also be included in some plans. This coverage could help offset the cost of medications. However, the specifics of coverage and benefits can vary greatly between different Medicare Advantage Plans.

Enrollment Process for Medicare Advantage Plans


Medicare Advantage Plans Explained, Enrollment Process for Medicare Advantage Plans


A clear grasp of the enrollment process and timing is essential for enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan.

Here are the different enrollment periods:

  • Initial Enrollment Period: This covers a seven-month period surrounding your initial eligibility for Medicare.


  • Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period: This occurs annually from January 1 through March 31.


  • Special Enrollment Period: This is a two-month period if you sign up for Part A and/or Part B starting January 1, 2024, due to exceptional circumstances.


When to Enroll

The timing of your enrollment in a Medicare Advantage Plan can greatly influence your coverage and costs.

Here are the enrollment periods to keep in mind:

  • Initial enrollment period: This includes the three months before, the month of, and the three months after your 65th birthday.


  • Open enrollment period: This is from October 15 through December 7 each year, during which you can enroll or change plans.


  • Special Enrollment Period: If you qualify due to specific life events or exceptional situations, you may be able to enroll outside of the initial and open enrollment periods.


How to Enroll

Enrollment in a Medicare Advantage Plan can be done in several ways, with the easiest way being to call us today at 1-833-641-4938. Our licensed insurance agents can help answer your questions and find a plan to fit your needs best.

You can also initiate enrollment by entering your zip code here on this page to start comparing plans, and you can even enroll in a plan online yourself.


Navigating Medicare Advantage Plan Networks


Medicare Advantage Plans Explained, Navigating Medicare Advantage Plan Networks


Grasping the distinction between in-network and out-of-network providers is key to effectively navigate Medicare Advantage Plan networks. In-network providers refer to doctors, hospitals, and medical facilities that have entered into a contractual agreement with the plan, while out-of-network providers are those who have not established a contract with the plan.

Using out-of-network providers can lead to increased expenses.


In-Network vs. Out-of-Network Providers

In-network and out-of-network providers play a significant role in the cost and quality of care you receive through your Medicare Advantage Plan. In-network providers have entered into a contractual agreement with the plan to provide services at a reduced rate, helping to manage costs and ensure quality care.

Out-of-network providers, on the other hand, are not contracted with the plan, and using them may lead to higher costs. However, PPO plans allow the use of out-of-network providers for Medicare-covered services, although this typically leads to higher copayments or coinsurance.


Referrals and Specialist Visits

Particularly in HMOs, referrals hold significant importance in Medicare Advantage Plans. Typically, a referral from your primary care physician is necessary to see a specialist, although certain services such as yearly screening mammograms may not require a referral.

The referral process in Medicare Advantage Plans is intended to improve the quality of care and enhance the patient’s experience. However, visiting a specialist without a referral can lead to increased expenses, especially if the specialist is not within the plan’s network.

It’s important to ensure that the provider accepts Medicare assignment for Medicare to assist with the visit.

Medicare Advantage Plan Ratings and Reviews


Medicare Advantage Plans Explained, Medicare Advantage Plan Ratings and Reviews


The Medicare Star Ratings are a useful tool for comparing the quality and performance across various Medicare Advantage Plans. These ratings evaluate plans based on up to 38 distinct quality and performance measures, including:

  • Preventive care


  • Management of chronic conditions


  • Member satisfaction


  • Customer service


  • Drug coverage


These ratings make it easier for you to make informed decisions about your healthcare coverage.

It’s important to note that only a small percentage of Medicare Advantage enrollees voluntarily switch plans each year. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider the Medicare Star Ratings and carefully compare different plans before making your decision.

Switching Between Medicare Advantage Plans and Original Medicare

Transitioning between Medicare Advantage Plans and Original Medicare can significantly affect your healthcare coverage and costs. If you switch to Original Medicare after the first year of being in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you may face challenges obtaining a Medicare Supplement Insurance policy (Medigap).

Insurers may deny a Medigap policy based on health conditions or impose a waiting period before covering pre-existing conditions.

It’s also worth noting that only a small percentage of Medicare Advantage enrollees switch back to traditional Medicare annually. Those who do are often in poorer health, reside in rural areas, or utilize a higher volume of healthcare services.


This comprehensive guide has provided an overview of Medicare Advantage Plans, including their types, costs, benefits, and enrollment processes. Whether you’re considering switching to a Medicare Advantage Plan or are already enrolled, understanding these factors can help you make informed healthcare decisions.

Understanding your health insurance options is critical to ensuring that you receive the healthcare services you need at a cost you can afford. So, take the time to compare different Medicare Advantage Plans for 2025, consider their costs and benefits, and choose the one that best meets your healthcare needs and budget.


Frequently Asked Questions


→  What is the biggest disadvantage of Medicare Advantage?

The biggest disadvantage of Medicare Advantage is the more limited choice of doctors and medical offices compared to Original Medicare, as well as potentially higher overall costs for those with complex medical needs.


→  What are the 4 types of Medicare Advantage plans?

The four types of Medicare Advantage plans are Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Plans, Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) Plans, Special Needs Plans (SNPs), and Medical Savings Account (MSA) plans.


→  Why are people leaving Medicare Advantage plans?

Many people are leaving Medicare Advantage plans due to excessive prior authorization denial rates and slow payments from insurers.

These issues have led to dissatisfaction and prompted individuals to seek alternative options.


  What is the difference between Medicare Advantage and regular Medicare?

Medicare Advantage plans have annual out-of-pocket limits, while Original Medicare does not, meaning that once you reach the limit, a Medicare Advantage plan will cover 100% of your Medicare-approved expenses for the rest of the year.

Additionally, Medicare Advantage plans may cover additional benefits not offered by Original Medicare, such as routine dental, vision, and hearing care.


 What is Medicare Part A?

Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and some home health care services. It helps cover essential medical services in these settings.

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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.