Types of Medicare Advantage Plans

Navigating Medicare Advantage plans can be overwhelming with various plan options available. When it comes to the 4 main types of Medicare Advantage plans, each one serves specific healthcare needs and budgets.

In this article, you will learn how HMO, PPO, SNP, and MSA plans compare, helping you to decide the best match for your medical and financial situation without diving into excessive complexity.


Key Takeaways

  • Medicare Advantage, also known as Part C or MA Plans, is offered by private companies approved by Medicare to provide Part A and B coverage with varying rules, costs, and possibly additional benefits such as dental and vision.



  • Beneficiaries must meet certain eligibility criteria to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans, and they can enroll or switch plans during designated enrollment periods. It’s crucial to compare plans based on factors like benefits, costs, networks, and individual healthcare needs for optimal coverage.

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Decoding Medicare Advantage Plans


The 4 Main Types of Medicare Advantage Plans, Decoding Medicare Advantage Plans


Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare health plans, are an alternative to Original Medicare, offered by private insurance companies authorized by Medicare. They encompass Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), Medicare Part B (medical insurance), and sometimes Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D).

While these plans offer the same Part A and Part B coverage as Original Medicare, they also come with their own set of rules, costs, and restrictions. Some even offer additional benefits like dental, vision, and hearing care that aren’t covered under Original Medicare.

Medicare Advantage stands out due to its diversity.

These programs significantly differ in:

  • Provider networks


  • Drug coverage


  • Monthly premiums


  • Deductibles


  • Copayments for various health care services


This diversity provides beneficiaries with a multitude of options that align with their individual healthcare needs and financial abilities.

Thus, the focus is not just about enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, but in finding the Medicare plans that fit you best! A meticulous review of each plan’s specific details is necessary for making a well-considered decision.


Understanding Part C of Medicare

We can enhance our understanding of Medicare Advantage by examining Part C of Medicare. Part C refers to Medicare Advantage Plans, also known as “MA Plans” or “Part C,” which are provided by private companies authorized by Medicare.

These plans require beneficiaries to choose a primary care doctor within the plan’s network.

These private insurance companies participate in Medicare Advantage plans by administering the plans and delivering Medicare covered services.

The services covered under Part C include those provided by doctors and other healthcare professionals, outpatient care, home health care, and durable medical equipment.


Comparing Costs and Coverage

As stated, Medicare Advantage plans differ regarding costs and coverage. Hence, it is beneficial to compare these aspects before selecting. The projected average premium for a Medicare Advantage plan in 2024 is $18.50 per month, which beneficiaries typically pay for the coverage.

However, the deductibles can vary significantly, with some plans having a $0 deductible and others charging over $1,000.

There’s also a variation in coverage among different types of Medicare Advantage plans. For example:

  • HMO plans do not provide coverage for services from out-of-network healthcare providers, except in emergencies.


  • PPO plans provide coverage for out-of-network providers but may have higher monthly premiums than HMO plans.


  • Special Needs Plans (SNPs) provide coverage for the same Medicare Part A and Part B benefits as other Medicare Advantage Plans but may also offer non medical benefits and cannot charge more than Original Medicare for certain types of care.

The Four Pillars of Medicare Advantage Options


The 4 Main Types of Medicare Advantage Plans, The Four Pillars of Medicare Advantage Options


Having understood the basics of Medicare Advantage, we can examine the four primary types of Medicare Advantage plans:

  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans


  • Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans


  • Special Needs Plans (SNPs)


  • Medical Savings Account (MSA) plans


Each of these plan types has its own unique features and benefits, catering to different healthcare needs.

HMO plans offer health services through a network of physicians for a monthly or annual fee, PPO plans provide a network of healthcare providers managed by private companies receiving federal government payments for Medicare benefits administration, and SNPs are designed to address the needs of individuals with chronic or disabling conditions.

MSA plans are for those individuals enrolled in a high-deductible Medicare Plan that meets the requirements for pairing with a medical savings account.


Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plans

HMO plans consist of a network of contracted doctors, hospitals, and healthcare professionals. These providers have agreed to offer services to plan members at a reduced rate. The insurance company typically mandates that plan members utilize the plan’s network for medical care.

In a Medicare Advantage HMO plan, enrollees are required to select a primary care physician from within the network and need a referral from their primary care physician to consult a specialist.

The advantages of choosing an HMO plan encompass reduced out-of-pocket expenses, the presence of a designated primary care physician managing your treatment, potentially better care coordination, and the inclusion of Medicare deductibles and coinsurance in the coverage.

However, these plans generally impose a maximum out-of-pocket limit, which cannot surpass $8,850 in 2024.


Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Plans

PPO plans are quite like HMOs but offer greater flexibility. They:

  • Do not mandate the selection of a primary care physician


  • Do not require referrals to see specialists


  • Offer benefits for services from out-of-network providers, albeit typically at increased coinsurance or copayment rates.


A Medicare Advantage PPO plan offers the following benefits:

  • Individuals can select any physician or medical facility that accepts Medicare


  • Access to specialists without needing a referral


  • Encompasses the majority of Part A and Part B benefits


  • Flexibility to utilize both in-network and out-of-network providers


However, it’s important to note that opting for options outside the network may result in increased out-of-pocket expenses.

Nevertheless, potential drawbacks of choosing a PPO plan could involve facing billing issues and the possibility of raising complaints regarding the medical care or treatment received.


Special Needs Plans (SNPs)

SNPs are a category of Medicare Advantage Plans designed to specifically address the needs of individuals with chronic or disabling conditions.

They offer specialized care to effectively manage both health and expenses. These plans may be customized for individuals with specific chronic conditions such as:



  • Chronic lung disorders


  • Autoimmune disorders


  • Cancer


  • Cardiovascular disorders


  • Chronic alcohol or substance abuse


SNPs provide supplementary advantages customized for individuals with specific health needs, including vision and hearing care, and personalized care strategies that cater to the distinct requirements of individuals with chronic conditions.

They aim to offer more integrated and tailored care for these individuals.


Medical Savings Account (MSA) Plans

MSA plans integrate a high-deductible health plan with a savings account. These plans are tailored for those individuals enrolled in a high-deductible Medicare Plan that meets the requirements for pairing with a medical savings account.

While MSA plans might seem attractive due to their saving component, they come with their own set of potential disadvantages.

Some of these disadvantages include:


  • They do not provide coverage for prescription medication


  • There is a high deductible of several thousand dollars before coverage begins


  • The choice of providers may be limited compared to a combination of Medicare plus Medigap.

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Prescription Drug Coverage in Medicare Advantage


The 4 Main Types of Medicare Advantage Plans, Prescription Drug Coverage in Medicare Advantage


Medicare Advantage plans may offer the option of including prescription drug coverage, which is provided through Medicare Part D. This coverage is designed to help individuals manage their medication expenses.

This drug coverage is offered by private insurance plans, which establish their own premiums, prescription prices, and other fees that may differ from one plan to another.

The standard expenses linked with Medicare Part D in Medicare Advantage Plans encompass:

  • A monthly premium, which may fluctuate but averages around $38 in 2023


  • The cost of a one-month supply of each Part D-covered insulin is limited to $35


  • There might be deductibles and copays based on the plan.


One should be aware that medications in the Medicare Part D plan are grouped into different tiers based on the plan’s formulary. When individuals reach the coverage gap in Medicare Advantage Plans, their responsibility is limited to no more than 25% of the cost for the plan’s covered brand-name prescription drugs.


Integrating Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D is an elective outpatient prescription drug benefit designed for individuals with Medicare, offering coverage to reduce expenses and safeguard against increased costs.

It is generally integrated into most Medicare Advantage plans, allowing beneficiaries to access combined medical and prescription drug coverage.

Beneficiaries have the option to incorporate Medicare Part D into their Medicare Advantage plan by choosing a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug (MA-PD) plan. This plan provides a blend of prescription drug coverage along with other Medicare benefits, promoting coordinated care and efficient cost management.

The average monthly expense for a Part D plan amounts to around $31.50. Indeed, the integration of Medicare Part D into a Medicare Advantage Plan can effectively lower prescription drug costs for beneficiaries, providing financial advantages as a component of the integrated plan.

Enrollment and Eligibility Criteria


The 4 Main Types of Medicare Advantage Plans, Enrollment and Eligibility Criteria


To qualify for Medicare Advantage plans, individuals must:

  • Be 65 years of age


  • Be a U.S. citizen or have been a legal permanent resident for five consecutive years


  • Be enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)


An individual can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during specific enrollment periods, including the Annual Enrollment Period from October 15 to December 7, during which plan switching or joining is allowed, and the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31, during which existing members can switch plans or revert to traditional Medicare.

The process for applying for a Medicare Advantage plan involves contacting the plan provider directly through their website or by phone.


Timing Your Enrollment

Knowing the right time to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan can help you avoid penalties and ensure coverage.

The initial enrollment period for enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan is from January 1 to March 31, and the annual open enrollment period for making changes to Medicare Advantage plans is from October 15 to December 7.

There are also special enrollment periods for Medicare Advantage plans. These are applicable in scenarios such as enrolling in Part A and/or Part B during exceptional circumstances, which grants a 2-month window to join a Medicare Advantage Plan.

Additionally, individuals transitioning from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another can utilize a special enrollment period from December 8 to November 30 of the subsequent year. The coverage for a Medicare Advantage plan usually commences on the first day of the month following the month in which you enroll.


Choosing the Right Plan for Your Needs

Choosing the right Medicare Advantage plan is not just about eligibility and timing, it’s also about evaluating your healthcare requirements and selecting a plan that best suits your needs. The assessment of your healthcare needs for the selection of a Medicare Advantage plan entails the consideration of factors such as:

  • Benefits


  • Costs


  • Networks


  • Ratings


  • Special needs


  • Travel preferences


It is important to confirm that the plan includes the required services and to possess a thorough understanding of the available alternatives.

For individuals with chronic conditions, navigating Medicare Advantage plans can be complex. Seeking assistance and guidance to ensure the plan aligns with the specific healthcare needs is advisable.

The benefits of Medicare Advantage plans can be compared using tools such as the Medicare.gov comparison tool. This tool enables the evaluation of plan types such as HMO, PPO, MSA, and PFFS, along with their benefits, prescription drug coverage, and costs, thereby assisting in making a more informed decision.

Navigating Networks and Providers


The 4 Main Types of Medicare Advantage Plans, Navigating Networks and Providers


Establishing care with a primary doctor and accessing hospitals and specialists within your plan’s network is a crucial aspect of Medicare Advantage plans.

The primary care physician in Medicare Advantage plans is responsible for providing fundamental healthcare services and overseeing the patient’s overall care.

They play a central role in various plan types, including:

  • HMO


  • PPO



  • Special Needs Plans (SNPs)


Selecting a primary care physician within a Medicare Advantage plan entails:

  • Taking into account the type of plan you are enrolled in


  • Identifying a physician whose credentials, care philosophy, and communication methods are compatible with your healthcare requirements


  • The ability to access hospitals and specialists is contingent upon the type of Medicare Advantage plan you have. Certain plans offer the flexibility to use any provider or hospital, whereas others may stipulate that you stay within the plan’s network.


Establishing Care with a Primary Doctor

Incorporating a primary care physician in your Medicare Advantage plan can contribute to:

  • Improved health outcomes


  • Reduced medical expenses through preventive care


  • The mandatory component in specific plan types such as HMO, PPO, Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS), or Special Needs Plans (SNPs).


To select a primary care physician from your Medicare Advantage Plan’s network, it is necessary to be enrolled in an HMO, PPO, Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS), or Special Needs Plan (SNPs).

In HMO Plans, it’s typically required to receive care and services from providers within the plan’s network. If you ever need to change your primary care physician, you can easily do that by getting in touch with your insurance company.


Hospital and Specialist Access

Accessing hospital and specialist care within your plan’s network is another crucial aspect of Medicare Advantage plans. Depending on the type of Medicare Advantage plan you have, you might need a referral to consult a specialist

. However, certain services such as yearly screening mammograms may not require a referral.

You can select out-of-network hospitals and specialists within Medicare Advantage Plans, but the coverage and cost-sharing may vary in comparison to utilizing in-network providers.

Regardless of the plan type, all emergency and urgent care requirements, including emergency room services for sudden illness or injury, are mandated to be covered.

However, if you seek medical care from a doctor who is not within the network of the Medicare Advantage plan, you might end up with increased out-of-pocket expenses and potential penalties, particularly if there is a gap in Part D coverage for more than 63 days.

Managing Out-of-Pocket Expenses

The 4 Main Types of Medicare Advantage Plans, Managing Out-of-Pocket Expenses

In terms of managing out-of-pocket expenses related to Medicare Advantage plans, comprehending the coverage gap and other costs is important.

The average out-of-pocket limit for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries is $4,835 for in-network services. However, these expenses may differ based on the individual plan.

An out-of-pocket maximum limit protects enrollees from excessive medical expenses by establishing a ceiling on the amount they are required to pay for in-network services within a planned year.

This limit is a standard feature of every Medicare Advantage plan. To reduce out-of-pocket costs, individuals can:

  • Explore plans with lower out-of-pocket maximums


  • Contemplate enrolling in supplementary plans such as Medigap


  • Select plans that provide optimal coverage and cost savings.


Analyzing the Coverage Gap

The coverage gap, also known as the Part D “doughnut hole,” is a temporary limit on what the drug plan will cover for drugs. Here’s how it works:

  • During the initial phase of Part D coverage, approximately 25 percent of the drug’s cost is paid by the individual.


  • Once a total of $3,700 for drugs in 2017 has been paid by both the individual and the drug plan, the coverage gap is entered.


  • In this subsequent phase, the individual will pay no more than 40 percent of the plan’s price for a brand-name drug and 51 percent for a generic drug.


However, there’s good news. The Affordable Care Act has diminished the Medicare Part D coverage gap by mandating Part D plans to encompass a greater portion of the costs within the gap.

Starting from 2019 and onwards, Part D plans will be responsible for covering the remaining 5 percent of costs in the coverage gap.

To effectively control expenses during the Medicare Part D coverage gap, one can consider:

  • Switching to generics or other lower-cost drugs


  • Selecting a Medicare drug plan that provides supplementary coverage during the gap


  • Utilizing pharmaceutical assistance programs


  • Applying for Extra Help


  • Exploring state pharmacy assistance programs.


In conclusion, Medicare Advantage plans offer a wealth of options for those seeking a more flexible alternative to Original Medicare. From HMOs to PPOs, SNPs, and MSAs, these plans cater to a variety of healthcare needs and financial capabilities.

Despite their complexity, a careful review of each plan’s details, considering costs, benefits, and networks, can lead to a more informed decision. Whether it’s about enrolling at the right time, choosing a primary care physician, or managing out-of-pocket expenses, every step matters in maximizing the benefits of Medicare Advantage plans.


Frequently Asked Questions


→  What are the 4 types of Medicare Advantage plans?

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

These plans offer different coverage options and benefits for Medicare beneficiaries.


  What are the 4 types of Medicare coverage known as parts? 

The 4 types of Medicare coverage are known as Parts A, B, C, and D. Medicare Part A covers inpatient/hospital care, while Medicare Part B covers outpatient/medical services, Medicare Part C offers an alternative way to receive Medicare benefits, and Part D provides prescription drug coverage.


→  What is the best Medicare Advantage plan for seniors?

UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage plans, offered in partnership with AARP, are widely regarded as the best overall option for seniors due to their high ratings, extensive provider network, and diverse plan options.

Also, Humana Medicare Advantage plans are also known to offer some of the best benefits for people on Medicare. Keep in mind, everyone’s situation is different. Call us today at 1-833-641-4938 to speak to our licensed insurance agents to see which plan fits your needs the best.


→  What is the average out-of-pocket limit for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries?

The average out-of-pocket limit for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries is $4,835 for in-network services.


 What is the role of a primary care physician in Medicare Advantage plans?

The primary care physician in Medicare Advantage plans is responsible for providing fundamental healthcare services and overseeing the patient’s overall care, ensuring comprehensive and coordinated treatment for the individual.

→  What does it mean to be dual eligible for Medicare Advantage and Medicaid?

Being dual eligible means qualifying for both Medicare and Medicaid simultaneously. Medicare provides health coverage primarily for seniors and some individuals with disabilities, while Medicaid offers assistance to low-income individuals. Dual eligibility arises when an individual meets the criteria for both programs.

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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.