Why Are Some Medicare Advantage Plans Free?

Medicare Advantage Plans, particularly those with a $0 premium, have become a beacon of hope for many searching for affordable health coverage. But why are some Medicare Advantage plans free, and what does “free” really mean in this context? How can these plans be viable?


Key Takeaways

  • A ‘free’ Medicare Advantage plan means a $0 monthly premium, but it doesn’t cover other expenses such as deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance, which vary by plan.


  • The existence of $0 premium Medicare Advantage plans is due to government subsidies and the imposition of network restrictions that manage healthcare expenses by requiring care to be sought within a specific network.


Compare Plans in One Step!

Enter Zip Code



Understanding “Free” Medicare Advantage Plans


Why Are Some Medicare Advantage Plans Free?, Understanding "Free" Medicare Advantage Plans


A ‘free’ Medicare Advantage plan implies a $0 premium plan where members aren’t obligated to make monthly payments for the offered coverage. In 2023, it was found that most Medicare Advantage plans, including prescription drug coverage, had no premium other than the Part B premium.

However, the term ‘free’ only pertains to the absence of a monthly premium and does not encompass other possible expenses. With Medicare advantage plans free, it is essential to be aware of these additional costs.

The eligibility for these plans usually depends on the Medicare taxes you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes during your working years.


The Economics Behind No-Premium Medicare Advantage Plans

Economic factors like government subsidies and network restrictions largely contribute to the existence of $0 premium Medicare Advantage plans, as they help control the costs tied to these plans.


Subsidies and Payments

Medicare Advantage Plans receive subsidies from the government, which help mitigate the expenses associated with delivering healthcare services.

These subsidies, along with a predetermined rate of payment per individual, annually, facilitate these plans to offer Medicare Advantage free or at a low cost to beneficiaries. However, the impact of these subsidies and payments on the premium can vary.

In certain instances, Medicare Advantage plans may receive subsidies and bonuses based on their performance and quality, which could lead to a reduction in monthly premiums for beneficiaries. In 2019, the average sum of subsidies and payments received by Medicare Advantage Plans was $11,844 per person.


Network Restrictions

Network restrictions in Medicare Advantage plans mandate that patients seek medical care from doctors and providers within the plan’s network. This helps manage expenses and allows insurers to provide plans without a premium.

However, these plans may limit patients’ access to out-of-network doctors, underscoring the need for patients to understand the restrictions imposed on doctor visits.

Opting for an in-network provider typically results in decreased out-of-pocket expenses, whereas utilizing a provider outside of the network can lead to substantial out-of-pocket costs.

Cost Considerations Beyond the Premium


Why Are Some Medicare Advantage Plans Free?, Cost Considerations Beyond the Premium


While Medicare Advantage plans with a $0 premium do not necessitate payment for the plan itself, it’s key to realize that these plans include additional medical costs like:

  • Deductibles: the out-of-pocket expenses individuals need to cover before their plan starts covering costs for services outside of hospital care


  • Copayments: the amount individuals are required to pay for medical services such as doctor visits


  • Coinsurance: the portion of costs individuals are responsible for in relation to specific medical equipment and procedures.


The costs of deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance can differ between different Medicare Advantage plans.

However, for the year 2023, the out-of-pocket maximum is set at $8,300, serving as a cap on the annual expenditure for covered services, including monthly Medicare costs.


Eligibility and Enrollment for Zero-Premium Plans


Why Are Some Medicare Advantage Plans Free?, Eligibility and Enrollment for Zero-Premium Plans


Those who meet the qualifying criteria for Medicare and are currently enrolled in Original Medicare are eligible to enroll in a zero-premium Medicare Advantage plan.

Nonetheless, remember that enrollment in these plans is only possible during specified times of the year, known as enrollment periods.


Enrollment Periods

The enrollment periods for Medicare Advantage plans consist of:

  • Initial Enrollment Period: occurs around the month of your 65th birthday as well as the three months before and after it


  • General Enrollment Period: runs from January 1 to March 31 of each year


  • Special Enrollment Period: applies to certain situations such as moving out of your plan’s service area or losing your employer group health plan coverage.


One can also make alterations to a Medicare Advantage plan during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, spanning from January 1 to March 31 annually.

This period allows individuals to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan (with or without drug coverage) or discontinue their Medicare Advantage plan and enroll in Original Medicare.

Furthermore, if a Medicare prescription drug plan is required, it can be signed up for during this period.

Compare plans and enroll online



Speak with a licensed insurance agent

TTY 711

Mon-Fri : 8am-9pm ET

compare medicare advantage plans

Comparing Plan Types: HMOs, PPOs, and More


Why Are Some Medicare Advantage Plans Free?, Comparing Plan Types: HMOs, PPOs, and More


While exploring Medicare Advantage plans, you’ll most likely encounter two predominant types: HMO and PPO plans.

HMO Medicare Advantage plans are characterized by the necessity for prior authorization and typically reduced expenses compared to other healthcare plans. PPO Medicare Advantage plans, on the other hand, offer increased flexibility in selecting healthcare providers and eliminate the need for referrals to consult with specialists.

Understanding the differences between these plans is crucial in making an informed decision.

In addition to HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) and PPO, there are also MSA (Medicare Savings Account) and PFFS (Private Fee-for-Service) plans, which offer distinct benefits and structures.


Maximizing Benefits While Minimizing Costs

Once you’ve grasped the basics of Medicare Advantage plans, you can move to the next step of optimizing your benefits and reducing costs.

This can be achieved by:

  • Acquainting yourself with the drugs covered by the plan


  • Availing additional benefits such as utility cost assistance


  • Confirming the inclusion of your preferred doctors in the plan’s provider directory


  • Making use of preventative services and cost-saving opportunities.


Effective management of your prescription drug costs is also essential.

This can be done by:


  • Conducting a thorough comparison of available drug plans to identify one with more affordable costs


  • Minimizing out-of-pocket expenses by comparing plans with varying cost structures


  • Assessing the out-of-pocket costs for services


  • Selecting plans that provide low costs for in-network services.

Transitioning from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage

Should you wish to transition from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan, you have the option to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan during the Initial Enrollment Period, or switch during the Annual Enrollment Period. There are no penalties for making this transition.

However, if you switch back to Original Medicare, there may be penalties if you didn’t have creditable drug coverage or if dis enrollment occurs outside of the Medicare Advantage trial period.

Indeed, you have the option to revert to Original Medicare after enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, although this is restricted to certain periods each year.

It’s important to note that while Medicare Advantage plans encompass all the services covered under Original Medicare, the specifics of these services may vary.

The Role of Prescription Drug Coverage

Why Are Some Medicare Advantage Plans Free?, The Role of Prescription Drug Coverage

Prescription drug coverage is a key element in Medicare Advantage Plans. These plans integrate both medical and drug benefits into a single comprehensive plan, unlike stand-alone Prescription Drug Plans, which have distinct lists of covered drugs.

The impact of prescription drug coverage on the costs of Medicare Advantage Plans can be multifaceted. It includes:

  • Limitations on charges for medications such as insulin within Medicare drug plans


  • Potential variations in costs based on drug tiers


  • Potentially higher expenses for standard Part D costs for individuals with higher incomes.


However, not all prescription medications are included in these plans, and there are limitations, such as opioid safety checks, prior authorizations, and specific formularies that may limit access to certain medications.

Navigating the Healthcare Marketplace

Navigating the healthcare marketplace to find the best plan for your needs can be a daunting task.

But don’t worry, you can consult with a licensed Medicare professional to get guidance in identifying the Medicare Advantage plan that would best suit your healthcare requirements.

Effective navigation of the marketplace requires:

  • A clear understanding of your health plan needs


  • Collection of details from your previous plan


  • Usage of the Marketplace website or call center to review the available plans


  • Comparison of plans based on their costs, coverage, and provider networks


  • Enrollment in the plan that aligns best with your needs


Medicare Advantage plans, a type of health insurance plan, available through the healthcare marketplace offer advantages such as reduced out-of-pocket expenses, improved quality of care, and supplementary services.

Most Medicare Advantage plans provide these benefits; nevertheless, awareness of potential restrictions on health care providers and treatments is also crucial, and scrutiny of the plan specifics is necessary before making a decision.


In summary, while zero-premium Medicare Advantage plans can offer substantial benefits, it’s crucial to understand the intricacies of these plans, consider the other costs associated, and make an informed decision that best suits your healthcare needs.

Always remember, the key to a healthy life is not just about finding the right healthcare plan, but also about making the most out of it.


Frequently Asked Questions


→  What’s the catch with zero premium Medicare Advantage plans?

The catch with zero premium Medicare Advantage plans is that you still need to pay Original Medicare premiums, which are not actually free.

For most people, those premiums are $0 for Part A and $164.90 for Part B (in 2023).


→  What are the disadvantages of having a Medicare Advantage plan?

The main disadvantages of Medicare Advantage plans include restrictive networks, high out-of-pocket costs, prior authorization requirements, and the fact that the plans change each year.

These factors can lead to limitations in choosing healthcare providers and higher expenses (2023).


→  Do Medicare Advantage plans have no out-of-pocket costs?

Medicare Advantage plans do have out-of-pocket costs, but they come with a yearly limit. Once you reach that limit, you won’t have to pay anything for covered services.

Keep in mind that each plan may have a different limit, which could change annually.


  How can I enroll in a zero-premium Medicare Advantage plan?

You can enroll in a zero-premium Medicare Advantage plan during specific enrollment periods throughout the year.


 What are the costs associated with zero-premium Medicare Advantage plans?

While zero-premium Medicare Advantage plans do not require payment for the plan itself, there are still other expenses to consider like deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.

Be aware of these additional costs before choosing a plan.

call today for help


 ZRN Health & Financial Services, LLC, a Texas limited liability company

Find & Compare Plans Online 



Speak with a licensed insurance agent

TTY 711

Mon-Fri : 8am-9pm EST

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.