Medicare Advantage plans may give you some discounts or pay for services that Original Medicare may not cover. However, Medicare Advantage plans are administered by private health insurers and you'll be required to follow your plan's rules. Original Medicare allows you to see just about any doctor and go to any hospital that accepts Medicare , which most providers accept. With Medicare Advantage plans, you're typically restricted to the doctors and hospitals included in the plan's network. You might need referrals to see a specialist.
So you have to look hard at what sort of medical coverage you need -- and what you can afford -- when deciding between Original Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan.
To get a Medicare Advantage plan, you must already have Medicare Part A and Part B.
You will have many Medicare Advantage plans to choose from and the plans available vary from region to region. To learn what's available in your area, use the online Medicare Personal Plan Finder.
While you won't need to pay a Part A premium, you will need to pay the "standard" Part B monthly premium, which is $104.90 in 2015. People with higher incomes (household income over $170,000) will pay higher premiums on a sliding scale, with adjustments ranging from $42.00 to $230.80 more per month. The maximum premium will be $335.70.
On top of that, you may have to pay a monthly premium for your Medicare Advantage plan, though many plans come with no additional monthly cost at all. The price varies depending on your plan.
Here are other facts to consider before enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan:
- You may join a Medicare Advantage plan during your initial enrollment period, which spans the three months before and the three months after the month you turn 65.
- After that, you may join, switch, or drop your coverage during the Annual Open Enrollment Period between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7, with coverage kicking in Jan. 1. Then, between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14, you may switch back to Original Medicare, if you choose. Keep in mind that if you drop your Medicare Advantage plan, you have only until Feb. 14 to join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to add drug coverage. During the Jan. 1-Feb. 14 period, you can't re-enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to another, or drop a Medicare Medical Savings Account plan.
- You may switch to a 5-star plan as rated by Medicare, (if there is one in your area) at any time during the year, though you can only make this switch once.
- If you get Medicare due to a disability, you can join during the 7-month period that begins 3 months before your 25th month of disability and ends 3 months after your 25th month of disability.
- If you are in a Medicare Advantage plan, you cannot also sign up for a Medigap policy. That's because Medicare Advantage plans are intended to cover many of the same benefits that Medigap plans do. Keep in mind that if you have a Medigap policy and join a Medicare Advantage plan, you may lose the Medigap policy permanently.
- If you're in a Medicare Advantage plan that offers prescription drug coverage, you cannot sign up for a separate Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.
- You may not be able to get a Medicare Advantage plan if you have end-stage kidney disease.
- For more information about Medicare Advantage plans, see the Medicare web site at www.medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE.