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How To Choose A Medicare Advantage Plan, Based On Supplemental Benefits

By Nadia-Elysse Harris
Supplemental benefits are additional benefits available with Medicare Advantage that you can't get with a traditional Medicare plan. Here's how to use these benefits to guide your plan decision.

Medicare Advantage plans frequently offer supplemental benefits. These are additional benefits—such as dental and vision care, some alternative health services, and transportation—that you can't get with original Medicare.

In 2019, federal law changed, expanding the number of benefits that Medicare Advantage can cover. This means that Medicare Advantage might now cover services you once paid for out-of-pocket. For example, in 2018, just 7% of Medicare Advantage plans covered telehealth. The figure for 2020 is 59%. While just 20% of Advantage plans covered meals in 2018, 46% do in 2020.

The following tips can help you choose a Medicare Advantage plan based on supplemental benefits, since not all benefits will have equal value to all people.

Know your health needs

Look at your healthcare spending habits for last year. What services did your current plan cover? Which did you have to fund? If you anticipate that your spending will be similar this year, then finding a plan that covers the services you had to pay for last year can save you lots of money. For example, if you use acupuncture to manage chronic pain, consider finding a plan that pays for this benefit.

If you have evolving healthcare needs, such as if you have a new health condition, educate yourself about that condition so you can identify the benefits you may need. If you develop a neurological condition, for instance, you might find that your eyesight changes, necessitating better vision coverage.

Compare costs and benefits

The mere fact that a Medicare Advantage plan covers a supplemental benefit you use does not necessarily mean you should purchase that plan. If the costs of the plan are greater than the total healthcare savings you can expect, or if the plan offers lower quality coverage for other healthcare needs, it's not the right fit. Knowing exactly how much you spent last year on supplemental services can help you determine how much you'll save with a new plan.

Understand your plan

Covering supplemental benefits is not enough. The plan must be the right choice for your needs and lifestyle. Some questions that can help you make the right selection include:

  • Can I keep my doctors with this plan?
  • Do I have to choose an in-network provider to get coverage?
  • Do I need a referral for specialists?
  • Does the plan offer prescription drug coverage? If so, does it cover the drugs I use?
  • What copays must I pay for supplemental benefits?
  • Do I have to reach a deductible before coverage kicks in?
  • How much are plan premiums?
  • How much will I pay for this plan compared to how much I will save?
  • Is this plan 5-star rated?