Checklist for Choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan

If you’re thinking of a signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan or switching from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, here’s a list of things to keep in mind.

  1. Start by confirming your eligibility for Medicare Advantage (also known as Medicare Part C).
  2. You can sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan if:

    • You’re enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B (Original Medicare).
    • You don’t have end-stage renal disease (ESRD). There are some exceptions. If you have ESRD, ask the plan you’re considering whether you qualify, or call Medicare (contact information is at the end of this article). In some cases, you can enroll in a Special Needs Plan if you have ESRD.
    • You live in the service area of the Medicare Advantage plan you’re considering.

    Some Medicare Advantage plans require you to meet additional criteria. For example, a Special Needs Plan is a type of Medicare Advantage plan that limits membership to people who have chronic conditions, have both Medicare and Medicaid, or live in an institution (such as a nursing home). These plans cater benefits to people with unique needs who eligibility requirements.

  3. Decide what additional benefits are important to you.
  4. Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide at least the same level of coverage as Original Medicare (except hospice care, which Medicare Part A covers). However, some people prefer Medicare Advantage because of the additional benefits these plans may offer, such as routine vision services, wellness programs, or medical savings accounts. These benefits aren’t covered under Original Medicare, and you’d normally pay the full cost to get them.

    Many Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage, which isn’t included in Original Medicare except in limited situations. Known as Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans, they provide your health and medication benefits all in one plan. If you decide to enroll in a plan that includes this coverage, make sure that the plan covers all the medications you take. A plan’s formulary (list of prescription drugs it covers) may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.

    You can get prescription drug benefits through a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan as described above, or through a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

    Keep in mind that there may be a late-enrollment penalty for Medicare Part D if you don’t sign up for this coverage and go without creditable prescription drug coverage for longer than 63 days in a row.

  5. Figure out your budget.
  6. Medicare Advantage plans may have different costs, depending on where you live and the company offering the plan. Some plans may cost less than Original Medicare.

    You’ll need to keep paying your Medicare Part B premium, regardless of the plan you sign up for. Some Medicare Advantage plans can have premiums as low as $0, but remember to consider all costs, like copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles, which can affect your total spending. If you’re enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan, pay attention to copayments and coinsurance amounts for the medications you need. Different plans may have higher or lower costs to cover the same medications.

    You should also note the plan’s spending limit, which is different for each plan and can change from year to year. Medicare Advantage plans have an annual out-of-pocket spending cap, meaning the plan will pay the full cost for health services and supplies once you reach this limit. For example, if you have a health emergency and incur a lot of medical expenses, there’s a maximum you’ll pay before you’re fully covered for the rest of that year. Original Medicare doesn’t have this spending limit.

  7. Find out if your doctors accept the Medicare Advantage plan.
  8. Depending on the type of Medicare Advantage plan you choose, you may be required to use providers in the plan’s network. A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plan typically requires that you use providers in the plan’s network to be covered, while a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan lets you see doctors outside of its preferred provider network, but at a higher cost. Some Health Maintenance Organization plans come with a Point-of-Service option that lets you use out-of-network providers for some services. Make sure to follow the plan’s rules, or you could have to pay the full cost for services.

    If it’s important to you to continue using a specific provider, verify that your doctors accept the Medicare Advantage plan you’re considering.

  9. Take your time to research and compare plans.
  10. Not every Medicare Advantage plan is offered in every location, and costs can vary among plans. Particularly if you take prescription drugs, it’s worth taking the time to research what plans are offered in your service area to make sure you’re getting coverage that fits your  needs. Each Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan maintains its own formulary (a list of covered prescription drugs), so you may want to make sure a plan covers your medications before signing up. A plan’s formulary may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.

    You can only enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or make coverage changes during certain times of the year. For more information, see Medicare Enrollment and Election Periods.

If you’re ready to research Medicare Advantage plans in your area, you can type your zip code where indicated on this page to display them in a list.

To contact Medicare directly, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY users 1-877-486-2048; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Feel free to contact an eHealth licensed insurance agency. eHealth is Medicare Consumer Guide’s parent company.

Call an eHealth licensed insurance agent at 1-888-391-2659, TTY users 711; Monday through Friday, 8AM to 8PM ET, Saturday, 9AM to 6PM ET.

Enter your zip code where requested on this page to see a quote.

To learn about Medicare plans you may be eligible for, you can:

  • Contact the Medicare plan directly.
  • Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY users 1-877-486-2048; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Contact a licensed insurance agency such as Medicare Consumer Guide’s parent company, eHealth.
    • Call eHealth's licensed insurance agents at 888-391-2659, TTY users 711. We are available Mon - Fri, 8am - 8pm ET. You may receive a messaging service on weekends and holidays from February 15 through September 30. Please leave a message and your call will be returned the next business day.
    • Or enter your zip code where requested on this page to see quote.

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