Learning Center > A Guide To Medicare Part A

A Guide To Medicare Part A

What Is Medicare Part A?

Medicare Part A, often known as hospital insurance, covers services and procedures that generally take place in an inpatient setting. Enrollment in Medicare Part A is triggered by any of these events:

  • Turning 65 (aging into Medicare)
  • Receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) for 24 consecutive months
  • Getting diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)
  • Getting diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)

What Does Medicare Part A Cover?

Medicare Part A covers:

  • Hospital care
  • Hospice care
  • Home health care
  • Skilled Nursing Facility Care

Hospital Coverage

Includes services like semi-private rooms, meals, general nursing and drugs as part of your inpatient treatment.

Hospice Care

Covers care that takes place in a facility or at home. Medicare Part A doesn’t pay for room and board.

Home Health Care

Covers medically necessary services such as:

  • Intermittent skilled-nursing care that can be performed at home
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech-language pathology services

Skilled Nursing Facility Care

Covers skilled nursing services if you need them while you’re a resident, only if all of these conditions are met:

  • You have Part A and days left in your benefit period to use.
  • You have a qualifying hospital stay.
  • You need daily skilled care under the supervision of skilled nursing or therapy staff.
  • You need skills services for a medical condition that was treated during your three-day inpatient hospital stay, or a medical condition that began while you received care in the skilled nursing facility.

Note: Medicare Part A won’t cover custodial care, which means you’re living in a nursing home because you need help with activities of daily living (ADLs). In this case, meals, room, and board are not covered by Medicare Part A.

But if you’ve been in the hospital and must transition to a skilled nursing facility, Medicare Part A will cover the cost of your stay, including meals.

Other skilled nursing care costs covered by Medicare Part A include:

  • A semi-private room
  • Ambulance transportation (when necessary)
  • Medical supplies
  • Medications
  • Speech, physical or occupational therapy

How Much Do Medicare Part A Services Cost?

Out-Of-Pocket Costs

When you're hospitalized, you’ll have to pay a deductible. In 2020, the Medicare Part A deductible is $1,408. But in 2021, the Part A deductible is increasing to $1,484. This means you’ll pay $1,484 out of your own pocket before Medicare will start paying benefits in 2021. This deductible covers you for up to 90 days of inpatient hospital care.

You pay the inpatient hospital deductible each time you're admitted to the hospital, provided you haven't received hospital or skilled nursing facility services within the previous 60-day benefit period. If your hospital stay is longer than 60 days, you’ll begin paying coinsurance for each additional day.

In 2021, you’ll pay:

  • $371 per day for days 61-90 for inpatient hospital stays
  • $742 per day for up to 60 “lifetime reserve days” beyond 90 days
  • Full cost for every day beyond 90 days when you’ve used up your “lifetime reserve days”

While the deductible and coinsurance payments are calculated for each benefit period, your lifetime reserve days are fixed at 60 for your whole life. This means that you only use a lifetime reserve day if you have a stay of more than 90 days in one benefit period.

If you have a series of hospital stays in different benefit periods, but none of them last more than 90 days, you won’t use any lifetime reserve days - even if your total number of days from multiple benefit periods is more than 90.

If you need more than 20 days of skilled nursing care, you’ll pay:

  • $185.50 per day for days 21-100
  • Full cost for every day beyond day 100
  • There are no “lifetime reserve days” for skilled nursing coverage

Note: Your Medicare part A costs are not capped under Original Medicare, so there is no out-of-pocket maximum like there is for private health insurance. This is a key reason many people consider Medicare Advantage or Medigap plans.

What Are The Medicare Part A Eligibility Requirements?

Medicare is health insurance for:

  • People who are age 65 or older.
  • People under age 65 who are disabled and have received Social Security Disability benefits for at least 24 months.
  • People suffering from End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In order to be eligible for Medicare Part A, you must be either:

  • A U.S. citizen, or
  • A permanent legal resident (living in the U.S. for at least 5 years)

Upon meeting this requirement, most people enter into Medicare when they meet an enrollment milestone, like turning age 65.

Most people who enter Medicare Part A don’t have to pay a premium. If you’ve worked and paid payroll taxes (FICA) for at least 40 quarters, you’re eligible to receive Part A services without a premium.

If you haven’t worked long enough for premium-free Medicare Part A coverage, you may qualify through your spouse. If your spouse qualifies for premium-free Part A, so will you, as long as any of these are true:

  • You have been married for at least one year and your spouse is eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • You're divorced and your former spouse is eligible for Social Security benefits. (Note: You must have been married at least 10 years, and you must be single now).
  • You’re widowed, but were married for at least nine months, and you are currently single.

If you have not paid the FICA taxes or don’t qualify for Medicare Part A through your spouse, you can still enroll in Medicare Part A. In this case, you’ll have to pay the Medicare monthly premium, which is $458 for 2020 and $471 in 2021.

What Are The Medicare Part A Enrollment Periods?

Initial Enrollment Period

When you age into Medicare, you can enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period - the 7-month period when you can first sign up for Medicare:

  • The 3 months before your 65th birthday
  • The month of your birthday
  • The 3 months after your 65th birthday

And your timing will vary based on your:

  • Current insurance coverage
  • Timeline for retirement, and
  • When you take Social Security

General Enrollment Period

If you don’t sign up for Medicare during your initial enrollment period, you can enroll in Medicare Part A, Part B, or both, during the General Enrollment Period. The General Enrollment Period happens January through March each year, but your coverage doesn't begin until July 1.

But since this is a later enrollment window, you'll face a coverage gap and won’t receive benefits until three or more months after you sign up.

When you enroll in Medicare Part A and B during the General Enrollment Period, you can also enroll in Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug plans), or Medicare Supplement insurance. Your coverage under any of these plans will also begin July 1.

Medicare Part A Coverage Under Different Scenarios

Medicare Part A and Working Past Age 65

You can delay your Medicare Part A enrollment if you work past age 65. However, you may want (or need) to enroll in Medicare Part A. In any case, talk to your employer to find out.

If you’re still covered by your employer or spouse’s employer plan, you won’t enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period. Instead, you’ll have a special window to enroll in Medicare whenever your private health coverage ends. You’ll then have 8 months to enroll in Original Medicare.

You also won’t be subject to any late enrollment penalties, as long as you’ve been covered by an employer or your spouse’s employer.

How Does Medicare Part A Work With Disability?

If you become eligible for Medicare due to disability, you'll have a different Medicare enrollment window. Instead, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and B on the first day of the 25th month you receive Social Security Disability Insurance.

Note: The requirement for eligibility is 24 consecutive months, but you don’t actually enter Original Medicare until the 25th month.

The same is true if you receive disability income from the Railroad Retirement Board: 24 consecutive months to become eligible and your enrollment occurs on the 25th month.

You can then enroll in a private Medicare plan as soon as you’re enrolled in Part A and B.

Does Medicare Cover ALS?

If you’re diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the first step to getting Medicare is to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance. You’ll need to indicate that you’ve been diagnosed with ALS on the application.

Then, you’ll automatically enter Original Medicare Part A and B on the first day of the fifth month that you’ve received SSDI payments. Once you’re active in Medicare with Part A and B start dates, you can enroll in a private Medicare health plan, if needed.

Does Medicare Cover End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)?

The eligibility and entry details for End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) are often more complicated than other scenarios. But the general rule for ESRD is that your Medicare coverage will begin on the first day of the fourth month of dialysis treatment.

You can enroll in a Medicare Supplement or a Prescription Drug Plan (Part D plan) as soon as you have a Medicare number as well as Part A and B start dates.

Note: Medicare Advantage plans will cover patients with ESRD beginning in 2021. This is great news for ESRD patients because every Medicare Advantage plan has an annual out-of-pocket maximum cap. So once ESRD patients hit their annual spending caps, they’re not required to pay any more medical expenses for the rest of the year.

Read more in our summary of 2021 changes to Medicare.

How To Enroll In Medicare Part A

Again, your enrollment will be automatic in these situations:

  • Turning 65 (aging into Medicare), if you're already receiving Social Security benefits
  • Receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) for 24 consecutive months
  • Getting diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), in many cases
  • Getting diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)

In all of these cases, your Medicare coverage will begin automatically based on applications for other Federal benefits. You shouldn’t have to do anything else to get Part A coverage.

But you’ll have to actively sign up for Medicare in these situations:

  • Delaying Medicare past age 65
  • Delaying Social Security beyond age 65
  • Certain situations for those diagnosed with ESRD

If you’re in one of these categories, there are 3 ways to enroll in Medicare Part A on your own:

  • 1. Visit www.SocialSecurity.gov.
  • 2. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
  • 3. Go in person to your local Social Security office.

Contact the Social Security Administration if you have any questions about your Medicare or Social Security benefits.

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Retirement should be a time of joy and freedom, but too often these years can unfortunately be tainted by battles with chronic illnesses. And one of the most common is cardiovascular disease (CVD), often called heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. That’s why February marks American Heart Month - a way to bring awareness to heart disease and help spread tips on heart disease prevention. And to help celebrate American Heart Month, we’ll review some of the facts about cardiovascular disease, along with tips to combat it. Then we’ll dive into how your Medicare coverage can help you prevent, treat or manage cardiovascular diseases. What Is Heart Disease? Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease CVD is a broad term for several different medical conditions. But generally speaking, heart disease is an illness that affects the heart or circulatory system. The illnesses that fall under the heart disease category include: Coronary artery disease (CAD) Heart rhythm problems Congenital heart disease Infections of the heart tissue Heart valve disease Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Many of the biggest risk factors of cardiovascular disease are lifestyle related. And while there’s a general assumption that these factors are the sole cause, many people are actually born with heart disease. It can be congenital and hereditary. But those with lifestyle risk factors have control over heart disease prevention. The main risk factors and causes of heart disease include: Obesity High cholesterol Diabetes Smoking High blood pressure And these causes of heart disease can be directly tied to such behaviors as: Poor diet Poor physical activity Too much alcohol Tobacco use Genetics or heredity Simply put, the lifestyle habits (good or bad) that we form are what lead to the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Genetics and heredity may then play a role in whether or not we actually develop heart disease. 4 Tips To Prevent Cardiovascular Disease CVD As we mentioned above, the fact that so many of the risk factors for CVD are lifestyle related can be a silver lining, meaning we can make smart choices and avoid unhealthy behaviors to protect our hearts. Now let’s walk through some healthy habits to maintain good heart health. #1. Stop Smoking Quitting smoking is almost universally hailed as the biggest step to reduce your risk of heart disease. Smoking is considered the most easily avoidable lifestyle factor that leads to cardiovascular disease. So if you currently smoke, make an attempt to stop now. Quitting smoking will also save you money, making this heart disease prevention tip a no-brainer. #2. Eat Healthy Diet also plays a big role in the health of your heart. A poor diet multiplies and compounds risk factors, but a smart, healthy diet can reduce your risks and get your heart in great shape. You should always speak with your doctor about nutrition and heart healthy diet options. But generally speaking a heart healthy diet may include: Fruits and vegetables Whole grains Low-fat dairy products Skinless poultry and fish Nuts and legumes In addition to eating these nutritious foods, another suggested tip is to limit your saturated fat, sodium, and sugar intake. This type of diet fits into the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan. #3. Stay Active There’s no getting around the fact that an active lifestyle is a healthy one. But you don’t have to jump right in and overdo it. In fact, gentle but steady exercises can be great way to help prevent heart disease, including: Walking 30 minutes per day Cycling Swimming The main point is to pick an activity that you enjoy. So if you have a scenic path, beach, or lake nearby, consider talking walks or riding your bike there. You should also have a backup plan for poor weather or to keep safe and healthy during COVID-19. Research home workout apps or programs on platforms like YouTube or you Smart TV. But just remember: If you over-commit to exercise and activity, you may fall off the wagon completely. Instead, start small, and add time and distance gradually. If you make it a firm part of your routine, you’ll stick to it. Again, always be sure to consult your doctor before developing an exercise or activity regimen for heart health. #4. Stay Informed About Your Cardiovascular Disease CVD Risks One of the most important heart disease prevention tips is to stay proactive and empowered about your own personal health. This is especially true if you have a family history or genetic predisposition. Here are some key strategies: Don’t miss or delay your doctor’s appointments. If recommended, make sure you get cardiovascular screenings and tests. If you’re on heart disease medications, be sure to consistently take them and follow your treatment plan. Ask questions and be proactive when it comes to your health and wellbeing. How Does Medicare Cover Cardiovascular Disease CVD? If you’re on Medicare or aging into Medicare,and cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment is important to you, you’re in luck. All aspects of the Medicare program cover heart disease related measures. This includes Medicare cardiovascular screening, treatment, and healthy lifestyle tools. Heart disease prevention and treatments are covered by: Original Medicare Part A Original Medicare Part B Medicare Part D drug plans Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap plans) In the most basic sense, Medicare will cover all the stages of cardiovascular disease, including: Annual screenings (covered by Part B) Doctor’s visits, both primary and specialists (covered by Part B) Heart condition medications (covered by Part D) Cardiovascular tests and procedures (covered by Part B) Hospitalizations (when admitted as an in-patient, covered by Part A) When you use Medicare Part B under Original Medicare, you can expect to pay: Part B deductible ($203 for 2021) Part B coinsurance (20% of the Medicare-approved charges) Part B excess charges (up to 15% of the Medicare-approved charges if you use providers who don’t agree to Medicare’s prices) When you use Part A coverage under Original Medicare, your costs may include: Part A deductible ($1,484 per benefit period) Part A coinsurance of $0 per day (after you pay the deductible) for hospital stays of up to 60 days Part A coinsurance of $371 per day for hospital stays over 60 days Medicare Cardiovascular Screenings Medicare covers cardiovascular screenings, which involves a blood test once every five years. But if your doctor orders more frequent cardiovascular screenings and tests, Medicare will cover them. However, you’ll pay your share of costs as we outlined above. Medicare Cardiac Rehabilitation Programs Medicare Part B will cover part of the costs for cardiovascular disease rehabilitation programs. These covered programs include exercise, education, and counselling designed to maintain your heart health. Note: Medicare Part B will cover these cardiac rehabilitation programs, only if any of these scenarios apply to you: You’ve had a heart attack in the last 12 months. You’ve had heart bypass surgery. You’re experiencing stable angina or chronic heart failure. You’ve had a heart of lung transplant. You’ve had a valve or artery repair or replacement. Once again, you’ll pay your standard 20% coinsurance if you use these cardiac rehab programs under Medicare Part B. Cardiac Tests Covered By Medicare Beyond standard cardiovascular disease screenings and rehabilitation programs, Medicare will cover medically necessary cardiac tests ordered by your doctors. These types of heart tests may include: Blood tests Echocardiograms (ECG) Exercise stress tests - MRI or x-rays Just as with the other services, you’ll pay 20% cost-sharing under Part B of Original Medicare. Cardiovascular Medications Most prescription drugs are not covered by Original Medicare. But you may be able to get heart and cardiovascular prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Part D plan. The 2 types of Medicare plans that offer Part D: Standalone Prescription Drug Plans (PDP) and Medicare Advantage plans that include Prescription Drugs (MAPD) It’s important to note that not all drugs are covered by all Medicare Part D drug plans. However, all Part D plans must cover at least two drugs in every therapeutic category, including heart disease or cardiovascular disease. Tip: You can use our prescription lookup tool to see if your drugs are covered under Medicare Part D. Medicare Chronic Condition / Disease Management Programs If you have more than one chronic condition, you can qualify for special disease management programs. These are also covered by Original Medicare, but you’ll still be responsible for your standard cost sharing. You may also have to pay a monthly fee to participate in these chronic care management services. Under these management programs, you’ll work with your healthcare professionals to craft a comprehensive health plan tailored to your heart condition. A chronic care management plan may include: Goal setting and health evaluations Working with all of your specialists Managing your medications Cardiovascular Disease And Private Medicare Plans So far, we’ve reviewed your coverage and costs under Original Medicare. But if you choose a private plan option like Medicare Advantage or Medigap, these plans will cover your cardiovascular health as well. If you enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan, your plan will pay part of the costs you’d normally pay out of pocket. If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll likely pay small copayments - similar to what you’d pay under Original Medicare. But with Medicare Advantage, you’ll have out-of-pocket spending protection, since these plans put a cap on your annual health spending. Most Medicare Advantage plans and some Medigap plans also offer access to non-Medicare health and wellness benefits. These can include gym memberships, SilverSneakers or other health programs that can help you lower your risks of cardiovascular disease. Conclusion: Medicare & Cardiovascular Disease Coverage With lifestyle and healthy habits, you can control many of the factors that may lead to cardiovascular disease. And if you currently have heart disease, you can manage your condition with a healthy lifestyle and tests, specialists, and medications covered by Medicare. To make the most of your private Medicare coverage (Part C or Part D): Check to ensure your medications are covered by the plan you’re considering. Make sure you’ll remain in-network with your doctors and specialists. And if you want help choosing a Medicare plan, you can work with a licensed insurance agent who can help you find Medicare plans and give you free Medicare quotes (with no obligation to enroll in a plan). Just call 1-800-620-4519 to speak with one of our licensed insurance agents, or use our Medicare plan comparison tool to find Medicare plans in your area. Note: This article is for general education purposes and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the guidance of your physician or a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.
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The popularity of Medicare Advantage plans is growing at a rapid pace. In 2020, more than 36% of all Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Advantage health care plans. Whether you’re already in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’re curious about them, or you’ve never heard of them, this Medicare Advantage guide is for you. In this in-depth Medicare Advantage guide, we’ll provide a Medicare Advantage overview that will answer your frequently asked Medicare questions and cover the following topics: What is Medicare Advantage and who qualifies for it The different types of Medicare Advantage plans and how they work The difference between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage What Medicare Advantage plans cover Who should consider getting Medicare Advantage How much Medicare Advantage costs Medicare Advantage and special scenarios Medicare Advantage plan ratings When to enroll in Medicare Advantage How to enroll in Medicare Advantage What Is Medicare Advantage? Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, is an alternative to Original Medicare. The Medicare Advantage program is a way for beneficiaries to access their benefits and rights under Original Medicare, but through a private insurance company instead of the Federal Government. A Medicare Advantage plan is a contract between a private insurance company and the Medicare program. By law, every Medicare Advantage plan must cover everything covered by Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B). This means that if you choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can be confident that you’ll receive all the benefits you’re entitled to under Original Medicare. Who Qualifies For Medicare Advantage? To qualify for Medicare Advantage, you must be enrolled in Original Medicare Parts A and B. You also must continue to pay your Part B premium in order to keep your Medicare Advantage coverage. There are no age restrictions for Medicare Advantage plans. If you’re enrolled in Part A and B before age 65 due to a disability or chronic condition, you’re still eligible for Medicare Advantage coverage. How Do Medicare Advantage Plans Work? Medicare Advantage health care plans work like the employer-sponsored health insurance plans you may be used to from your previous or current job. Medicare Advantage plans provide comprehensive coverage, and you usually need to stay in-network to receive care. You’ll typically have some out-of-pocket expenses when you receive services and procedures under your Medicare Advantage policy. These costs typically come in the form of copayments or coinsurance that you’ll pay to your provider when you receive care. An important point to remember is that all Medicare Advantage plans have an annual out-of-pocket (OOP) maximum that limits the total amount you can spend in any year. But you do not have an OOP with Original Medicare. What Types Of Medicare Advantage Plans Are Available? There are 6 types of Medicare Advantage plans, including: Medicare Advantage HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) Medicare Advantage PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) Medicare Advantage PFFS (Private Fee-For-Service Plans) Medicare Advantage SNP (Special Needs Plans) Medicare Advantage HMO-POS (HMO Point-Of-Service Plans) Medicare Medical Savings Plans (MSPs) In this Medicare Advantage guide, we’ll focus on Medicare Advantage PPO plans and Medicare Advantage HMO since they’re the most common types of MA plans. The Difference Between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage The primary difference between these programs is that Medicare Advantage is an alternative to Original Medicare. When you join a Medicare Part C plan, you no longer receive your Medicare benefits through Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans are offered and administered by private insurance companies. But these private insurance companies must comply with many rules and regulations set by the Medicare program. Pros And Cons Of Medicare Advantage Plans vs. Original Medicare Medicare Part C plans have many advantages when compared to Original Medicare. The 3 biggest pros of Medicare Advantage plans are: Annual Out-of-Pocket Maximum spending cap Availability of prescription drug coverage* Extra benefits for things not covered by Original Medicare *Note: Some MA plans are available without prescription drugs. These additional benefits from Part C make Medicare Advantage a more complete coverage option than Original Medicare. MA plans can have their drawbacks in comparison to Original Medicare, depending on your healthcare needs. The 3 biggest pros of Original Medicare are: #1. You can see any doctor or go to any facility anywhere in the country, as long as they accept Medicare. #2. There are no networks. Most Medicare Advantage plans have some kind of network restrictions. #3. You don’t need referrals to see specialists. With some Medicare Advantage health care plans, such as HMOs and Special Needs Plans, you usually need referrals from your primary care physician to visit a specialist. What Does Medicare Advantage Cover? Medicare Advantage plans provide coverage that matches Original Medicare Parts A and B. Generally speaking, your Medicare Advantage plan will cover the same service or procedure as Original Medicare. But there is one exception to this rule, which we’ll cover below. Medicare Advantage plans cover the following services. Medicare Part A Services Medicare Part A covers services that take place in healthcare facilities or institutions like: Inpatient hospital stays Skilled nursing services (not room and board) Hospice care In-home care Note: Hospice care is usually not covered by Medicare Advantage plans. Instead, hospice care is covered under Original Medicare, even if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. However, a new test program in 2021 will explore Medicare Advantage plans providing hospice benefits. Medicare Part B Services Medicare Part B services and procedures are considered more routine and non-emergency in nature than Part A. Common Medicare Part B services include: Doctor’s visits, including specialists Physical and occupational therapy Lab and diagnostic testing services like blood work and x-rays Durable medical equipment Mental health services Ambulance services Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy As mentioned, Medicare Advantage plans cover all of these services with the exception of hospice care. Medicare Advantage And Prescription Drugs Most Medicare Advantage plans offer prescription drug coverage. These plans are also known as Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans (MAPDs), and they include Medicare Part D. Medicare Advantage Extra Benefits When considering Medicare Advantage pros and cons, it’s essential to take extra benefits that Medicare Advantage could offer to you. Many of these benefits are not provided through Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage benefits may include: Fitness programs: SilverSneakers, gym memberships, and fitness trackers. Vision care: Eye exams, contact lenses, and sometimes eyeglass frames. Hearing care: Exams and often discounted hearing aids. Dental coverage: Some plans have basic dental benefits built in, others offer dental coverage for an extra premium. Transportation: Rides to and from medical appointments. Meal Deliveries: For qualified people returning home from the hospital or skilled nursing facility Telemedicine services and virtual healthcare. Note: Medicare Part C plans have the ability to choose which, if any, extra benefits to offer. These insurance companies may also make changes to their Medicare benefits and offerings each year. Who Is Medicare Advantage Good For? You should consider enrolling in Medicare Advantage if: You want to put a cap on your total out-of-pocket spending under Original Medicare. You want prescription drug coverage without paying for a separate Part D drug plan. You need some of the extra benefits (vision, hearing, private home aides) that come with many Medicare Part C plans. You don’t want to pay for Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans. You don’t mind using a network of doctors and facilities. You don’t mind needing referrals to see specialists. You don’t mind paying small copays each time you see a doctor. How Much Does Medicare Advantage Cost? Medicare Advantage plans have several costs associated with them. Before we dive into each cost, it’s important to remember that you always have to pay your Part B premium in order to have Medicare Advantage. Now, some Medicare Advantage plans offer a benefit that covers part, or all, of your Part B premium. But check the plan benefits closely to see if this is offered by a specific Medicare Advantage plan. Beyond this Part B premium, you might face the following Medicare Advantage plan costs: Monthly premium Annual deductible Copayment Coinsurance You might have a monthly premium for your Medicare Advantage plan, but these premiums tend to be low. For example, the average Medicare Advantage premium was $23.63 per month in 2020. However, many Medicare Advantage plans do not have a monthly premium. In 2020, 60% of people enrolled in Medicare Advantage didn’t pay a monthly premium. Some Medicare Part C plans have an annual deductible, but again, many do not. If your plan does have an annual deductible, this means you’ll have to pay a certain amount before the plan begins paying benefits. Note that there may be separate deductibles for drug coverage and medical benefits. Beyond premiums and deductibles, the most common expenses you’ll have with Medicare Advantage plans are copayments and coinsurance. These two terms are referred to as “cost-sharing.” This is what you’ll pay out of pocket when you receive covered services. All the amounts you pay during the year count towards your annual out-of-pocket cap. Examples Of Medicare Advantage Costs Let’s look at 3 examples of how these Medicare Advantage costs work in a Medicare Advantage HMO plan. (Note: These costs are not the actual costs for any specific plan, but rather, in the range of costs for plans that you may have access to.) Scenario 1: Medicare Part B Services You injure yourself shoveling snow on your property, and you go to the doctor for an examination. You’ll pay a copay of $20 to see your primary care physician who then refers you to an orthopedic specialist. Your orthopedic specialist charges you a $35 copay for the office visit and wants you to get x-rays. You pay a $50 copay for the x-rays. Fortunately, nothing is broken or torn, so your specialist refers you to physical therapy. You pay a copay of $40 for four physical therapy sessions. Your total out-of-pocket spending for this injury is $265, spread out over a month-long period. All of these costs count towards your Medicare Advantage out-of-pocket maximum. Scenario 2: Medicare Part A & B Services You experience the symptoms of an irregular heartbeat, so you’re admitted to the hospital as an inpatient. You spend two nights in the hospital. You pay a copay of $300 per day, which amounts to a total of $600. After you’re released from the hospital, you continue to see a cardiologist, and you pay a $35 copay to see this specialist each time you visit. Scenario 3: Cancer You’re diagnosed with a treatable cancer, and you’re given chemotherapy. The copay for this treatment is 20% of the Medicare-approved cost. Although 20% amounts to more than $20,000, you hit your annual out-of-pocket maximum, so your costs are capped at $5,900 for the year. When Can You Enroll In Medicare Advantage? You can normally enroll in or change your Medicare Advantage coverage during 3 periods of time: Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) when you’re first eligible for Medicare. The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), which runs from October 15 to December 7 each year. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31 each year - however, this MA open enrollment is only for those already in a Medicare Advantage plan. Enrolling In Medicare Advantage For The First Time If you’re turning 65, you can enroll in Medicare Advantage during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). Your IEP lasts for 7 months, which begins 3 months before your 65th birthday, includes that birthday month, and ends 3 months after you turn 65. If you’re under 65, your first chance to enroll in Medicare Advantage starts: After your 24th month of receiving Social Security disability benefits, or At any age if you have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gherig’s Disease, or if you have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Changing Your Medicare Coverage During AEP The Medicare Open Enrollment Period, also called the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period or Annual Election Period, is a good time to decide whether Medicare Advantage or Original Medicare is right for you. Also keep in mind that Medicare Advantage plan benefits can change annually. So if you have a MA plan, you should check to make sure the plan still meets your needs. Here are the actions you can take during AEP: Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. Disenroll from your Medicare Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare. Change from one prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D) to another. Enroll in a prescription drug plan. Cancel your prescription drug coverage. If you enroll in, or switch your Medicare Advantage insurance during AEP, your new coverage will be effective on January 1st of the following year. You may also be able to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan if you drop your Medicare Advantage coverage during AEP. The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you have access to another enrollment period beyond AEP: The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (MA-OEP). MA-OEP runs from January 1 to March 31 of each year. During the MA-OEP, you can: Change from one Medicare Advantage plan to another. Drop Medicare Advantage, and return to Original Medicare. Add a Prescription Drug Plan if you return to Original Medicare. It’s important to keep in mind that the MA-OEP is only for people who already have a Medicare Advantage plan. If you change plans during the MA-OEP, your new coverage will be effective on the first day of the month after you enroll. Medicare Advantage & ESRD Coverage For all years before 2021, there was an exclusion for people with permanent kidney failure, known as End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). ESRD patients could not get new Medicare Advantage coverage. However, beginning January 1, 2021, ESRD patients will be able to enroll in or switch Medicare Advantage plans. Now the eligibility for Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare will be perfectly aligned. Medicare Advantage And Other Special Scenarios We mentioned earlier that Special Needs Plans (SNPs) are a type of Medicare Advantage insurance. Let’s take a look at some common types of SNPs, and how Medicare Advantage health plans are also helping people to get access to care and benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Medicare Advantage And Chronic Conditions There are Medicare Advantage plan options for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. These plans are known as Chronic Special Needs Plans (Medicare C-SNPs), and the benefits are tailored to help you treat and manage your chronic condition. These health plans often provide you with a care coordinator to make sure your needs are being met. These Special Needs Plans have Special Enrollment Periods (often called SEPs), so if you qualify for a C-SNP, you can enroll in it at any time. You won’t have to wait for an annual enrollment window. Medicare Advantage And Medicaid Another kind of Special Needs Plan exists for “Dual Eligibles” – people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. These plans, called Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs), have cost-sharing that conforms to the Medicaid program, which means that most costs are $0. D-SNPs incorporate various prescription drug discount programs, depending on your income level - so you’ll save money on your prescriptions if you qualify. D-SNP plans also have more favorable enrollment windows, which allow you to access the benefits once you become eligible for Medicaid or extra help and at certain times during the year without waiting for an annual enrollment window. Medicare Advantage And COVID-19 Medicare provides Coronavirus coverage to help people combat the virus, which includes: No-cost lab testing. Antibody testing. All medically-necessary services and procedures, including hospitalizations and doctor’s visits. Coronavirus vaccine coverage, when one becomes available. Many Medicare Advantage health plans are waiving cost-sharing for these services. In this case, you wouldn’t pay a copayment or coinsurance for seeing a doctor or going to the hospital if you have COVID-19. Medicare has also approved an expanded role for telehealth and virtual doctor’s visits. And many Medicare Advantage health care plans offer these no-contact services with no out-of-pocket cost to you. Medicare Advantage Plan Ratings Every established Medicare Advantage plan is given a Medicare Start Rating by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Star ratings range from 1 to 5, with 5 stars being the highest. Here’s a breakdown of what each rating means: 5-star rating: Excellent 4-star rating: Above Average 3-star rating: Average 2-star rating: Below Average 1-star rating: Poor Medicare Advantage plans are rated on several different metrics and are given an overall rating. This Medicare star ratings system is designed to help you get a feel for the level of quality and satisfaction a MA plan offers. Star ratings also give you an idea of how well a plan treats its members. Plans are rated on how quickly it responds to appeals and complaints and how they cover health screenings and preventative services. Plans are also rated for both medical benefits and prescription drug benefits, if the plan has drug coverage. How To Enroll In A Medicare Advantage Plan If you want to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll want to consider 3 things before joining: Make sure you find a plan that’s available in your area. Most Medicare Advantage plans are restricted to specific counties or states. Make sure your current doctors and medications are covered. This is especially important if you’re looking at a Medicare Advantage HMO plan. You’ll have to use the doctors that are in-network, and you’ll only get coverage for medications that are on the plan formulary. So make sure you investigate these before enrolling. Pay attention to star ratings. This can help you compare the overall quality among different plans. But keep in mind that new plans are not given star ratings until enough data has been collected for CMS to calculate a rating. Once you’ve found a plan, you have a few options to enroll, including: Online, by phone, or paper enrollment directly with the insurance company. Working with a licensed health insurance agent who can help you find, compare, and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan of your choice. Medicare Advantage Guide Conclusion Medicare Advantage plans can be a great way to manage your out-of-pocket spending while enjoying extra benefits we covered, if you qualify. And they can offer some compelling advantages over Original Medicare, depending on your healthcare needs. So if you'd like to learn more about Medicare Advantage plans in your area, call 800-620-4519 to reach a licensed insurance agent who may be able to guide you to the right plan for your needs. You can also try online Medicare plan comparison tool.
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The transition from 2020 to 2021 offers many opportunities for people on Medicare. Whether you use Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage, or Medicare Supplement Insurance, you’ll find plenty of changes on the horizon. In this guide to 2021 changes to Medicare, we’ll review what happened during 2020, and dive into the Medicare changes and opportunities for 2021. Review of 2020 Medicare Changes To say that a lot happened in 2020 is a cosmic understatement. The big disruptor, of course, was COVID-19. The pandemic led to some sizable changes in the Medicare program. Some of the highlights from 2020 include: Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Plans C, F, and High Deductible F (HDF) were no longer available to newly-eligible beneficiaries as of 1/1/2020. For the second year in a row, the infamous “Donut Hole” was closed for Part D drug plans. Medicare expanded access to telehealth/virtual doctor appointment services. Many insurance companies, including the major Medicare Advantage plan sponsors, reduced or waived copayments for COVID-19-related care. Other than the COVID-19-related changes, the loss of Medigap Plans C, F, and HDF was probably the biggest change to Medicare for 2020. Those plans became unavailable for beneficiaries who first became eligible after 12/31/2019. This leaves Plan G as the most comprehensive Medigap plan available to all new Medicare beneficiaries. This plan will cover 100% of your Medicare deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance except for the Part B deductible. You’re responsible for the first $198 in Part B expenses for 2020. 2021 Medicare Costs 2021 Medicare Part A Costs Most people don’t pay a Part A premium because they paid Medicare taxes while working. So if you don’t get premium-free Part A, you pay up to $471 each month. Hospital Stays In 2021, you pay: $1,484 deductible per benefit period. $0 for the first 60 days of each benefit period. $371 per day for days 61–90 of each benefit period. $742 per “lifetime reserve day” after day 90 of each benefit period (up to a maximum of 60 days over your lifetime). Skilled Nursing Facility Stays In 2021, you pay: $0 for the first 20 days of each benefit period. $185.50 per day for days 21–100 of each benefit period. All costs for each day after day 100 of the benefit period. Medicare Part B Costs Most people will pay the Part B premium of $148.50 for 2021, but Social Security can share your exact Part B premium amount. You can also refer to the 2021 Medicare Costs guide from Medicare.gov for a complete breakdown of Part B premiums. Medicare Advantage Plan Changes For 2021 Many of the most exciting and notable 2021 changes to Medicare encompass Medicare Advantage plans. These plans, which are also known as Part C plans, are a private insurance alternative to Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage And ESRD The single biggest piece of news about Medicare Advantage for 2021 relates to those with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), also known as kidney failure. Beginning 1/1/21, Medicare beneficiaries with ESRD will be able to get coverage through Medicare Advantage plans. Prior to 2021, Medicare Advantage plans were generally able to exclude people with ESRD. This left ESRD patients in a tough spot, since under Original Medicare Part B, they paid 20% of the cost of dialysis. And this can get expensive very quickly since there was no out-of-pocket cap on their expenses under Original Medicare. Everyone with ESRD will now be able to get Medicare Advantage coverage. This may not reduce the amounts ESRD patients pay early in the year, since many Medicare Advantage plans charge a 20% coinsurance for dialysis as well. However, the great news for ESRD patients is that every Medicare Advantage plan has an annual out-of-pocket maximum. So once ESRD patients hit their annual spending caps, they’re not required to pay for any more medical expenses the rest of the year. Medicare Advantage And Hospice Benefits Another 2021 change to Medicare Advantage is a small test program for delivering hospice benefits. Historically, hospice coverage was provided by Original Medicare, even if you were in a Medicare Advantage plan. Starting in 2021, 53 Medicare Advantage plans across the country will provide hospice and palliative care. This is a very small number of plans, so it won’t affect most people at this point. However, if the test program works, you may see more Medicare Advantage plans offering this benefit in the future. Extra Benefits Through Medicare Advantage Plans Medicare Advantage is the subject of other big 2021 changes to Medicare. Beginning in 2021, additional benefits will be available. Extra benefits are benefits offered by Medicare Advantage plans that are not covered by Original Medicare. Examples may include: Dental coverage Vision and hearing coverage Chiropractic care For 2021, new Medicare benefits will be available. Many of them are designed to help you get care at home, and lend some support to caregivers. The new extra Medicare benefits in 2021 available through some Medicare Advantage plans include: Caregiver support Adult day health services In-home support services Therapeutic massage Acupuncture (for chronic low back pain only – this is also now covered under Original Medicare) But these extra benefits are not required or guaranteed. Instead, they are optionally provided by Medicare Advantage plans, and they can be changed or discontinued from year to year. Still, the availability of adult day health services and caregiver support will be beneficial for many of those on Medicare who struggle to care for themselves. For 2021, Medicare Advantage plan premiums are lower on average than in the past. In fact, the average Medicare Advantage plan premium is expected to be 11% lower in 2021 than in 2020. For 2021, the average Medicare Advantage plan premium will be $21 per month. On the other hand, the annual out-of-pocket maximum for in-network services is rising to $7,550. This is the highest it can be. Many plans will continue to offer lower out-of-pocket maximums. 2021 Changes To Medicare Drug Plans The other big news in 2021 changes to Medicare is the Part D Senior Savings Model. This model program, which is essentially a five-year test, will cap the price beneficiaries in participating to no more than $35 copays for a 30-day supply for many types of insulin. Under this new program for 2021, beneficiaries will have access to about 1,700 MAPDs (Medicare Advantage plans with Part D drug benefits) and stand alone Prescription Drug Plans that cap the cost of insulin. Another great detail about this program is that the cost for insulin won’t change, even if you enter the coverage gap during the year. You’ll still pay the same capped copayment. In addition, you won’t have to meet a deductible to get the $35 copay price. While not every plan has chosen to participate, CMS expects there to be at least one plan in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Given the effect of diabetes on the kidneys, patients with ESRD are in position to grab some great new benefits for 2021 and beyond. How To Prepare For 2021 Changes To Medicare For starters, you should make note that we expect a slight increase in Original Medicare costs, for 2021. Though we still don’t know what they’ll be, we expect there to be some increase in the Part B premium, even with the caps that will limit the total rise in costs. You can expect the same thing with deductibles. As with a normal Medicare Open Enrollment Period, also called the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), you should review your current coverage to see if switching plans for 2021 makes sense. New plans are available each year, so Medicare beneficiaries have until December 7 of each year to make a change to their plans for the following year. When comparing plans during the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, be sure to look at: The monthly premium (if any) Annual deductibles (if any) Cost structure, like copays and coinsurance amounts for Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans Out-of-pocket maximum amounts for Medicare Advantage plans Networks of doctors and medical facilities for Medicare Advantage plans Tip: It’s important to not just jump into a new plan because it has one appealing feature. You want to make sure that your doctors accept any new plan and that your current medications will be covered. If you use insulin, you may want to consider one of the standalone Prescription Drug Plans or MAPD plans participating in the Senior Savings Model program, if available. It’s estimated that those on insulin could save more than $400 per year on average. Besides savings on insulin through the Senior Savings Model program, ESRD patients who don’t currently have Medicare Advantage plan coverage should consider it for 2021. Moving to Medicare Advantage could help ESRD patients in 2 different ways: Moving from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage Moving from Medicare Supplement Insurance to Medicare Advantage In the first case, you can take advantage of the out-of-pocket spending cap that a Medicare Advantage plan can offer. The out-of-pocket cap could be a real benefit for ESRD patients since it’s not only dialysis treatments that could count against the Medicare out-of-pocket maximum (OOPM). All spending on Medicare-approved services and procedures count towards the OOPM, so an ESRD patient might “max out” their spending during 2021 and get substantial relief the rest of the year. On the other hand, if you have ESRD and are currently covered by a Medigap (Medicare Supplement) plan, you might be able to save money on your monthly premium by switching to Medicare Advantage. And you might save money or come close to breaking even by switching from Medigap to Medicare Advantage, depending on the premiums and out-of-pocket maximums for plans in your area. Just be sure you run the numbers before making this move. Note: It can be difficult to get Medicare Supplement insurance coverage back after you move away from it. You might have to go through medical underwriting, which means you may be declined coverage as an ESRD patient with a pre-existing condition, unless you qualify for a guaranteed issue period. Due to the complexities of Medigap coverage, it’s a great idea to talk to a licensed insurance agent to see if switching to Medicare Advantage is a good idea. Get Help With Medicare If you still have questions about 2021 changes to Medicare and how they impact you, call 800-620-4519 to get help from one of our licensed insurance agents. Or you can try our free Medicare plan comparison tool to find Medicare plans in your area. There is no obligation to enroll in a plan.
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