|For 2020, insurers are offering extra benefits in response to new flexibility from the federal government that allows them to finance almost anything that affects health. Along with the usual medical and drug coverage, plans are advertising perks such as bathroom grab bars, transportation to doctor’s appointments, adult day care and even in-home pest control.|
During the annual open enrollment period through Dec. 7, millions of Medicare beneficiaries will decide whether to keep or change their Medicare Advantage plan, or enroll in original Medicare. These supplemental benefits — on top of low premiums and traditional coverage for routine exams and hospital visits — are another way for insurers to lure new members in a competitive and lucrative Medicare Advantage plan landscape.
One plan will give its members an Apple Watch to track their steps and heart rate, or access to a personal trainer. CarePlus is offering a $50 monthly allowance toward the purchase of select over-the-counter pain relievers, cough and cold medicines, allergy medications and first aid/medical supplies. Other plans will provide members a Fitbit health tracker or home fitness kit, an allowance to help care for a service dog and access to acupuncture or massages.
“These benefits are focused on keeping people well and can save the beneficiary and the plan a lot of money in the long run,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida state director. “It is still incumbent on seniors to figure out what works for them, but these expansive benefits are enticing.”
Medicare Advantage plans are big business for insurers and rule changes are allowing them to up their offerings. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) first allowed insurers to offer supplemental benefits in the 2019 plan year, but only 3% of plans took advantage. For the 2020 year, CMS said more than 500 plans are participating, with many going further in what they offer. In addition, more than half of all plans will offer additional telehealth benefits.
Many of the new benefits in Advantage plans are tailored to people with chronic conditions and recognize a variety of factors that affect health. With these new supplemental benefits, a senior with diabetes could get a glucose monitor, personal nutritional counseling and diabetes education. For someone with heart disease, a plan could provide heart-healthy produce, and someone with asthma could receive home air cleaners or carpet cleaning service.
Also beginning in 2020, some Advantage plans will pay for home improvements to prevent falls, such as permanent ramps or wider hallways and doors to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.
Sifting through the offerings can be complicated, said David A. Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “Not everyone will be eligible for them and you don’t know if you get them until you are actually in the plan. That could make making an informed decision more difficult.”
Bright Health has both an HMO and PPO. Both plans cover perks such as therapeutic shoes or glucose monitors for diabetic patients, transportation to medical appointments, flu shots and a fitness center membership.
“We are seeing that benefits they most like is our debit card for over-the-counter medicines and transportation to doctor’s appointments,” said Amy Knapp, senior vice president, markets for Bright Health.
In between sips of coffee, Miller says because of his bad lungs and long list of medications, he will consider all his choices during open enrollment.
“I got my (Medicare) book and I’m looking through it,” he said.
Alicia Core, 78, however, will stick with her current plan. “I don’t use medications, my doctors are on my plan … I’m happy,” she said.
Many Medicare beneficiaries do not seem aware of the new, extra benefits in Advantage plans this year, and not everyone will qualify to use them, said Edith Gooden-Thompson, Broward County area volunteer coordinator with SHINE, a statewide organization to help seniors with health insurance matters.
“There are some benefits, like a meal delivery option, that will be useful for those who can qualify,” she said.
While some of the perks are tempting, Johnson of AARP offers this advice: “Make sure whatever plan you consider has coverage in the services you know you need.”
from The Boston Globe