When it comes to enrolling in Medicare, you have choices. You can stick with original Medicare, which includes Parts A, B, and D, or you can sign up for Medicare Advantage, which will act as an all-encompassing healthcare plan. Medicare Advantage plans are required by law to offer at least the same level of coverage as original Medicare, and sometimes, they do that at a lower cost.
But many Advantage plans also offer supplemental benefits that original Medicare doesn't. And next year, as many as 34% of Advantage plans will fall into that category, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports consulting firm Avalere Health. As a result, it could be a good time to switch over to Medicare Advantage if you've previously been on the fence.
More ways to care for your health
Many Advantage plans offer coverage beyond original Medicare, and in 2021, we could see an uptick in added benefits. Specifically, 94% of Advantage plans will offer telehealth services to enrollees, and given that the COVID-19 outbreak may be with us for part or all of the upcoming year, that's an important option for seniors to have. Furthermore, 27% of Advantage plans will offer specialized COVID-19 care and relief packages, which will include masks, sanitizer, and thermometers.
Most Advantage plans will also cover some key services that original Medicare doesn't. For example, in 2021, 98% of Advantage plans will offer vision benefits -- a service original Medicare won't pay for. Meanwhile, 94% of Advantage plans will cover hearing aids, 92% will offer fitness benefits, and 91% will pick up the cost of dental care.
Of course, these services have long been covered by Advantage plans. But some newer services are growing in popularity, too. For example, 57% of Advantage plans will offer meal-delivery service in 2021, while 47% will offer transportation to medical care.
Is a Medicare Advantage plan right for you?
One drawback of Medicare Advantage is that it limits you to a specific network of providers. With original Medicare, it's generally a lot easier to receive care anywhere in the country, though with the expansion of telehealth services, that may not be as glaring an issue.
Still, many seniors find that their costs decrease under Medicare Advantage, and they can enjoy additional benefits. That's why it could pay for you to sign up for an Advantage plan during fall open enrollment, which is in session now through December 7.
The good thing about enrolling in Medicare Advantage is that if you don't end up liking your coverage, you can undo it easily without getting stuck with your plan for an entire year. That's because Medicare Advantage has its own open enrollment period from Jan. 1 through March 31.
If you start 2021 off with a new Advantage plan and find after a couple of months that it doesn't meet your needs, you'll have until the end of March to switch to a different Advantage plan or go back to original Medicare. Given that limited risk, it may be time to give Medicare Advantage a try.