Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement plans can help low-income seniors.

Researchers at America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, presented data supporting that conclusion today during a press conference.

About 49% of all 2004 Medicare Advantaged managed care and private fee-for-service plan enrollees had annual incomes of less than $20,000, and about 68% of minority Medicare Advantage plan enrollees had annual incomes below $20,000, researchers said.

In rural areas, about 43% of 2004 Medicare supplement, or “Medigap,” insurance policyholders and half of rural Medigap policyholders had annual incomes under $20,000, researchers said.

Some consumer advocates and Democratic lawmakers have argued that private Medicare plans cost too much and use resources that could be better spent on beefing up basic, government-provided Medicare benefits.

AHIP President Karen Ignagni said the results of the AHIP research should show legislators on Capitol Hill how much value private Medicare plans can provide.

“Medicare Advantage plans are an essential option for millions of vulnerable seniors because they provide comprehensive, affordable coverage and focus on prevention, care coordination and management of chronic conditions,” Ignagni said.

About 34% of Medicare Advantage plan members cited “lower cost” as the top reason for signing up for the private plans, and 21% cited superior benefits, AHIP researchers reported.

Seniors with some form of Medigap or Medicare Advantage private coverage reported better health status and greater use of preventive care services than seniors who had only basic Medicare fee-for-service coverage, AHIP researchers said.