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Advantage plans offer more benefits than Medicare

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Patients in Medicare Advantage plans are getting more benefits than those in traditional Medicare plans, according to analysts at HealthPocket.

New HealthPocket analysis found that 97 percent of Advantage plans provided coverage for a minimum of one extra insurance benefit — vision, dental, or hearing — not covered by Medicare. And 42 percent of Advantage plans included extra coverage for vision, dental and hearing together.

See also: Incentive backer promotes Medicare Advantage changes

HealthPocket researchers said the extra benefits often found in MA plans “are frequently overlooked in discussions of Medicare Advantage’s value proposition to consumers.”

“While most Medicare Advantage plans included extra insurance benefits not in original Medicare Parts A & B, there was considerable variation for cost-sharing among these benefits as well as the extent of coverage,” said Jesse Geneson, the study’s lead author and data researcher at HealthPocket. “Consumers should review coverage details carefully before enrolling.”

Specifically, researchers found that vision insurance was the most prevalent offering in MA plans, with 94 percent of them offering it. Some form of dental coverage was covered by 71 percent, while 59 percent of Advantage plans provided some form of hearing coverage.

When comparing 2013 Advantage plans to their 2014 counterparts, the analysis found the percentage of plans that offered all three additional benefits fell from 47 percent in 2013 to 42 percent in 2014. But the number of plans offering at least one vision, dental or hearing benefit beyond Medicare’s coverage remained the same.

Administrative changes to Medicare Advantage plans have been under fire lately. Though the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reversed course by boosting MA rates slightly (after announcing they were lowering them) some industry experts said MA plans would still face rate drops. Industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans has been a vocal supporter of MA, urging the administration to leave it alone, citing negative effects any changes would have on seniors who rely on the program.

Many consumers who have traditional Medicare coverage also buy Medicare supplement insurance. The HealthPocket analysts did not consider Medigap coverage costs or benefits in their analysis.

Medicare Advantage program critics say rich Medicare Advantage benefits and extra Medicare Advantage plan benefits may hurt Medicare solvency, by encouraging enrollees to get extra care. 

Insurers, Medicare Advantage plan enrollees and some health policy specialists say the extra benefits justify strong Medicare Advantage program funding because they improve the quality of the care enrollees get.

Allison Bell contributed to this article.

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