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What if you could have all of the benefits of Medicare, plus the benefits that come with private insurance? With a Medicare Advantage plan, you can.

 Medicare Advantage plans, also called Medicare Part C, combines Medicare Parts A and B (Original Medicare). These plans are offered by private insurance companies that contract with Medicare, providing patients with an additional way to receive Medicare benefits.

All Medicare Advantage customers are still considered Medicare patients. As such, all Medicare Advantage plans must cover all the same benefits as Original Medicare, including Part A (hospital) and Part B (medical). The only exception is hospice care, which is covered under Original Medicare for all Medicare Advantage patients.

Additional Services and Coverage

Because they are offered by private insurance companies, Medicare Advantage plans can also include additional benefits and coverage that are not offered by Original Medicare, such as prescription drug coverage. As with any private insurance, what is and isn't included can vary based on the plan. Patients have the option to find a plan that's a better fit for their own personal healthcare needs. 

However, this flexibility means there’s a lot to learn about shopping for the right Medicare Advantage plan. If you already know what you’re looking for, you can start shopping now,comparing quotes and plans and enrolling online. With access to more than 200 insurance providers nationwide, HealthMarkets can help you compare your health and budget needs to policies available in your area.

If you're unsure of what kind of Medicare Advantage plan you need or whether they are right for you, watch the video below and read on for more information.

The Difference Between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage plans are steadily gaining in popularity. The number of Medicare Advantage customers has quadrupled since 2004, and over 34 percent of today's Medicare recipients are experiencing the highlights of a Medicare Advantage plan.

But before shopping for plans, you should first determine if Medicare Advantage is right for you by evaluating some key differences between Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare. 


Original Medicare patients pay a premium for Part B coverage and only pay a Part A premium if they have fewer than 10 years of United States work history. 

Medicare Advantage plans require customers to pay the same premiums as Original Medicare. In addition, each plan may or may not have its own premium.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Original Medicare patients pay a deductible as well as coinsurance, or a percentage of the service received (usually 20 percent for Part B).

Medicare Advantage plans have deductibles, but may offer copays instead of coinsurance. The costs of deductibles, copays and/or coinsurance varies with each individual plan. It's important to research each plan carefully to determine what your out-of-pocket expenses will be.

Out-of-Pocket Limit

Original Medicare does not have an out-of-pocket limit, meaning there's no cap on what you could end up paying out of pocket for health care. 

All MA plans must come with an out-of-pocket limit that will allow patients 100 percent coverage for anything over the limit. The amount of these limits will vary from plan to plan.

Choice of Physician

In most cases, Original Medicare allows patients to visit any doctor or hospital in the country that accepts Medicare.

Medicare Advantage plans that follow a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) model usually restrict customers to a network of selected physicians. As with many private insurance plans that operate within a network, you may be required to have a Primary Care Physician (PCP) and get referrals to see specialists. 

However, there are Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) MA plans that allow you to see a doctor outside of the network, but it may cost more (more on this later).

Medicare Supplement Insurance

Patients with Original Medicare are free to purchase Medigap to help supplement their Medicare coverage. 

Customers with Medicare Advantage plans may not buy any supplemental insurance through Medigap.

Prescription Drug Coverage

Original Medicare customers must purchase a separate Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) from a private insurance company if they wish to obtain coverage for prescription drugs. This is known as Medicare Part D.

Most Medicare Advantage plans that include coverage of prescription drugs. These are called Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans (MA-PD). If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that does not include prescription drug coverage, you cannot purchase a Prescription Drug Plan from another company (excluding some PFFS plans).

Extra Services

Original Medicare covers services that are deemed medically necessary and does not include dental, vision or hearing care. 

Some Medicare Advantage plans include coverage for extra services such as dental, vision and hearing. Medicare Advantage plans are not allowed to charge more than Original Medicare for certain services like chemotherapy, dialysis and skilled nursing facility care.

This table will help you easily identify some of the differences between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans:


Original Medicare

Medicare Advantage Plans

Out-of-pocket cost

Medicare premiums, deductibles and coinsurance

Medicare premiums, deductibles, copays or coinsurance and potentially an additional premium that is specific to the plan

Services covered

Only medically necessary services to treat a disease or condition

Can cover vision, hearing and dental care in addition to medically necessary procedures 

Medicare supplement insurance

Can purchase a Medigap policy (certain restrictions may apply) 

Cannot purchase a Medigap policy while enrolled in an MA plan

Choice of providers

Yes. Visit any physician that accepts Medicare. 

Most plans require the use of in-network doctors, but a PPO plan may allow for coverage outside of a network at an additional cost

Out-of-pocket limits



Prescription drug coverage

No, but customers may purchase a separate Prescription Drug Plan

Usually, but plans that do not include coverage do not allow customers to purchase a separate Prescription Drug Plan

Referrals for specialists


May need a referral from a Primary Care Physician

Types of Medicare Advantage Plans

The biggest difference between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage is the diversity of plans offered by the latter. The structure of these plans mirror traditional health insurance plans. 

  • HMO. Health Maintenance Organizations have a specific network of select physicians and may require a referral from a Primary Care Physician before seeing a specialist. But HMOs provide additional benefits like coverage for deductibles and more.
  • PPO. A Preferred Provider Organization allows customers to save money when they use a physician inside of the plan's network. Customers are still able to see doctor's outside of the network, but may have to pay a higher cost.
  • PFFS. Private Fee-For-Service plans work similarly to that of Original Medicare, but the plan itself will determine how much it will pay the physician or facility and how much the patient will pay out of pocket.
  • SNP. Special Needs Plans provide coverage for those in specific situations such as limited income or certain chronic medical conditions.
  • HMOPOS. A HMO Point-of-Service plan operates like a HMO but allows for some services to be covered by an out-of-network physician.
  • MSA. A Medical Savings Account plan combines a high-deductible plan with a bank account where money is deposited by Medicare to be used for health care services.

Medicare Advantage: The Plans

The number of available Medicare Advantage plans increased for 2020. The total number of plans is approximately 3,148, the largest number of plans available ever. HMOs account for 64% of all plans offered in 2020. 

In addition to the new plan offerings, 13 new insurance providers joined the Medicare Advantage market for 2020. Medicare beneficiaries have an average of 28 plans to choose from for 2020. 

Medicare Advantage plans are rated by the federal government on a scale of one to five stars based on measures such as quality of care, accessibility and customer satisfaction ratings. 

Enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan 

As with most private health insurance plans, there are certain time periods when customers can enroll in or change a Medicare Advantage plan. In order to make an initial enrollment in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must first be eligible for Original Medicare Part A and Part B. Second, you may not enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan if you have end-stage renal disease.

If you meet that criteria, there are then only certain time frames during which you may enroll:

  1. Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). This is the seven-month period beginning three months before you turn 65 years old, your birthday month and the three months after turning 65. This is when you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan for the first time.
  2. Under 65 with a disability. If you are not yet 65 years old but are disabled, you can sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan 21 months after receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits (RRB). 
  3. General Enrollment Period. January 1 to March 31 is the time to enroll if you didn't sign up when you first became eligible. If you enroll during this period, you will receive coverage starting July 1. However, you may have to pay a higher premium(s) for enrolling late in Part A and/or Part B.

Once enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, there are then only certain times of the year when you can change plans. There are two different open enrollment periods in which changes to plans may occur.

Oct. 15 - Dec. 7

During this time every year, customers can:

  1. Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan or vice versa
  2. Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another
  3. Join, drop or switch from one Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to another

Jan. 1 - Feb. 14

During this time each year, customers may leave a Medicare Advantage Plan and enroll in Original Medicare. 

Special Enrollment Periods

In addition to the open enrollment periods, there are also Special Enrollment Periods (SEP) where customers can make changes to their Medicare Advantage Plans. A Special Enrollment Period is presented to customers who experience life changes that leave them suddenly without healthcare coverage. Some of these include:

  1. Moving to a new address that is not in the coverage area of your current plan or one that offers additional plans to choose from
  2. Moving back to the United States after living outside the country 
  3. Moving in or out of a healthcare facility such as a hospital or nursing home
  4. Leaving an employer-sponsored health insurance plan

While Medicare Advantage plans differ from Original Medicare in a number of ways, one thing remains a constant: It's important to conduct your due diligence and find the plan that best fits your healthcare needs and budget.  

Ready to start shopping for a Medicare Advantage plan? Visit HealthMarkets online today to review quotes and enroll online. Have more questions? Visit our resource center to learn more about Medicare or give us a call at (800) 439-6916. We have more than 3,000 licensed agents who are happy to assist you with all your Medicare Advantage needs.


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