Can I Really Get a Medicare Advantage Plan For Free?
Yes, for quite a few Medicare Advantage plans, you will not have to pay a dime in premiums. And to sweeten to deal, you can even get extra benefits like gym memberships or a built in drug coverage with some plans. But I’m very stingy with my use of the word “free.”
From my experience, an Advantage Plan is free in the same way the newborn puppies of your best friend’s dog are “free.” You may not have to pay for the puppy, but how many know having man’s best friend around the house isn’t exactly a recipe for super savings (especially if you’ve got furniture and footwear that look especially appetizing in black and white)?
You see, a Medicare Advantage Plan might not cost anything in premiums, but it may eat up your money in the end. I’m not saying they aren’t right for some people, in fact; I’ve placed people in $0 Advantage Plans to their long-term satisfaction. For the cost-conscious retiree who is romping into retirement, healthy as a horse, it may be the best option. But before you purchase one, make sure you understand the hassles and extra costs that come along with the decision. I’ve outlined a few of the most important ones:
Advantage Plans have networks of health care providers that they have contracted with, usually within a fairly tight geographic area. If you do not receive care at one of their pre-picked providers, it can mean much higher copays and coinsurance amounts. If you are in an HMO plan, they may not even cover you at all while receiving care out of network. This can work just fine for a person who stays local most of the year, but it does put the burden on you to ensure that your health care provider is in-network. Making mistakes could cost you heavily.
With a Medicare Supplement, the benefits are stable, but with an Advantage Plan, this is hardly ever the case.
Since the private insurance companies that offer Advantage Plans re-file their contract with Medicare every year, the benefits always change—sometimes dramatically. One of your preferred doctors could go out of network. Copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles can all shoot up. This is why you must review your plan every year so you won’t be caught unaware. If you set your plan to the side and forget about it (see “Don’t Set it and Forget It!) for even one year, it can be quite upsetting financially.
Potentially High Out-of-pocket Costs
I always like to remind people that Advantage Plans have more of a “pay as you go” approach. You pay less in premiums, yes. But you may make up for it in deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. For example, almost all Advantage Plans still keep you on the hook for the 20% coinsurance on Part B. That’s fine for an x-ray, but not as much for an outpatient surgery that may be $20,000 or more.
So be aware, Advantage plans do limit your annual out-of-pocket spending, but these caps are generally pretty high. If you have a period of extended illness, you could spend anywhere from $3500-6000 per year or more!
That doesn’t sound like free to me.
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