Understanding The Medicare Advantage Non-Medical Supplemental Benefits Increasingly Available

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Contributor, Benzinga
October 20, 2022

Starting in 2019 the nation’s Medicare Advantage plans were allowed to expand the definition of health-related benefits.   Benefits can now include such things as in-home support services, adult day health services and pain management techniques including therapeutic massage.

Then in 2020, plans could start to include benefits for the chronically ill.  These include extended meals, transportation for non-medical needs, structural home modification and even pest control.

 All supplemental benefits can be provided free to the Medicare Advantage (MA) plan participant.  They were financed through rebates and premium dollars.  The growth of MA plans offering these benefits has increased.  Touted by countless television ads featuring celebrity spokespeople, seniors can benefit from a better understanding of how these plans function.

In-Home Support Services

Millions of seniors have difficulty performing activities of daily living (ADLs) which can include walking, bathing and meal preparation.   In-home support services included under a MA plan can assist those with disabilities and medical conditions.

As of this year all 50 states offer some form of in-home support services.  This represented a 93 percent increase over the prior year.  Plans from some of the best Medicare Advantage providers including Anthem, Inc., Centene/Wellcare and Humana make the benefit available to 1.8 million beneficiaries.

Plans generally limited the number of hours of care provided during a year.  Some provided between 24 and 60 hours a year.  While a meaningful no-cost benefit, considering a separate home care insurance policy can make sense for those concerned about needing more than the allotted amount of care.

Free Meals With Medicare Advantage Plans 

Home delivered meals were offered by roughly 10 percent of the nation’s Medicare Advantage plans in 2021.  Some 387 plans offered this limited benefit, a 445 percent increase from the prior year.

While heavily touted on television ads for MA plans, roughly 1.5 million of those with MA coverage would have access to the benefit.  According to the latest Medicare Advantage statistics, there are currently 26 million Americans with MA coverage.  Free meals are generally limited in availability to those with chronic illnesses.

Transportation For Non-Medical Needs

Under the new provisions, plans can include transportation for non-medical purposes.  This can include trips to buy groceries or do banking.

Available with plans in 27 states and Puerto Rico, only 177 MA plans offered this benefit in 2021.  

Food And Produce Benefits

To help chronically ill enrollees meet their nutritional needs, plans may include benefits that provide fresh produce, frozen foods and canned goods.  In 2021, this benefit was available in 39 states and Puerto Rico.   It is important to note that benefits are country-specific.  In some states, the benefit is available in all counties.  In others, it’s only offered in a few or none.

Offered by 347 MA plans in 2021, a 244 percent increase over 2020.  Participating insurers included Anthem, Inc., Cigna, CVS Health and Humana.

Therapeutic Massage Available In 23 States

Medically approved non-opioid pain treatment alternatives, including therapeutic massage can now be a covered treatment.  In 2021 some 176 Medicare Advantage plans offered the benefit across 23 different states.

According to data from ATI Advisory, this was the only supplemental benefit to see a decline compared to the prior year.  In 2020, the treatment was offered within 230 plans.

New Benefits Introduced In 2021

To benefit seniors with Medicare Advantage coverage, additional benefits started to be added in 2021.  Understanding availability and plan limitations can help you compare the benefits of Medicare Advantage versus Medicare Supplement coverage.

Based on the number of plans offering these benefits, service dog supports was offered by 80 different plans.  Grocery shopping and door drop as well as prescription pick up benefits were available from 62 different plans.

Thorough house cleaning (7 plans) and pet care services (2 plans) were among the newer benefits added.

Options for Comparing Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare offers individuals key times to compare and switch plans.  It’s during these times when finding true expertise can be difficult.  For that reason, experts suggest taking advantage of off-season periods to research plan options.

The average consumer has between 30 and 50 different Medicare Advantage plans to choose from.  Doing your own research can be time consuming.  An online directory lists independent Medicare insurance agents in your Zip Code.

Connecting with one or more local insurance professionals can give you insights into the various plans available to you.  A knowledgeable and experienced specialist will be able to identify which plans make available these added free benefits.

Q

Is a Medicare Advantage plan considered a supplement?

A

The Medicare Advantage plan is considered an all-in-one optional supplement.

Q

What are the extra benefits of a Medicare Advantage plan?

A

Some of the extra benefits of a Medicare Advantage plan are emergency coverage outside of the orginial plan, eyeglasses, wellness programs, and dental care.

 

Q

What is the newest benefit added in some Medicare Advantage plans in 2022?

A

One addition to some Medicare Advantage plans in 2022 is the ability of people with end-stage renal disease to join the program.

About Jesse Slome

Medicare Expert – Director Long Term Care Insurance Association, Medicare Supplement Insurance & Critical Illness Insurance Association