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Currently, people with Medicare can get prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan or through the standalone private prescription drug plans (PDPs) established under Medicare Part D. Each plan established its own coverage policies and independently negotiates the prices it pays to drug manufacturers. But because each plan has a much smaller coverage pool than the entire Medicare program, many argue that this system of paying for prescription drugs undermines the government's bargaining power and artificially raises the cost of drug coverage.
That’s what the Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) program is all about: it gives you an alternative way to receive your Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) coverage (everything except hospice care, which Part A still covers). Some Medicare Advantage plans include additional benefits as well – prescription drug coverage, for example, or routine dental services and/or fitness programs. These are just a few examples of additional benefits that some Medicare Advantage plans offer – benefits not included in Original Medicare.
You might wonder why a beneficiary would choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. A Medicare Advantage plan is required to cover everything that Original Medicare covers (except for hospice care), including emergency and urgent care. Hospice care is covered by Original Medicare, and hospice benefits continue to be covered by Original Medicare even if you have a Medicare Advantage plan. But, there can be some differences between Original Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan. Those differences can be in how much you pay out of your own pocket when you receive health care. For example, you might have lower copayments and coinsurance or a smaller deductible.
CMS and MedPAC now believe the "like beneficiary" calculations (those on A/B vs those on A/B/C) that have been used for a decade and that underlay many changes made by PPACA and subsequent regulations are not comparative and are misleading (see slide 8 of the January 12, 2017 MedPAC session on Medicare Advantage and other discussions on this subject since that time). That is because the calculations include the increasing number of people only on Part A (primarily because they did not "retire" at 65 given the higher Social Security full retirement age but did join Medicare Part A at 65 as recommended) whereas a "like" Medicare Part C beneficiary has to be on both Parts A and Part B. On an absolute basis, in 2015 Medicare spent 4% less on Medicare Advantage and other Part C beneficiaries per person than they did per person on Medicare beneficiaries under FFS Medicare.[9] In 2014 the difference in parity on an absolute basis was 2% less per person on Part C.[10] It appears from both points of view—per "like beneficiary" and absolutely—that the latest formula delivers the original cost-saving promise of Managed Medicare. But an absolute comparison is not totally accurate either.

If you live in the designated service area of the specific plan, and already have Part A and Part B, you may join a Medicare Advantage plan (note that there are some rural areas of the country where no Medicare Advantage plans are available). If you have union or employer-sponsored insurance, you may be able to add an Advantage plan, but be forewarned that in some cases you may lose your employer or union coverage when you enroll in an Advantage plan.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), administers Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), and parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ("Obamacare").[13] Along with the Departments of Labor and Treasury, the CMS also implements the insurance reform provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and most aspects of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 as amended. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for determining Medicare eligibility, eligibility for and payment of Extra Help/Low Income Subsidy payments related to Part D Medicare, and collecting some premium payments for the Medicare program.
ACA provided bonus payments to plans with ratings of 4 (out of 5) stars or more. The Obama administration launched an $8.35 billion demonstration project in 2012 that increased the size of the bonus payments and increased the number of plans receiving bonus payments, providing bonus payments to the majority of Medicare Advantage plans.[6] According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this demonstration project cost more than the previous 85 demonstration projects beginning in 1995 combined.[7]
If you have coverage through your employer, the company will probably offer you coverage again in 2018. Talk to your Human Resources department or benefits administrator to learn about what you need to do. If your employer is not offering coverage, you will have to buy a plan on your own to avoid paying a penalty. Learn more about how to compare health insurance plans using our guide.
Complex rules control Part B benefits, and periodically issued advisories describe coverage criteria. On the national level these advisories are issued by CMS, and are known as National Coverage Determinations (NCD). Local Coverage Determinations (LCD) apply within the multi-state area managed by a specific regional Medicare Part B contractor, and Local Medical Review Policies (LMRP) were superseded by LCDs in 2003. Coverage information is also located in the CMS Internet-Only Manuals (IOM), the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the Social Security Act, and the Federal Register.
Some have questioned the ability of the federal government to achieve greater savings than the largest PDPs, since some of the larger plans have coverage pools comparable to Medicare's, though the evidence from the VHA is promising. Some also worry that controlling the prices of prescription drugs would reduce incentives for manufacturers to invest in R&D, though the same could be said of anything that would reduce costs.[136]
Part C sponsors annually submit bids that allow them to participate in the program. All bids that meet the necessary requirements are accepted. The bids are compared to the pre-determined benchmark amounts set, which are the maximum amount Medicare will pay a plan in a given county, by law. If a plan's bid is higher than the benchmark, enrollees pay the difference between the benchmark and the bid in the form of a monthly premium, in addition to the Medicare Part B premium. (Because of the county-specific nature of the framework and the bidding process leading to these differences, the same sponsor might offer the same benefits under the same brandname in adjacent counties at different prices.) If the bid is lower than the benchmark, the plan and Medicare share the difference between the bid and the benchmark; the plan's share of this amount is known as a "rebate," which must be used by the plan's sponsor to provide additional benefits or reduced costs to enrollees. A rebate cannot contribute to "profit" ("profit" is in quotes because most Medicare Advantage plans are administered by non-profit organizations, primarily integrated health delivery systems).
As of January 1, 2016, Medicare's unfunded obligation over the 75 year timeframe is $3.8 trillion for the Part A Trust Fund and $28.6 trillion for Part B. Over an infinite timeframe the combined unfunded liability for both programs combined is over $50 trillion, with the difference primarily in the Part B estimate.[85][89] These estimates assume that CMS will pay full benefits as currently specified over those periods though that would be contrary to current United States law. In addition, as discussed throughout each annual Trustees' report, "the Medicare projections shown could be substantially understated as a result of other potentially unsustainable elements of current law." For example, current law effectively provides no raises for doctors after 2025; that is unlikely to happen. It is impossible for actuaries to estimate unfunded liability other than assuming current law is followed (except relative to benefits as noted), the Trustees state "that actual long-range present values for (Part A) expenditures and (Part B/D) expenditures and revenues could exceed the amounts estimated by a substantial margin."
Part B coverage includes out patient physician services, visiting nurse, and other services such as x-rays, laboratory and diagnostic tests, influenza and pneumonia vaccinations, blood transfusions, renal dialysis, outpatient hospital procedures, limited ambulance transportation, immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplant recipients, chemotherapy, hormonal treatments such as Lupron, and other outpatient medical treatments administered in a doctor's office. It also includes chiropractic care. Medication administration is covered under Part B if it is administered by the physician during an office visit.

Lifestyle: Medicare Advantage plans often only operate with a certain region. If you’re a snowbird living in more than one state throughout the year, traditional Medicare plus Medigap is probably a better choice than an Advantage plan. This may also be true if you travel frequently: Some Medigap plans provide coverage when traveling outside of the United States and cover you in all 50 states; Advantage plans generally do not. 
Most but not all Medicare Advantage plans (and many of the other public managed-care health plans within Medicare Part C) include integrated self-administered drug coverage similar to the standalone Part D prescription drug benefit plan. The federal government makes separate capitated-fee payments to Medicare Advantage plans for providing these Part-D-like benefits if applicable just as it does for anyone on Original Medicare using Part D.
Since 1997, Minnesota has provided Medicare coverage for approximately 35,000 Medicare-Medicaid eligible individuals over age 65 through the Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) program. Today, the Minnesota demonstration recognizes this program stability and is focused on administrative flexibility rather than developing a new capitated system. The current demonstration will be evaluated for its ability to further promote integration. However, the longevity of the MSHO program provides for unique data analysis opportunities. MSHO claims data are a rich resource for researchers to analyze the impact of integrated care on health care outcomes for Medicare-Medicaid eligible.  To that end, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) published Minnesota Managed Care Longitudinal Data Analysis which highlights the importance of providing integrated options for Medicare-Medicaid eligible individuals. It may be found at this link: https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/minnesota-managed-care-longitudinal-data-analysis
As you might be aware, the Part D coverage gap, also known as the donut hole, is with us for one more year. The new healthcare law is gradually doing away with the coverage gap. Until the donut hole is gone for good in 2020, you can save money on prescriptions that are not covered by a Minnesota PDP by downloading a Pharmacy Discount Card or coupons. We recommend GoodRx.com.

The PPACA instituted a number of measures to control Medicare fraud and abuse, such as longer oversight periods, provider screenings, stronger standards for certain providers, the creation of databases to share data between federal and state agencies, and stiffer penalties for violators. The law also created mechanisms, such as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to fund experiments to identify new payment and delivery models that could conceivably be expanded to reduce the cost of health care while improving quality.[87]
Robert M. Ball, a former commissioner of Social Security under President Kennedy in 1961 (and later under Johnson, and Nixon) defined the major obstacle to financing health insurance for the elderly: the high cost of care for the aged combined with the generally low incomes of retired people. Because retired older people use much more medical care than younger employed people, an insurance premium related to the risk for older people needed to be high, but if the high premium had to be paid after retirement, when incomes are low, it was an almost impossible burden for the average person. The only feasible approach, he said, was to finance health insurance in the same way as cash benefits for retirement, by contributions paid while at work, when the payments are least burdensome, with the protection furnished in retirement without further payment.[96] In the early 1960s relatively few of the elderly had health insurance, and what they had was usually inadequate. Insurers such as Blue Cross, which had originally applied the principle of community rating, faced competition from other commercial insurers that did not community rate, and so were forced to raise their rates for the elderly.[97]
If you have health coverage from your union or employer (current or former) when you become eligible for Medicare, you may automatically be enrolled in an MA Plan that they sponsor. You have the choice to stay with this plan, switch to Original Medicare, or enroll in a different MA Plan. Be aware that if you switch to Original Medicare or enroll in a different MA Plan, your employer or union could terminate or reduce your health benefits, the health benefits of your dependents, and any other benefits you get from your company. Talk to your employer/union and your plan before making changes to find out how your health benefits and other benefits may be affected.
Lifestyle: Medicare Advantage plans often only operate with a certain region. If you’re a snowbird living in more than one state throughout the year, traditional Medicare plus Medigap is probably a better choice than an Advantage plan. This may also be true if you travel frequently: Some Medigap plans provide coverage when traveling outside of the United States and cover you in all 50 states; Advantage plans generally do not. 
Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) - Part A helps cover inpatient care in hospitals, including critical access hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities (not custodial or long-term care). It also helps cover hospice care and some home health care. Beneficiaries must meet certain conditions to get these benefits. Most people don't pay a premium for Part A because they or a spouse already paid for it through their payroll taxes while working.
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