Evidence is mixed on how quality and access compare between Medicare Advantage and "traditional" Medicare. ("traditional" in quotes because it is not the same as Original Medicare; everyone in Medicare must begin by joining Original Medicare; the term "traditional" typically refers to FFS and almost always means the beneficiary has a private group or individually purchased supplement to Original Medicare). Most research suggests that enrollees in Medicare HMOs tend to receive more preventative services than beneficiaries in traditional Medicare; however, beneficiaries, especially those in poorer health, tend to rate the quality and access to care in traditional Medicare more favorably than in Medicare Advantage. It is difficult to generalize the results of studies across all plans participating in the program because performance on quality and access metrics varies widely across the types of Medicare Advantage plans and among the dozens of providers of Medicare Advantage plans.
Part B also helps with durable medical equipment (DME), including canes, walkers, lift chairs, wheelchairs, and mobility scooters for those with mobility impairments. Prosthetic devices such as artificial limbs and breast prosthesis following mastectomy, as well as one pair of eyeglasses following cataract surgery, and oxygen for home use is also covered.
But that has not been the case at all. Medicare Advantage enrollment continues to grow each year. There were 19 million Advantage enrollees in 2017, which is about a third of all Medicare beneficiaries, who totaled about 58 million in 2017). The number of Medicare Advantage plans available has been fairly steady since 2011 (2,034 in 2016, up from 1,945 in 2015; but down from a high of 2,830 in 2009). The majority of beneficiaries still have at least one zero-premium plan available to them, and the average enrollee could select from among 21 plans in 2018, which was slightly higher than it had been at any point since 2011 (but this is still down significantly from 48 plans in 2009).
As a result of these changes and other administrative choices by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS, per-person expenditures for beneficiaries on Parts A/B/C and those not on A/B/C reached effective parity). One such choice ended the out-of-balance PFFS plan program except for grandfathered beneficiaries. The out-of-balance Employer Group plan program was cut back beginning in 2017.
Many look to the Veterans Health Administration as a model of lower cost prescription drug coverage. Since the VHA provides healthcare directly, it maintains its own formulary and negotiates prices with manufacturers. Studies show that the VHA pays dramatically less for drugs than the PDP plans Medicare Part D subsidizes. One analysis found that adopting a formulary similar to the VHA's would save Medicare $14 billion a year (over 10 years the savings would be around $140 billion).
On August 1, 2007, the US House United States Congress voted to reduce payments to Medicare Advantage providers in order to pay for expanded coverage of children's health under the SCHIP program. As of 2008, Medicare Advantage plans cost, on average, 13 percent more per person insured for like beneficiaries than direct payment plans. Many health economists have concluded that payments to Medicare Advantage providers have been excessive. The Senate, after heavy lobbying from the insurance industry, declined to agree to the cuts in Medicare Advantage proposed by the House. President Bush subsequently vetoed the SCHIP extension.
There have been a number of criticisms of the premium support model. Some have raised concern about risk selection, where insurers find ways to avoid covering people expected to have high health care costs. Premium support proposals, such as the 2011 plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R–Wis.), have aimed to avoid risk selection by including protection language mandating that plans participating in such coverage must provide insurance to all beneficiaries and are not able to avoid covering higher risk beneficiaries. Some critics are concerned that the Medicare population, which has particularly high rates of cognitive impairment and dementia, would have a hard time choosing between competing health plans. Robert Moffit, a senior fellow of The Heritage Foundation responded to this concern, stating that while there may be research indicating that individuals have difficulty making the correct choice of health care plan, there is no evidence to show that government officials can make better choices. Henry Aaron, one of the original proponents of premium supports, has recently argued that the idea should not be implemented, given that Medicare Advantage plans have not successfully contained costs more effectively than traditional Medicare and because the political climate is hostile to the kinds of regulations that would be needed to make the idea workable.
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.
Two distinct premium support systems have recently been proposed in Congress to control the cost of Medicare. The House Republicans' 2012 budget would have abolished traditional Medicare and required the eligible population to purchase private insurance with a newly created premium support program. This plan would have cut the cost of Medicare by capping the value of the voucher and tying its growth to inflation, which is expected to be lower than rising health costs, saving roughly $155 billion over 10 years. Paul Ryan, the plan's author, claimed that competition would drive down costs, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the plan would dramatically raise the cost of health care, with all of the additional costs falling on enrollees. The CBO found that under the plan, typical 65-year-olds would go from paying 35 percent of their health care costs to paying 68 percent by 2030.
If choose not to enroll in Medicare Part B and then decide to do so later, your coverage may be delayed and you may have to pay a higher monthly premium for as long as you have Part B. Your monthly premium will go up 10 percent for each 12-month period you were eligible for Part B, but didn’t sign up for it, unless you qualify for a "Special Enrollment Period."