Medicare Advantage plans — private plans that offer benefits beyond those of traditional Medicare — will receive somewhat lower government payments in 2015, due to the Affordable Care Act. That move prompted speculation that more plans would withdraw from Medicare or reduce benefits. A few have withdrawn in rural counties (none has been available in Alaska since 2012), but overall the program remains robust. Medicare officials say, “Enrollment is now at an all-time high and premiums have fallen.”

Still, there are signs that some Medicare Advantage plans are shifting other costs to enrollees, sometimes in novel ways. For example, plans charging annual deductibles for health services have been rare in the past but now seem to be on the rise. Of the 39 benefit-rich plans offered in one competitive area of Miami in 2014, none charged a health deductible; of the 35 plans available there in 2015, six will charge deductibles of between $500 and $975. In this same area, 30 plans offered extra help in the prescription drug coverage gap, known as the “doughnut hole”, in 2014; next year, none will.

Such shifts make it all the more important to compare plans. Shopping around is the best thing a Medicare beneficiary can do. There is still much shopping to be done to find the proper choice for your Medicare Advantage plan.

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– John D. Miller is the founder/owner of Home Care Partners, LLC, a Massachusetts business providing private duty, personalized in-home assistance and companion care services to those needing help in daily activities and household functions. He can be reached at: (781) 378-2164; email: jdmiller@homecarepartners.biz ; or online at: www.homecarepartnersma.com

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