During the 2020 open enrolment period, US seniors will be tempted with a host of new benefits that could sway their choice of Medicare Advantage plan

Medicare Advantage plans will have an emphasis on preventing and managing health issues in 2020

A recent change in US law allows health insurance companies to expand the scope of what’s considered ‘a primary health benefit’ for 2020. Insurers have wasted little time in designing and marketing new schemes to entice the country’s over-65s. Peter Littlejohns takes a look into some of the ways providers are enticing them with Medicare Advantage plans. 

 

Medicare Advantage is a health insurance option for America’s over-65s that typically offers an expanded set of benefits compared with standard Medicare coverage.

Opting for a policy usually incurs a low monthly premium at the expense of potentially high out-of-pockets costs from co-pay and co-insurance agreements — two cost-sharing practices between the insurer and insured.

New rules mean this October will see open enrolment’s battlefield swamped by Medicare Advantage policies tempting potential enrollees with additional benefits ranging from transport to and from medical appointments to shampooing carpets and boxes of free vegetables.

Five additional benefits coming with Medicare Advantage plans in 2020:

Telehealth and video chats

medicare advantage 2020
Most major health insurance providers are including expanded telehealth services in their 2020 Medicare Advantage plans

One of the major developments to come out of the new Medicare Advantage rules is the ability for health insurers to serve policyholders with medical advice without them having to physically attend an appointment.

Telehealth providers — which have a pool of doctors to chat through medical issues on the phone — are already in use for a small number of policyholders that have extenuating circumstances preventing them from travelling to such appointments.

Tweaks to law will now allow insurers to provide the service through partnered telehealth companies for a wider range of customers, whether based in urban or rural areas.

Many of the larger providers in the healthcare space, including giants Cigna and UnitedHealthcare are positioning this benefit as a low- or no-cost inclusion to their Medicare Advantage policies.

 

Nutrition advice and healthy eating plans

medicare advantage 2020
Several employers are offering additional benefits around healthy eating for 2020

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made disease prevention a key theme of the legislative changes to Medicare Advantage policies.

One of the areas it hopes to address is nutritional awareness among seniors, and insurers appear to be on board with the idea — with many offering professional advice as part of their propositions.

One example of this is Pennsylvania-based Vibra Health Plan, which is offering healthy eating regimens from dietitians designed specifically to better manage chronic conditions.

To encourage seniors to consume their five a day, the company also drops off a box of fruit and vegetables every month for customers on its Enhanced Complete PPO plan.

Pennsylvania state competitor Capital Blue Cross focuses on the importance of nutrition after treatment, offering customers recently discharged from hospital 14 nutritionally balanced ready-made meals.

 

Carpet shampooing

medicare advantage 2020
Carpet shampooing is one service that could appear in multiple Medicare Advantage plans for 2020 (Credit: WikiCommons)

Although it has yet to surface in a specific Medicare Advantage policy yet, one slightly seemingly tenuous benefit CMS has allowed under its new rules for insurers is carpet shampooing.

While it might at first appear an activity with no obvious health benefits, the cleaning process removes lung pollutants that can irritate asthma in sufferers of the condition.

Pollutants can take many forms, some that become trapped in carpets can include insect allergens, flecks of skin shed by pets, everyday dust and dirt, and even traces of lead.

Professional carpet cleaners use specialist shampooing formulas to remove the trapped pollutants that can’t be reached with a vacuum cleaner.

 

College helpers on demand

medicare advantage 2020
Papa Pals matches college kids looking for cash with elderly people that need chores done

For seniors with a serious health issue, getting out and about and even doing the housework can be a real chore.

For 2020, many health insurers have partnered with Papa Pals — a technology firm that connects older people that struggle to manage chores with college students looking to earn an extra income.

Capital Blue Cross and Vibra are two of the companies offering the service, and both will cover the first five hours of work solicited on the platform.

Included in the list of tasks customers can request are transport to and from medical appointments.

 

Transport allowances to medical appointments

Seniors that struggle to get to doctor’s appointments are likely to be given a transport allowance under 2020 policies

For those policyholders unnerved by the thought of trusting their lives to a young driver, it’s expected that a lot of insurance companies will provide some form of transport service on their Medicare Advantage policies for 2020.

Many providers already cover the cost of emergency transportation where a policyholder’s life is in danger, but few provide non-emergency rides.

This enrolment period will see companies luring seniors to their Medicare Advantage policies with free rides to non-emergency appointments.

One of the country’s largest providers of healthcare services, Aetna International, are offering 24 one-way trips to its Medicare Advantage customers, allowing for 60 miles per trip.