Today is the start of the 2019 Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rolled out a few big announcements regarding this year’s plans. For 2019, Medicare Advantage plans average monthly premium will continue to drop, lowering an average of six percent from $29.81 to $28. This drop will take the average Medicare Advantage premium to its lowest point in three years. This follows the trend set by Medicare Part D, for which monthly premiums are expected to drop $1.09.

Growth in Popularity

At the same time, Medicare Advantage’s popularity has never been higher. The privately-offered alternative to Original Medicare is projected to see enrollment climb to 22.6 million people, an 11.5 percent growth from the 20.2 million enrolled in 2018.

The popularity of programs, such as Medicare Advantage, and with the various new supplemental benefits and policy changes that have been adopted, we expect plan choices to be even more robust moving forward. — Seema Verma, CMS Administrator

CMS credits the growth in Medicare Advantage plan competition as a driving factor behind this drop. The growth of Part C plans is evidence of this, with roughly 600 new plans available in 2019. This brings the total number of Medicare Advantage plans available throughout the country to 3,700.

With these plans, more than 91 percent of enrollees have access to 10 or more Medicare Advantage plans, a marked increase from 86 percent in 2018. This also brings access to at least one Medicare Advantage plan to about 99 percent for Medicare enrollees.

Growth in Benefits

Another reason for the growth in popularity of Part C plans is the recent expansion in new benefits they can cover. CMS expanded the flexibility of “health-related supplemental benefits,” an important phrase when defining what can be covered by Medicare Advantage plans. Now, these plans can cover such services as adult day care, in-home support, and home-based palliative care, to name a few. It can also reduce cost-sharing for seniors with certain chronic conditions like diabetes or congestive heart failure.

Now, Medicare Advantage plans can cover such services as adult day care, in-home support, and home-based palliative care, to name a few.

In some cases, the new interpretation of the benefits rule could cover transportation to doctor’s appointments and small modifications to the policyholder’s home that are medically necessary. This could include changes like air conditioners or grab bars. The purpose of this new interpretation is to help fund preventative care and “increase health and improve quality of life.” It’s important to note that not every plan has expanded benefits beyond typical hospital and medical coverage. You should confirm and understand your plan’s full range of benefits before enrolling.

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Are you ready to join the growing number of Americans enrolling in private Medicare coverage? To see what plans are available near you, check out Medicareful’s Plan Finder. With the tool, you can compare different plans in your area and get in touch with a licensed Medicare insurance agent who can help guide you to a plan that fits your individual needs and wants.