Medi­care Ad­van­tage will of­fer se­niors help at home

New ser­vices avail­able in plans in 20 states next year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Ri­cardo Alonso-Zal­divar

WASH­ING­TON — In a harbinger of po­ten­tially big changes for Medi­care, se­niors in many states will be able to get ad­di­tional ser­vices such as help with chores, safety de­vices and respite for care­givers next year through pri­vate Medi­care Ad­van­tage in­sur- ance plans.

The shift re­flects a grow­ing recog­ni­tion that sim­ple help at home can have a mean- in­g­ful im­pact on pa­tients’ well-be­ing — and re­duce some costs for tax­pay­ers. A cou­ple of hun­dred dol­lars to in­stall grab bars in the shower can pre­vent a fall lead­ing to a bro­ken hip, a life-chang­ing in­jury.

The newly cov­ered ser- vices are sim­i­lar to what peo­ple might need if they re­quired long-term care, said Howard Gleck­man, a se­nior re­searcher at the non­par­ti­san Ur­ban In­sti­tute think tank. “It be­gins to break down the wall be­tween long-term care and Medi­care, which with very few ex­cep­tions, has never paid for long-term care.”

Change is start­ing slowly. The ser­vices will be of­fered by some Medi­care Ad­van­tage plans in about 20 states, in­clud­ing Ohio, next year, a num­ber ex­pected to grow.

There has to be a health-re- lated rea­son to qual­ify, and costs will vary among plans. In some plans, there’s no added cost. But lim­its do ap­ply. For ex­am­ple, a plan may cover one day per week at an adult day care cen­ter.

Nearly 23 mil­lion Medi­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries, or more than 1 in 3, are ex­pected to be cov­ered by a Medi­care Ad­van­tage plan next year. The pri­vate plans gen­er­ally of­fer lower out-of-pocket costs in ex­change for lim­its on choice of doc­tors and hos- pitals an­dother re­stric­tions such as prior autho­riza­tion for ser­vices. It’s a grow­ing busi­ness for in­sur­ers.

Medi­care Ad­van­tage open en­roll­ment for 2019 ends Dec. 7. But it’s not easy to use Medi­care’s on­line plan fin­der to search for plans with ex­panded ben­e­fits, so ben- efi­cia­ries and their fam­i­lies will have to rely on pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als from in­sur­ers.

For years, Medi­care has per­mit­ted pri­vate plans to of­fer sup­ple­men­tal bene- fits not cov­ered by the tra­di­tional pro­gram. Think free gym mem­ber­ships, trans­por- tation to med­i­cal ap­point- ments or home-de­liv­ered meals after hos­pi­tal­iza­tion.

The new ben­e­fits take that to a higher level, with Medi­care’s bless­ing.

“It is a big con­cept, in the sense that it is of­fi­cially en­cour­ag­ing plans to get across the line into the many, many things that af­fect the health and well-be­ing of ben­e­fi­cia­ries,” said Marc Russo, pres­i­dent of in­surer An­them’s Medi­care busi­ness. “I, for one, who have been in and around Medi­care for decades, be­lieve it pays.”

In­sur­ers un­der An­them’s cor­po­rate um­brella are of­fer- ing dif­fer­ent pack­ages in 12 of 21 states they op­er­ate in. They can in­clude al­ter­na­tive medicine, like acupunc­ture, or adult day care cen­ter vis­its or a per­sonal helper at home.

Other ma­jor in­sur­ers like United Health­care and Hu­mana are par­tic­i­pat­ing.

Still, Medi­care’s open­ing is no sub­sti­tute for full long-term care cover­age, which many peo­ple need for at least part of their lives and re­mains pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive. Se­niors try­ing to get long-term care through Med­ic­aid — the pro­gram for low-in­come peo­ple — must spend down their life­sav­ings.

“Medi­care pol­icy has not kept up with the times,” said Sen. Ron Wy­den, D-Ore., one of the au­thors of bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion seen as a cat­a­lyst for ex­panded ser­vices through Medi­care Ad­van­tage.

Wy­den said he’s work­ing to bring sim­i­lar op­tions to tra­di­tional Medi­care, which is still the choice of 2 out of 3 se­niors. “Clearly this is go­ing to have to be an ef­fort that is go­ing to have to be built out,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to Medi­care, 12 in­sur­ers will be of­fer­ing ex­panded sup­ple­men­tal ben­e­fits next year through 160 plans in 20 states. In four other states and Puerto Rico, such ben­e­fits may be avail­able to se­niors with cer­tain health con­di­tions.

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