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Medicare’s private plans (known as Medicare Advantage, or MA plans) currently cover about one-third of all Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage plans have long been allowed to offer extra benefits that traditional Medicare does not cover—called “supplemental benefits” (e.g. dental services, gym membership, vision benefits).

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Starting in 2019, Medicare Advantage can cover a much wider array of supplemental benefits than was previously allowed, due to a significant change to federal rules. Medicare’s private insurers now also have greater flexibility to design and tailor those benefits to enrollees’ health conditions. These changes could have positive implications for people enrolled in Medicare Advantage if plans choose to offer meaningful new benefits (e.g. support for family caregivers, in-home supportive services, benefits to address social determinants of health). However, they could also raise potential new challenges for Medicare beneficiaries.

In a series of reports entitled “Supplemental Benefits in Medicare Advantage” and in several blogs, AARP’s Public Policy Institute is monitoring these changes to Medicare Advantage and their implementation in 2019 and beyond.

In addition to providing a detailed look at supplemental benefits before the new rules, our ongoing work includes analyses of the new policies and of what they mean for Medicare beneficiaries, their family caregivers, and for the broader Medicare program. We also make public policy recommendations to ensure that Medicare Advantage plans implement any changes to supplemental benefits with strong consumer protections and in a manner that offers meaningful benefits for enrollees.

About the contributing authors: 

Jane Sung and Claire Noel-Miller provide expertise and analysis on new developments in Medicare Advantage’s supplemental benefits. Wendy Fox-Grage, Lynn Feinberg and Susan Reinhard provide analysis on the impact of Medicare Advantage changes on opportunities for family caregivers.

Suggested Citation for latest report in the Supplemental Benefits in Medicare Advantage Series:

Sung, Jane, and Claire Noel-Miller. Supplemental Benefits in Medicare Advantage: Recent Public Policy Changes and What They Mean for Consumers. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute, July 2019. https://doi.org/10.26419/ppi.00075.000