There is not a lot of good information available to help you choose a doctor, whether the doctor is a primary care doctor or a specialist. Yet, particularly when you’re ill or injured, it is important to be able to count on good primary care doctors and specialists. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on Medicare Advantage plans–commercial health plans that contract with the federal government to provide Medicare benefits–to cover care from doctors you can trust, let alone from the doctors you want to see.
A recent Pro Publica report highlights how a Medicare Advantage plan had a neurosurgeon in its network who was critically harming and sometimes killing his patients. Lesson learned: It is a mistake to assume that Medicare Advantage plans ensure the quality of the doctors with whom they contract to provide in-network care.
It is also a mistake to assume that Medicare Advantage plans offer you the choice of doctors you want to see. A Kaiser Family Foundation report found that more than one in three Medicare Advantage plans offer narrow networks, meaning less choice of doctors and hospitals. They typically include fewer than half of all doctors in a region.
Medicare Advantage plans also typically cover care at only half the hospitals in their area, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. What’s particularly troubling is that they too often do not cover care at centers of excellence. Even when there is a national cancer institute in the area, more than 40 percent of Medicare Advantage plans do not cover care delivered in that specialty hospital.
Fewer than one in four Medicare Advantage plans offer broad networks, covering care in 70 percent of area hospitals.
It’s critical to do your homework before deciding to join a Medicare Advantage plan. Traditional Medicare may require higher upfront costs than Medicare Advantage plans–particularly for people who need to buy supplemental coverage. But, traditional Medicare offers coverage from a wide range of doctors and hospitals throughout the country; and, you do not need a referral from a primary care doctor to see a specialist. Moreover, with supplemental coverage, you generally have no or small out-of-pocket costs for covered services. Out-of-pocket costs for in-network care in a Medicare Advantage plan can easily reach $6,700 a year for people with costly conditions. And, the sky’s the limit on your out-of-pocket costs if you use out-of-network care.
No matter which Medicare plan you are enrolled in, be sure to choose your doctors carefully, a challenging task. Keep in mind that hospitals may employ surgeons who are not fit to be practicing medicine. They may not report surgeons who they know to be hurting their patients. And, these doctors may do serious harm.
Here’s more from Just Care:
- Ten ways Medicare Advantage plans differ from traditional Medicare
- Don’t trust your health plan’s provider directory
- Six reasons you need a primary care doctor in this age of specialization
- New study finds Medicare Advantage plan enrollees end up in lower quality nursing homes than people in traditional Medicare
- Mounting support for Medicare for All