Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, allows private insurance companies to provide Medicare benefits to beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage Plans bundle Part A, Part B, and often Part D drug plan together in one plan. These plans must follow Medicare’s rules but can structure costs and benefits differently than Original Medicare.

Understanding what Medicare Part C provides can help you determine if enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan is the right choice when you become eligible for Medicare.

Medicare Part C Basics

Medicare Part C refers to the section of Medicare law that allows private insurers to offer Medicare Advantage Plans. Here are some key facts:

  • Medicare Advantage Plans include all coverage under Part A and Part B.
  • Most plans also provide prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D.
  • Plans must cover medically necessary services covered by Original Medicare but can charge different copays, coinsurance, or deductibles.
  • Medicare pays a fixed fee per member to the private insurer offering a Medicare Advantage Plan.
  • Plans must follow Medicare’s coverage guidelines but can offer extra benefits not provided through Original Medicare.
  • Enrollees must continue to pay their Part B premium in addition to any premium charged by the Medicare Advantage Plan.

Medicare Part C provided the legal framework for creating the Medicare Advantage program. The main purpose is to provide an alternative way for beneficiaries to receive all their Medicare benefits.

Types of Medicare Advantage Plans

There are a few main types of Medicare Advantage Plans offered by private insurers under Medicare Part C:

  • HMO: A Health Maintenance Organization plan provides care through a network of doctors and hospitals. All non-emergency care generally must be from in-network providers. HMOs often require a primary care physician to coordinate care.
  • PPO: A Preferred Provider Organization plan covers in-network providers with lower costs while also providing some out-of-network coverage, usually at a higher cost to members. PPOs allow more provider choice.
  • PFFS: Private Fee-for-Service plans let members choose from in or out of network providers. The plan determines payment rates for providers. Some PFFS plans contract with certain networks who agree to treat members.
  • SNP: A Special Needs Plan serves specific populations, like people in nursing homes or with certain chronic conditions. SNPs tailor their benefits, provider networks, and drug formularies to best meet the group’s needs.

These plan types offer different levels of flexibility versus structure. HMOs offer coordinated care but less choice, while PPOs and PFFS plans allow seeing providers outside an approved network to varying degrees.

Covered Services

Medicare Advantage Plans must cover all services that are covered under Original Medicare Parts A and B. This includes:

  • Inpatient hospital care
  • Outpatient services like labs, surgeries, and doctor visits
  • Skilled nursing facility care
  • Home health care
  • Hospice services
  • Durable medical equipment
  • Preventive services like cancer screenings and yearly wellness visits

In addition to covering these medically necessary services, most Medicare Advantage Plans offer extra benefits not included under Original Medicare like:

  • Dental care
  • Vision care including eye exams and eye wear
  • Hearing exams and hearing aids
  • Prescription drug coverage
  • Wellness programs like gym memberships
  • Transportation to medical appointments
  • Over-the-counter allowances
  • Telehealth benefits
  • Meals delivered after hospital stays
  • Personal in-home support services

These extra benefits aim to provide more well-rounded healthcare coverage under one Medicare Advantage Plan.

Out-of-Pocket Costs

While Medicare Advantage Plans help cover the same services as Original Medicare, how much you pay out-of-pocket for care may differ.

Plans can charge different amounts for:

  • Monthly premiums
  • Yearly deductibles
  • Copayments or coinsurance for each service

However, your total out-of-pocket costs will be capped each year for in-network care. Once you reach your plan’s out-of-pocket maximum, the plan pays 100% of covered services for the rest of the year.

Original Medicare does not limit how much you could potentially spend each year. So Medicare Advantage provides financial protections while covering the same medically necessary care as traditional Medicare.

Eligibility for Medicare Advantage

To join a Medicare Advantage Plan, you must meet some basic criteria:

  • You must be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B.
  • You must live in the plan’s geographic service area. Plans are regional.
  • You cannot have End-Stage Renal Disease (with limited exceptions).
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or lawfully present in the United States.

As long as you meet these requirements, you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan during your initial enrollment period when first eligible for Medicare, Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, or during special enrollment periods if certain events occur.

Enrollment Periods

You have the opportunity to enroll in or change Medicare Advantage Plans during these key times:

  • Initial Enrollment Period – 7 month period around your 65th birthday to enroll in any Medicare plan when first eligible.
  • Annual Enrollment Period – October 15 to December 7 each year for coverage starting January 1.
  • Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period – January 1 to March 31 to switch between Medicare Advantage Plans or go back to Original Medicare.
  • Special Enrollment Periods – Qualifying life events like moving allow changing plans outside regular enrollment periods.

Working with a Medicare advisor can help you understand the enrollment options so you don’t miss key deadlines.

Medicare Advantage vs. Medigap

While Medicare Advantage Plans provide all-in-one coverage, Medigap policies supplement Original Medicare by covering cost sharing like deductibles and coinsurance.

Key differences include:

  • Medigap allows you to see any provider nationwide that accepts Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans have restricted provider networks.
  • Medigap premiums do not change based on health status once enrolled. Medicare Advantage premiums can change each year.
  • Medigap policies let you pair any hospitalization plan with any doctor plan for customized coverage.
  • Medicare Advantage offers benefits not covered by Original Medicare like dental and transportation. Most Medigap Plans only cover Medicare cost sharing.

There are pros and cons to each approach. Speaking with an insurance counselor can provide guidance on choosing between Medicare Advantage or Medigap based on your needs.


In summary, Medicare Part C legislation allows private insurers to offer Medicare Advantage Plans as an alternative way for Medicare beneficiaries to receive their Medicare benefits. These plans bundle Parts A, B, and often D coverage together and limit out-of-pocket spending. They also frequently include extra benefits not covered by Original Medicare. Understanding what Medicare Part C provides helps seniors evaluate if enrolling in Medicare Advantage is the right approach when becoming eligible for Medicare.

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What is Medicare Part C?

Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage Plans, are private insurance plans approved by Medicare. These plans combine the benefits of Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) and may offer additional coverage such as prescription drugs, dental, and other extra benefits.

What is the difference between Medicare and Medicare Part C?

The main difference is that Medicare Part C Plans are offered by private insurance companies, whereas Original Medicare is provided by the federal government. Medicare Part C Plans often offer more comprehensive coverage and additional benefits beyond what Original Medicare provides.

Who is eligible for Medicare Part C?

To be eligible for Medicare coverage Part C, you must already be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. Additionally, you must live in the plan’s service area and not have end-stage renal disease (ESRD), with a few exceptions.

How do I enroll in Medicare Part C?

To enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can either join a plan during your initial enrollment period when you first become eligible for Medicare or during the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period. You can sign up through the Medicare website or by contacting a plan directly.

What does Medicare Part C cover?

Medicare Part C Plans cover all the hospital insurance services covered by Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). Additionally, plans may offer extra benefits such as prescription drug coverage, vision, hearing, and dental services, and wellness programs.

Are all Medicare Part C Plans the same?

No, Medicare Advantage Plans may vary in terms of medical insurance coverage, network providers, and costs. Different insurance companies offer different types of Medicare Part C Plans, so it’s important to compare plans and select the one that best suits your needs.

Can I have a Medicare Advantage Plan and still receive medical services covered by Original Medicare?

Yes, Medicare Advantage Plans are required to cover all the same services that Original Medicare covers. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you still have Medicare rights and protections.

How much does Medicare Part C cost?

The costs of Medicare Part C plans can vary depending on the plan you choose, your location, and the benefits offered. In addition to your Part B premium, you may have an additional monthly premium for the Medicare Advantage health plan. Some plans have deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.