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Truth behind the Medicare commercials

Every fall, you may notice countless Medicare commercials on TV, some featuring retired NFL quarterback, Joe Namath. The advertisements in which Namath appears are for Medicare Advantage plans. It’s important for beneficiaries to know the truth behind the advertising. Some of the claims in Advantage commercials can be misleading if you aren’t informed.

So, these commercials are not from Medicare or the government. In fact, a large Medicare agency pays Namath to advertise Advantage policies that beneficiaries can purchase from their agents.

With Advantage plans, Medicare pays carriers to take on the beneficiary’s risk. Thus, Medicare Part C (the Medicare Advantage policy through a private insurance company) pays instead of the government health program (Part A and Part B).

Some of the claims in the Joe Namath Medicare commercials are very attractive. However, you’ll want to do your research about individual plans before choosing Advantage coverage.

Claim #1:
Additional Benefits

In the advertisements, Joe Namath claims Medicare Advantage plans include a bundle of benefits like dental, vision, and hearing coverage, a prescription drug plan, and home-delivered meals. He proceeds to claim you can receive these features at no additional cost.​

While it is true that Advantage plans can include these extra benefits, said benefits vary by plan, and plan availability depends on your location. Also important to note is that not every Advantage plan offers the option for home-delivered meals. Further, even if your plan offers home-delivered meals, you must personally qualify to receive them.

Claim #2:
Eliminating Copays

Joe Namath Medicare Advantage ads claim that these policies wipe out copays. In reality, your copayments depend on the plan you choose.

Your plan may require copays for visits to doctors and specialists, as well as for prescription drugs. Yet, for your Advantage plan to pay at all, your providers must be in your plan’s network. Additionally, your medications and dosages must be on the formulary of your Medicare Advantage prescription drug plan to receive coverage.

Claim #3:
Coverage for No Additional Cost

An attention-getting claim Joe Namath makes in several of his Medicare Advantage commercials is that the extra coverage is available to beneficiaries for no additional cost. But, no premium doesn’t mean cost-free.

It’s important to understand that no Medicare plan is actually free. The truth is that while some Advantage plans don’t come with a monthly premium, many do require payment of a premium, and all include other costs.

Advantage plans still involve out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and copayments. So, while a zero-dollar plan in your area might seem enticing, it may not even be the best choice for your finances – let alone your health.

There is a maximum out-of-pocket amount for each Advantage plan, but it can be high. Meaning, you’ll likely spend thousands of dollars in a year before reaching full coverage on your plan.

Claim #4:
Money Added to Your Social Security Check Each Month

In his Medicare Advantage commercials, Joe Namath says that beneficiaries can receive extra money in their Social Security check every month. While some Advantage plans include a give-back feature, it isn’t standard for all Advantage plans.

Further, the availability of plans with the give-back or premium-reduction feature is dependent on your location. The amount the plan reduces your premium can be as much as the standard amount, or it could be less.
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