Monday, 03 April 2017 20:38

Louisiana Seniors’ Health Care Choices Can be protected with Medicare Advantage

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agedBy Beryl Mitchell, Louisiana Senior Rx Coordinator
Capital Area Agency on Aging

If the last few weeks made anything clear, it's that folks have very strong, and divergent, opinions on health care. For senior citizens and disabled people, health care issues take on even greater importance. That’s why it’s a good thing there is one program in place to provide them with individualized health care coverage are working so well and enjoy broad, bipartisan support in Congress.

I’m talking, of course, about Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage is a program I know about as a senior citizen myself and as the Louisiana Senior Rx Coordinator at the Capital Area Agency on Aging.

In my professional role, I help our local seniors navigate Medicare and Medicare Advantage enrollment. This is an educational process, because so many consumers went almost a lifetime without making any health care decisions. Often, their coverage was whatever their employer, union, or the government provided, so choice is new to them.

I spend time with each eligible senior to make sure they understand what is available and can make informed comparisons based on their own medical, financial, and personal considerations. Over the years, I’ve come to value the process more and more. Some seniors choose Medicare Advantage, and some choose traditional Medicare—as it should be. What’s important is that we have a conversation about their health care needs and that they come to think of their health plan from an economic perspective. In short order, they become savvy health care consumers, and this tends to increase their wellness.

I happen to be a Medicare Advantage enrollee myself. I’ve always appreciated having choices, and I carefully considered my options when I hit Medicare age. Ultimately, I felt that Medicare Advantage delivered on the things most important to me, so I feel I can speak for other seniors who made a similar decision.

First of all, the costs are predictable and manageable. This keeps my day-to-day health care costs very low. There are also out-of-pocket expense caps that protect me from exceeding my health care budget, should I ever face a medical crisis or long-term illness. I feel confident the full package of affordable coverage will help ensure that I never become a financial burden as I age.

Out-of-pocket cost controls are important to me, but for seniors with extremely limited budgets, Medicare Advantage can be a lifesaver. They can get the care they need without checking their bank balance first—and that usually means earlier detection, earlier treatment, fewer complications, and better outcomes. This helps explain why over 272,000 Louisianans, including many minority and female beneficiaries, choose Medicare Advantage.

Another consideration I took into account was preventative care. I like that Medicare Advantage health plans are proactive about helping members stay well. Plans generally offer free screenings, expert disease management assistance, and even a free fitness program, Silver Sneakers, designed for seniors and personalized to our individual needs It’s empowering to take control of one’s own health, and I believe that’s one of the most important aspects of Medicare Advantage.

I am not surprised Medicare Advantage is as popular as it is. National surveys show that 90% of beneficiaries are very happy with their plans, and these findings mirror what I hear from the Louisiana seniors I work with.

In an era where it seems that agreement is hard to come by, Medicare Advantage stands out. It has always been supported by Senator Cassidy and Congressman Scalise, along with other Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and I’m happy to know that Senator Kennedy has come out in support of the program as well. I hope that they will continue their work to protect and enhance Medicare Advantage, which is of such immense value to Louisiana seniors like me.

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