Is Medicare Advantage really free? Monthly plan premium explained

You may be surprised to learn that some Medicare Advantage plans have a monthly plan premium of $0. That’s right—zero dollars per month. And that usually includes coverage for services that aren’t covered under Original Medicare.

For most of us, costs and coverage are the 2 main factors when it comes time to choose a Medicare Advantage plan. Learn more about the $0 monthly premium Medicare Advantage plans, including how they work and how to enroll.

Low or $0 monthly premium Medicare Advantage plans can add up to real savings

With Medicare Advantage plans, rather than pay your medical bills directly, the federal government contracts with private insurance companies to administer your plan. You still have all the rights and benefits that come with Original Medicare, but private insurers—like Humana—compete for your business with low premiums and added benefits.

How can a Medicare Advantage plan have a $0 monthly premium?

Private insurance companies are able to offer zero-premium Medicare Advantage plans, in part, because:

  • To help manage costs, Medicare Advantage plans usually enter into contracts with a network of doctors and hospitals.
    • That means you may have to pay more money out of pocket if you see a doctor outside the plan’s network
  • Many Medicare Advantage plans offer preventive care and disease management programs to help people better manage their health, and healthy patients generally have lower healthcare costs.
  • If a particular Medicare Advantage plan ends up spending less than the flat fee it gets from the government, it can pass the savings on to members.
    • That may mean offering plans with a monthly plan premium of $0 or providing additional benefits, such as dental, vision and/or prescription coverage

So what’s the catch?

Of course, no Medicare Advantage plan is really $0 cost. You may still pay deductibles and copays for covered services, and you’ll still have to pay the Part B premium. But depending on your own personal healthcare needs, a Medicare Advantage plan may be worth it for the added benefits.

Medicare Advantage plans also offer one level of predictability not available with Original Medicare: There’s a yearly limit on how much you’ll have to pay out of pocket.

When can I enroll in a $0 monthly premium Medicare Advantage plan?

There are a few different times you can shop for a $0 monthly premium Medicare Advantage Plan. Your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) for Medicare begins 3 months before the month of your 65th birthday, including your birthday month, and continues through the 3 months after the month of your 65th birthday. During this time, you could choose to sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan if you enroll in both Part A and Part B of Medicare.1

You may enroll in a $0 monthly premium Medicare Advantage plan during the Initial Coverage Election Period (ICEP). This period may run parallel with your IEP, as it also begins 3 months before you turn 65 when you choose to enroll in both Medicare Parts A and B. However, if you decide to enroll in Part B later, your ICEP begins 3 months before your Part B coverage takes effect. During this period, you may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.2 For more information, see our article on the ICEP for Medicare.

You could also shop for a $0 monthly premium Medicare Advantage plan during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). This is a period each year from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, where you may switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan or enroll in Medicare Advantage for the first time.3

If you are already enrolled in Medicare Advantage, you could also shop for $0 monthly premium plans during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP). This takes place from Jan. 1 to March 31 each year. During the Medicare Advantage OEP, you can disenroll from your current Medicare Advantage plan and switch to a new one.4

Humana answers your Medicare questions

Sources

  1. “How Do You Enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan?” Medicare.com, last accessed June 8, 2022, https://medicare.com/medicare-advantage/how-do-you-enroll-in-a-medicare-advantage-plan/.
  2. “Medicare Enrollment Periods,” Medicare FAQ, last accessed June 8, 2022, https://www.medicarefaq.com/original-medicare/medicare-enrollment-periods/.
  3. “Medicare AEP vs. OEP: Know Your Enrollment Periods,” MedicareAdvantage.com, last accessed June 8, 2022, https://www.medicareadvantage.com/enrollment/medicare-aep-vs-oep.
  4. “Medicare AEP vs. OEP: Know Your Enrollment Periods.”

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