Comparing Traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage

Senior woman holds up both palms as if weighing options.Recent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation examined the differences between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage. While people in either program were similarly satisfied with their care and overall care coordination, some distinctions became apparent.

Traditional Medicare’s Strengths

Traditional Medicare is a federal health insurance program for adults 65 and older and individuals with disabilities. Medicare Part A covers hospital fees, Part B applies to medical expenses, and Part D involves prescriptions.

The Foundation reviewed 62 studies released since 2016. The research findings revealed the following:

  • Beneficiaries of traditional Medicare were more likely to receive cancer care in higher-quality hospitals.
  • They also tended to get superior care in skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies compared with their Medicare Advantage counterparts.
  • Traditional Medicare recipients may be less likely to have problems related to expenses.

Findings on Benefits of Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare. It offers plans encompassing Part A hospital fees, Part B medical expenses, and Part D medicine. In some cases, the cost of Medicare Advantage can be lower, but not always. Privately owned companies contract with Medicare to provide Medicare Advantage.

According to the study:

  • Some research indicated that Medicare Advantage had slightly better preventive services, providing increased access to routine health checkups, screenings, and vaccinations.
  • Patients with Medicare Advantage were more likely to have a consistent health care provider.
  • Medicare Advantage had lower hospital readmission rates, received more information during care transitions, and had more favorable experiences getting prescription drugs.

Switching Rates

The researchers looked at the rates at which people switched programs as a way of understanding program dissatisfaction. Medicare Advantage had a higher switching rate relative to traditional Medicare. Yet both had a low turnover, possibly suggesting that people tended to be satisfied with both programs.

Switching from Medicare Advantage to standard Medicare was more common among:

  • people of color
  • residents of rural areas
  • those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid
  • individuals who experienced a health impairment that affected their daily functioning

Cost Issues

Beneficiaries of traditional Medicare reported higher rates of cost difficulties than enrollees in Medicare Advantage. Yet recipients of conventional Medicare with supplemental coverage had the lowest rates of expense complaints overall.

Seek Professional Guidance

Since each plan’s benefits and drawbacks can depend on individual circumstances, consider speaking to your elder law attorney before enrolling. They can explain the differences between these programs and help you plan for retirement.