Non-medical (supplemental) benefits are an important factor to consider when you’re choosing a Medicare Advantage plan.
Non-medical benefits can help you balance your primary medical needs with your household, social, and financial needs.
The “extras” offered by Medicare Advantage plans, often at no additional cost, can range from home meal delivery to non-medical transportation services.
Which Medicare Advantage plan should I choose? If you’re wondering this, you’re not alone.
I helped my parents answer this question every year after reviewing their Medicare needs and comparing plans,” says Christopher Ciano, president of Medicare for Aetna.
Selecting a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan is no easy task, with the average beneficiary having 29 different plans to choose from in their county. But one factor can make a big impact in helping you decide what plan is right for you in 2023: non-medical benefits.
What are non-medical benefits when it comes to a Medicare Advantage plan?
Non-medical benefits, sometimes called supplemental benefits, are designed to address your total wellness picture—multiple aspects of your health, security, and emotional well-being. They balance your primary medical needs with other needs such as good nutrition, transportation, and companionship. Non-medical services help ensure you have the supports in place to live a functional and independent life.
In 2018, Congress began allowing Medicare Advantage plans to offer supplemental benefits for chronically ill patients, such as companion care and transportation. In the years since, the number of MA plans providing these non-medical benefits has tripled. Today, about 34% of plans offer at least one non-medical benefit to meet the growing demand.1
What are some examples of non-medical Medicare Advantage benefits?
In general, Medicare Advantage non-medical benefits focus on providing care beyond traditional clinical settings. Below are some of the extra support and services that plans may offer members at no additional cost in 2023.
Nutrition and dietary support
As we age, our nutritional needs change—and eating healthy becomes much more important to our quality of life. Poor nutrition can result in malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and any number of chronic diseases. Following a balanced meal plan, on the other hand, can help you reduce your risk for illness and stay active and independent for longer.
Like Original Medicare (Parts A and B), Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans are required to provide standard coverage for medical nutritional therapy (nutrition-based treatment for certain chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes). However, many MA plans also offer additional non-medical benefits such as:
- General nutritional counseling
- Ready-made, home-delivered meals after a hospital stay
- Debit cards to purchase healthy foods
- Home-delivered fresh fruits and vegetables
One example of a nutrition benefit offered by select MA plans is a pre-loaded debit card with an allowance that can be used to buy healthy foods and fresh produce. These cards are becoming more popular among MA plans and members enjoy the convenience of being able to use the cards at local retailers. For example, in 2023 Aetna will offer an Aetna Medicare Extra Benefits Card on select plans that includes a quarterly allowance that can be used to buy over-the-counter (OTC) items and/or a combination of support services, such as healthy foods, utilities, and transportation. Make sure you check plan details to understand if you’re eligible for this benefit.
Lack of transportation can make it difficult for older adults to utilize the heath care and community services they need to thrive. That's why some Medicare Advantage plans include non-emergency transportation services at no added cost, giving members a reliable way to get to where they need to go. This benefit allows you to take advantage of safe, comfortable transportation to and from approved locations such as the pharmacy, senior center, and doctor appointments. The number of covered trips usually varies by plan.
Falls prevention aids
Falls are the top cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older Americans, with more than one-quarter of people age 65+ falling annually.2 Not only do fall-related injuries threaten older adults’ safety and independence; they cost billions each year. As a result, fall prevention is a critical part of supporting the health and wellness of older Americans. Some carriers offer their Medicare Advantage plan members an annual allowance for safety items (such as handrails) that can reduce the risk of injury from falls in the home.
Social support connections
Millions of older adults struggle with loneliness, and this lack of social support can have a profound negative impact on health. Small group programs, held either online or in person, can improve people's sense of social connectedness and boost health and well-being. That’s why another important aspect of non-medical benefits is helping members find community and combat isolation. A number of MA plans offer services that can help you find and take advantage of social opportunities that enrich your life, such as:
- Classes based on your personal interests
- Volunteer work
- Recreational activities
- Nearby senior centers
Additionally, some Medicare Advantage plans provide adult companions to select members at no cost. These individuals provide companionship and help with household needs for up to a certain number of hours per month.
Certain Medicare Advantage plans also offer other innovative, non-medical benefits for members. Some examples are below:
- Allowance to buy over-the-counter items, such as vitamins, bandages, toothpaste and hand lotions
- Help paying utility bills, such as water, gas, electricity, phone, and internet service
- Fitness memberships, such as SilverSneakers, to keep older adults active
- Access to brain games and exercises to promote good mental health, such as Aetna’s new Memory Fitness benefit
Learn more about Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits
Your health isn’t one-dimensional, and your health plan shouldn’t be either. Non-medical benefits are something you’ll want to think about when you’re exploring different Medicare Advantage plans for 2023 coverage. Get expert help in understanding Medicare coverage with NCOA's free Age Well Planner. Our trusted experts can help you choose a plan that provides the unique benefits you need and their advice comes at no additional cost to you.
This content was developed in partnership with Aetna. Learn more about what you need to know about Medicare.
1. Filling The Gaps: The Role and Value Of Supplemental Benefits In Medicare Advantage, Health Affairs. Found on the internet at https://www.healthaffairs.org/content/forefront/filling-gaps-role-and-value-supplemental-benefits-medicare-advantage
2. Older Adult Falls Reported by State, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/falls/data/falls-by-state.html