How to pick a Medicare Advantage plan with a brain health benefit

Are you shopping for an MA plan? Here’s what to know about choosing one — and how it can be beneficial to your brain.

Senior couple on a laptop

Life is complicated, especially when it comes to buying health insurance. If you’re looking to sign up for (or switch to) a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, it should be easy, right? Find the plan with all the best bells and whistles at the cheapest price and call it a day.

But that’s not always the answer. For example, you may be worried about your brain health. Maybe your memory isn’t what it used to be, or you keep forgetting your new grandchild's name. You’ve heard of this thing called “brain plasticity” — your brain’s ability to change, even as you get older — but you’re not sure how to make it happen.

That’s why it’s important to do some careful research before picking a plan. Here’s a quick overview of Medicare Advantage and how to find the plan that’s right for you — including great brain health benefits. (If you have an MA plan and are looking to switch plans, you could already have no-cost access to BrainHQ and not even know it! Check your eligibility today.)

What is Medicare Advantage?

Medicare Advantage, or MA — also referred to as Medicare Part C — is one of the four parts of Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans are private health plans that have contracts with Medicare, a government-run health plan for people ages 65 and older (plus some people with end-stage renal disease or other disabilities).

MA is a “bundled” plan, which means it combines Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), Medicare Part B (medical insurance), and usually Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage). MA plans provide the same standard coverages as Original Medicare (that is, Medicare Parts A and B) but might offer more add-ons, such as:

A senior man enjoying using his smart tablet
You might be eligible for no-cost brain training with BrainHQ.

Access to BrainHQ’s brain exercises may be included with your Medicare Advantage plan at no additional cost. Check your eligibility.

Finding the right Medicare Advantage plan for you

So, you’ve decided to either sign up for or switch to another MA plan. Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re shopping around:

  • Make sure your doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies are in the plan’s network. MA plans generally require you to stay in the network, so make sure your favorite doctors, facilities, and hospitals are part of it. That way you won’t have to switch doctors or pay hefty out-of-network fees.

  • Figure out which tier (category) your medications are in. Every MA plan with prescription drug coverage has a list of drugs, called a formulary, that it covers. Make sure all your medications are on your plan’s list, and check which tier they’re in. The lower the tier, the less you’ll pay.

  • Have special health care needs? Pick the right plan. If you have a chronic condition such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or lung disease, you may qualify for a chronic condition special needs plan (C-SNP). This is a type of MA plan. It covers all the same Medicare services that all MA plans must cover, but it usually also covers extra services (such as extra days in the hospital) tailored to the special groups it serves. C-SNPs also often have a care coordinator to help you stay healthy.

    If you have limited income, you may also qualify for a dual-eligible special needs plan (D-SNP). These plans are geared toward people who have both Medicare and Medicaid. These plans often have extra benefits beyond what you can get from either Medicare or Medicaid, such as grocery store or gas credits, transportation assistance, and meal delivery.

  • Get the extras you want. If you’re active, you may very well want a plan that offers a gym membership. Likewise, if you use hearing aids or glasses, you’ll want a plan that covers hearing and vision costs. And if you want to keep your brain sharp, you may want to seek out a plan that offers no-cost access to BrainHQ — a science-backed brain-training program you can do online.

What is a brain-training program, anyway?

If you like to exercise, you already know that having a fitness routine can help maintain — and even improve — your physical health and your quality of life. And many MA plans offer a way to keep active, like a gym membership.

The same is true of brain fitness. The right kind of brain-training exercises can help you maintain — and even improve — your brain health and your quality of life. 

BrainHQ’s brain training works because of brain plasticity — that’s the natural ability of the brain to rewire itself through learning, experience, and training. Scientific studies show that BrainHQ can have three important results:

  • It builds brain health and brain resilience.
  • It sharpens your cognitive function, making it easier for your brain to think faster, focus better, and remember more.
  • It can make you feel happier, healthier, and more in control of whatever challenges life sends your way.

Your annual wellness visit — a brain health check-in

Every MA plan is required to offer an annual check-in with your doctor, called an annual wellness visit (AWV). But did you know that an important part of the visit is a brain health check-in?

An AWV is not the same as the annual physicals you used to get in your younger years, where you’d get into a gown and your doctor would tap you on the knee. An AWV is more of a check-in with your doctor, giving you time to talk about your health risks and learn ways to stay healthy and injury-free. Your doctor might even recommend new habits to add to your routine. Plus, your visit will help keep you up to date on your preventive screenings and other tests.

During your AWV, your doctor should do a cognitive assessment, checking for signs of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Signs of cognitive impairment include difficulty with the following:

  • Concentrating
  • Remembering or learning new things
  • Making decisions about your everyday life

If your doctor thinks you may have cognitive impairment, your MA plan will cover a separate visit for a more thorough review to check for conditions such as dementia, depression, anxiety, and delirium.

Remember: Every MA plan will get you that AWV. But only some will get you no-cost access to BrainHQ. If you’re shopping for an MA plan or picking a new one, see whether your state offers participating MA plans. Already have a plan? Check your eligibility today.

Additional sources:
Parts of Medicare: Medicare.gov
Special needs plans: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Dual-eligible special needs plans: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services