Medicare is experimenting with a new direction in health care. Starting next year, seniors in many states will be able to get additional services, such as help with chores and respite for caregivers, through private Medicare Advantage insurance plans, the AP reports. There's a growing recognition that such practical help can have a meaningful impact on patients' well-being—and reduce some costs for taxpayers. A couple of hundred dollars to install grab bars in the shower can prevent a fall leading to a broken hip, a life-changing injury. That may also help elderly people stay in their homes longer. The newly covered services are similar to what people might need if they required long-term care, said Howard Gleckman, a senior researcher at the nonpartisan Urban Institute think tank.
Change is starting slowly. Policymakers have yet to figure out how to bring similar benefits to traditional Medicare, still the choice of 2 out of 3 seniors. The new services will be offered by some Medicare Advantage plans in more than 20 states next year, and that's expected to grow over time. There has to be a health-related reason to qualify, and costs will vary among plans. In some plans, there's no added cost. But limits do apply. For example, a plan may cover one day per week at an adult day care center. For years, Medicare has permitted private plans to offer supplemental benefits not covered by the traditional program. Think free gym memberships, transportation to medical appointments or home-delivered meals following a hospitalization. The new benefits take that to a higher level.
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