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Your Essential Guide To Medicare Advantage For 2013

Either way, with most Medicare Advantage plans you must use providers -- doctors and hospitals - - that are in their networks, says Rosen, co-author of "The Healthcare Survival Guide."

For some people that can be a disadvantage. The doctors you've been seeing for years may not be in the network, he explains. You may be able to go to a doctor outside the network, but you will pay more.

Also, Medicare Advantage plans are not available everywhere in the country, says Elaine Wong Eakin, executive director of California Health Advocates in Sacramento.

Steps before enrolling

Before you choose a Medicare Advantage plan, you should:

  • Go online and find out which doctors and hospitals are in its provider network. Call your doctors' offices to find out if they take part in the Medicare Advantage plan you're considering. If they don't, decide if you're willing to change doctors or hospitals.
  • Find out what happens if you go outside your coverage area. If you spend the winter in a warmer climate, you may not want to be limited by a Medicare Advantage network where you live during the summer, Rosen says.
  • If you take prescription drugs, check to see whether they are on the plan's list of preferred drugs. If they aren't, you may be better off with original Medicare and a Part D drug plan that covers them.
  • Find out what your out-of-pocket expenses will be. Deductibles, copays and co-insurance vary from plan to plan. Compare costs to other Medicare Advantage plans and also to original or basic Medicare and the supplements you would need. Medicare.gov has tips on things to think about when you compare Medicare drug coverage.

The best source of information on Medicare Advantage plans is the federal government's Medicare website.

"Think of it as the yellow pages for Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans," Eakin says. You can search for plans available in your area by entering your zip code.

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