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AARP Plan Drops Perks, Doctors

UnitedHealthcare’s AARP Medicare Advantage plan is dropping thousands of physicians from its network, as well as extras like fitness classes through Silver Sneakers, the Tampa Bay Times reports (paywall alert). In the words of one beneficiary whose plan will soon stop paying for aqua aerobics classes at the YMCA, the change in benefits is “pretty dumb.” 

In Tampa Bay, where the plan has about 50,000 enrollees, Moffitt Cancer Center and St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute will be out of the network in 2014. 

The insurer blames the changes on the federal government, which is trying to bring payments for Medicare Advantage plans more in line with original Medicare after two decades of being higher. And in 2014, insurers will be required to spend more on patient care and less on marketing and administrative costs. The feds are also offering bonuses for physicians who adhere to specific treatment guidelines.

The CEO of UnitedHealthcare, Jack Larsen, told the Times that smaller networks are easier to monitor -- and shrinking networks aren’t limited to his company. Larsen said Medicare Advantage plans are underfunded. But UnitedHealthcare, the largest health insurer in the nation, reported $2 billion in profit in the third quarter of this year.

It’s currently open enrollment season for Medicare, and beneficiaries have until Dec. 7 to switch plans if they want. As the Times reports, many AARP Medicare Advantage members are expected to find a new plan. 

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.