Seniors in the market for Medicare Advantage plans during the upcoming Medicare open enrollment season will find a new option in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

Medica and CHI Health have partnered to offer new Medicare Advantage plan options — an HMO and a PPO — to eligible seniors in an 11-county area composed of Butler, Cass, Dodge, Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington Counties in Nebraska and Harrison, Mills and Pottawattamie Counties in Iowa.

Medicare Advantage plans are those that combine the three benefits of original Medicare — hospital, medical and prescription drug coverage — but are sold by private insurance companies that contract with the federal government.

The plans already come with extras such as dental coverage and gym memberships. But a growing number, including the Medica and CHI plans, are offering additional benefits aimed at helping keep people healthy and avoiding more serious and costly illnesses in the long term.

About a third of people on Medicare choose Medicare Advantage plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Medica and CHI plans include transportation to medical appointments and meal delivery after hospital and nursing home stays. Members are eligible to receive two meals a day for seven days. The program can be used up to four times per year.

Qualified members, typically those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, also will have access to a program that provides savings of 50% on fresh fruit and veggie purchases — up to $65 a quarter — at area supermarkets, including Hy-Vee and Bakers.

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The plans will offer a provider network that features CHI Health hospitals, clinics, doctors and other affiliated practitioners as well as other area providers.

Scott Ptacnik, president of CHI Health Partners, said a member service line will offer improved access for patients. When they contact the health plan, they’ll get quicker access to schedule appointments with the health system’s physicians.

In the past, insurer and health system electronic portals have been largely separate, he said. The partners are working to make them flow together better in order to improve patients’ experiences with them.

UnitedHealthcare also offers a concierge support program through its Medicare Advantage plans that pairs people with complex health issues with a single point of contact to coordinate care and address claims issues, among other things. The health issues can be chronic ones such as diabetes or congestive heart failure or acute events like joint replacement.

The company also will make virtual visits available next year on most plans, giving people access to care providers through a smartphone or computer for minor health issues or behavioral health support. Virtual visits often come at no cost.

Seniors could start viewing Medicare options on medicare.gov on Tuesday. Medicare open enrollment, the period during which they can review and make changes to coverage, starts Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7.

Medica, which now has an office in Omaha, announced in September that it would expand its Medicare offerings in Nebraska next year to 59 counties in Nebraska, including Douglas and Sarpy, plus three in Iowa: Pottawattamie, Mills and Harrison.

The Minnesota-based group also offers plans to individuals who purchase coverage on the federal health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act in all 93 counties, including one launched with CHI in 2018.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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