Short Answer: Medicare Advantage is a private-insurance alternative to Original Medicare (Parts A & B) that is required to offer the same benefits as the government program, along any extra coverage individual plans want to offer. These additional benefits vary widely from plan to plan but most commonly include prescription drug coverage, as well as dental, vision, and hearing services.
By law, all Medicare Advantage plans will cover your hospital treatment (Medicare Part A) and basic medical care (Medicare Part B), just as Original Medicare does.
These plans can and usually do, though, offer additional benefits that you can't get under Original Medicare. In addition to the most common extras—prescription drug, vision, dental, and hearing care coverage—some plans offer various types of wellness benefits that may include options such as discounted gym memberships and weight loss counseling. In addition, starting in 2019, some plans may offer transportation services to and from doctors, access to telemedicine, coverage to install bathroom safety devices, and other newly available benefits.
Even if you have Medicare Advantage, Original Medicare will still be the go-to insurer for coverage of hospice care and some costs for clinical research studies, if you need these services.
It's important to remember that Medicare Advantage's extra benefits typically come with different rules and restrictions: In most cases, you have to visit a healthcare provider who’s in your plan's designated network or, if this option is offered, face higher costs to see an out-of-network provider. You also commonly need a referral to see a specialist.