According to Peter Bauer, regional liaison for the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), California’s Stanislaus County wins the prize for increased choice of Medicare managed-care plans. As Medicare’s annual enrollment period started, about seven insurance companies in that county offered Medicare Advantage plans – each with varying discount options and no monthly premiums.
Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part C are federally subsidized health insurance plans, and that allows them to sometimes be offered with no monthly premiums. Since Advantage plans vary by region, you’ll have to find out what’s available where you live, unless you’re in Stanislaus County.  The low premiums make these plans very appealing. In addition to that, Advantage plans don’t short-change you on benefits. They usually offer more benefits beyond those found in original Medicare, such as help with dental costs.
You only have until December 7 to find out what’s available in your area and switch from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. The changes you make during Annual Enrollment will take effect on January 1, 2013.
Because Medicare Advantage plans are not standardized, you need to assess the benefits of each plan separately. You can’t generalize from plan to plan as you safely can with Medigap plans. Read through the fine print and confirm your doctor is covered as “in-network” and any medications you may take are covered at low rates before you enroll. In case you do change your mind, you can drop an Advantage plan and return to original Medicare in January.
Many people opt for Medicare Advantage plans rather than original Medicare because of the extra benefits Advantage plans include that are not covered by basic Medicare. Advantage plans quite often cover eyeglasses, hearing aids, and even health club memberships. Unlike original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans use their own doctor and hospital networks so that may help you find a doctor who will accept new patients with your insurance.
Another main reason that Medicare Advantage plans are popular is that they typically have prescription drug coverage just like Part D Prescription Drug plans. The same discounts that help people with Part D plans work when you have an Advantage plan.'

Jim McFadden has over 11 years of executive-level experience in the health insurance industry, is a youth baseball, softball and football coach, and has one of the worst fantasy football records in the world.