New Fitness Programs for Medicare Beneficiaries

New Fitness Programs for Medicare Beneficiaries

The saying goes, “you’re only as old as you feel”, which is true for the most part. But every aging person will tell you, the key to maintaining youth is being healthy, mind, body and soul. 

One of the ways to go about, “feeling youthful”, is routine exercise.  

Research has proven that exercise is important for the brain. Maintaining blood flow to the brain is essential for healthy brain function. Since blood flow generates nutrients and oxygen to the brain it’s vital to keep an active exercise regime.  

An added bonus with exercise is it can promote endorphins. Endorphins can boost the mood which can also improve brain health. Exercise also improves cognitive abilities over the age of 50.  

Not only that, but resistance training enhances function and memory. It also slows brain aging by 10 years and can decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Medicare Beneficiaries and Gym Memberships 

As most individuals carrying Traditional Medicare insurance benefits know, the insurance coverage provided by our federal government is generous, however, limited.  

With Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B only covering your hospital and outpatient benefits, respectfully, most gym memberships aren’t covered. 

In some cases, beneficiaries with certain cardiac issues can qualify for medically necessary cardiac rehabilitation including:  

  • If you’ve suffered from a myocardial infarction 
  • If you’ve had a cardiac stent, angioplasty or bypass surgery 
  • If you’ve had a heart valve repair or replacement 
  • You have stable angina or chronic heart failure 

Additionally, beneficiaries who have suffered from a stroke are eligible for medically necessary physical and occupational rehabilitation services. And those individuals with moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are eligible for a medically necessary comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program.  

Medicare Part B will cover 80% of the Medicare allowables for the medically necessary therapies once the Part B deductible has been met. 

While Traditional Medicare benefits won’t cover recreational gym memberships, some Medicare Advantage Plans might. Medicare Advantage Plans cover the same benefits as Traditional Medicare and in some cases include additional benefits for:  

  • Prescription medications 
  • Vision exams, including eyeglasses 
  • Dental insurance 
  • Hearing exams, including hearing aids 

Some Medicare Advantage Plans even include wellness benefits including gym memberships at a discounted price, so exercise needed to stay healthy is readily available.  

The SilverSneakers Program 

The SilverSneakers Program began in 1992 with the goal to improve the overall wellbeing physically, mentally and emotionally in older Americans.  

SilverSneakers is a program designed for Medicare beneficiaries to participate in a fitness program while keeping them engaged and interested all while encouraging social interaction through fun activities. 

Since becoming a nationwide program with more than 15,000 fitness establishments, more than 12 million members take advantage of the wellness program. Catering to the age group of 65 and above, SilverSneakers includes access to: 

  • State of the art fitness and work out equipment 
  • Exclusive exercise classes for individuals at all variations of fitness levels 
  • Local community social events 
  • Walking/running tracks, pools, hot tubs tennis courts, racquetball/handball courts 
  • Online fitness, health and nutrition tips and resources 

General membership also includes access to specialty programs which include: 

  • Online web resources in which member can track health-related current events, monitor fitness progression, watch exercise videos, obtain healthy recipes and more 
  • Special events and forums related to fitness and health  
  • SilverSneakers Steps for members who don’t live close to any fitness facility 
  • Program counselors who serve as informational advisors to fitness facilities, benefits and perks 

While SilverSneakers are an added benefit for Medicare beneficiaries, you’ll need to enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan or certain Medicare Supplement Plan in order to benefit from the fitness perks. While you’ll have to pay an additional premium with these specific plans, you won’t be required to pay extra for the SilverSneakers Program.   

What Happens if SilverSneakers Has Been Dropped After the New Year 

As of 2019 United Health Care decided to drop the SilverSneakers programs which has left many in an uproar. As it stands, United Healthcare is one of the nation’s biggest health insurance provider. 

With so many beneficiaries benefiting from this fitness program, the question many are asking is why? According to a statement put out by United Healthcare, they want a wider variety of fitness resources for their members. They’ve also determined that an estimated 90% of benefit holders never have utilized the gym benefits offered over the years. 

Those individuals with United Health Care Medicare Advantage Plan that reside in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, and Utah will have lost the added benefits as of January 1, 2019. This will end up affecting a total of 1.2 million beneficiaries. 

Another 1.3 million beneficiaries living in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin, who carry United Healthcare Medigap Plans will be affected, also. 

In lieu of the SilverSneakers program, United Healthcare will offer an alternative fitness package of wellness benefits. The move will benefit the major insurance company by giving them more control and help in saving the corporation money. 

For members carrying United Healthcare Supplement Plans, beneficiaries will be offered telephone access to wellness coaches, access to online health related communities as well as 50% off memberships to a variety of different gyms around the United States. 

United Healthcare Medicare Advantage policy holders have the option to join a new fitness program called Renew Active. According to unitedhealthgroup, beneficiaries will have access to over 6,000 fitness facilities at no cost.  

Additionally, with Renew Active, United Healthcare Medicare Advantage Plan beneficiaries will benefit from their online program which will offer activities for brain stimulation as well as online exercises for those who can’t make it to the gym. 

When you combine the more than 5 million customers who look to be affected, the company has made an announcement stating based on certain market research, some beneficiaries may still be able to retain SilverSneakers access in the new year. 

Of course, those not happy with United Healthcare’s decision to force them from their familiar SilverSneakers benefits, can always consider changing health insurance companies all together. Many of the Medicare Supplement Plans and Medicare Advantage Plans including those associated with Aetna, Humana, Blue Cross and Blue Shields will still be offering the perks of SilverSneakers. 

Whichever insurance company you decide to go with, and whichever fitness program is offered, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Routine exercise along with a healthy diet has been proven to prevent certain diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis and cardiac disease. Additionally, chronic conditions like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension and high cholesterol can be better managed and even some cases reversed.  

With a healthier lifestyle comes a healthier mindset and increased lifespan. So while the saying goes, “you’re only as old as you feel”, it’s important to remember that good health promotes a happier mind, body and soul!  

Sara Froyer is the health consultant at MedicareFAQ. Aside from helping seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their retired years, she enjoys blogging about anything from current issues to travel to technology.