The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today approved a request by UnitedHealthcare of the Midwest Inc. to expand managed care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries in two counties in southwestern Missouri.
UnitedHealthcare of the Midwest, based in St. Louis, Mo., is now serving beneficiaries in rural Barry and Lawrence counties in the Joplin-Springfield area. Medicare beneficiaries can sign up for the plan during the current Medicare+Choice open enrollment. About 13,000 beneficiaries live in the managed care organization's newly approved service area.
The company, which began serving beneficiaries in 1992, currently serves Missouri beneficiaries in St. Louis City and the counties of Crawford, Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. Louis and Warren. In southwestern Missouri, it now serves beneficiaries in the counties of Christian, Douglas, Greene, Laclede, Texas, Webster and Wright, including the city of Springfield. Its Illinois service area includes Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties.
"We are pleased UnitedHealthcare of the Midwest decided to expand this health plan to include beneficiaries in two more counties in southwestern Missouri," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "The reality is, Medicare should provide all seniors - no matter where they live - with better health insurance options, including prescription drug coverage and preventive care. The President's goals for strengthening and modernizing Medicare will move us closer to that goal."
UnitedHealthcare of the Midwest is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnetonka, Minn. The company's product, Medicare Complete, will give Medicare beneficiaries in Barry and Lawrence counties another Medicare+Choice organization to select. Mercy Health Plans of Missouri currently operates in the two counties.
"We want to make sure all Medicare beneficiaries, whether in a Medicare+Choice plan or fee-for-service, are receiving the highest quality health care," CMS Administrator Tom Scully said. "We are doing more to guarantee that beneficiaries understand the
Medicare coverage options available to them. We also are reminding beneficiaries of the need to work closely with the doctors and other health care providers that give them medical care."
Medicare+Choice HMOs and fee-for-service plans are available where private companies choose to offer them. Currently, about 4.6 million Medicare beneficiaries -- out of a total of about 40 million aged and disabled Americans - have enrolled in Medicare HMOs. Original fee-for-service Medicare, currently chosen by more than 35 million beneficiaries, is available to all beneficiaries.
Congress created Medicare+Choice in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 to expand the types of health care options available to Medicare beneficiaries, who in addition can now receive new preventive benefits and patient protections. There also is a far-reaching consumer information program that includes a national toll-free phone number -- 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or TTY/TDD, at 877-486-2048 -- an Internet site -- www.medicare.gov -- and a coalition of more than 200 national and local organizations to provide seniors more information.