Press release



The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved a request by United HealthCare Insurance Co. to expand a Medicare managed care plan to include beneficiaries in Charlotte County, Fla., including the city of Port Charlotte, as part of a demonstration program announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.  The health plans under this program are modeled after coverage offered by preferred provider organizations (PPOs) to most Americans under age 65.


United HealthCare Insurance can begin on Jan. 1, 2004, to serve beneficiaries in Charlotte County on Florida’s Gulf Coast under its Medicare Complete Choice (PPO) product.   Medicare beneficiaries can sign up now for the plan during the current Medicare+Choice open enrollment.


“We are pleased United HealthCare Insurance decided to expand this plan to include Medicare beneficiaries in Charlotte County,“ Secretary Thompson said.  “This demonstration program gives seniors new options for their Medicare coverage similar to that available in the private insurance market.  Greater access and expanded options and choices in health care have been key goals of this Administration.  These goals are being achieved by the new Medicare reform law signed by President Bush.  The changes will modernize Medicare and provide a prescription drug benefit for the first time.”


In January 2003, United HealthCare Insurance began to serve beneficiaries with the PPO product in the Florida counties of Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Pasco and Pinellas, including the cities of Fort Myers, St. Petersburg and Tampa.   The company also offers its Medicare Complete (HMO) product in these counties. 


Congress created Medicare+Choice in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 to expand the types of health care options available to Medicare beneficiaries, enabling them to receive new preventive benefits and greater patient protections.  Preferred provider type coverage was previously unavailable to Medicare beneficiaries.


“Whether beneficiaries enroll in a PPO or another Medicare+Choice plan, or fee-for-service Medicare, we are doing more to guarantee they understand the Medicare options available to them,” CMS Acting Administrator Dennis G. Smith said.  “The under age 65 market is rapidly flocking toward PPO products, which give patients the flexibility they need.  Seniors want the same options and this is the big first step in getting them there.”


United HealthCare Insurance is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnetonka, Minn.   About 42,000 beneficiaries live in Charlotte County.  The PPO demonstration plan gives another health care choice to Medicare beneficiaries in the county. Beneficiaries may choose from other Medicare+Choice plans and United HealthCare’s existing Medicare Complete HMO product. 


Currently, Medicare+Choice health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are where private companies choose to offer them.  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.  Unlike traditional HMOs, the new options will allow beneficiaries who choose to enroll, access to services provided outside the contracted network of providers. 


The demonstration program, announced Aug. 27, 2002, includes new health plans that will ultimately be available in 22 states across the country, expanding health care options to approximately 11 million Medicare beneficiaries.


The demonstration plans are considered Medicare+Choice plans and must offer all of Medicare’s required benefits, but also have the flexibility to offer additional services, including prescription drugs.  Most important, they offer beneficiaries a wider choice of health care providers than is currently offered in HMOs.


A number of resources with information regarding the plan offered by United HealthCare Insurance are available as part of various CMS consumer information sources, including a national toll-free phone number -- 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), or TTY/TDD, at 877-486-2048, and the CMS Internet site --  In addition, a coalition of more than 200 national and local organizations is available to assist seniors in making informed decisions about their health care options.