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Understanding Medicare

El Centro, California (NAPSI) - During Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which  ends December 7, millions of Medicare beneficiaries must decide on their  Medicare Advantage (MA) health plan for the coming year.

While many factors  go into deciding about a plan cost, choice of doctors,  benefits there’s one important question Medicare beneficiaries  should ask: What is the quality rating of the plans I’m considering?

A high rating means better health care and the best value for your money.  Medicare uses a system called Star Ratings. Plans receive a rating of up to  five stars. These ratings are based on things like how well the plan does at  keeping people healthy by making sure they get the treatments, tests and  vaccines they need to prevent illness, how quickly you can get an appointment  and see specialists, and how the plan responds to your complaints and  concerns.

For 2014, over a third of MA plans will receive four or more stars, which  is an increase from 28 percent in 2013. Seven  of the 11 MA plans earning five stars this year are members of the Alliance  of Community Health Plans, an organization  representing the nation’s leading health plans.

You can learn more about MA plans—and their quality  ratings—using the Medicare Plan Finder at www.Medicare.gov. MA plans are called   “Medicare Health Plans” in the Plan Finder.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance also evaluates quality in MA  plans; those rankings can be found at www.ncqa.org.

• Ms. Smith is president and  CEO of the Alliance  of Community Health Plans, www.achp.org.