A Medicare Advantage health insurance plan provides original Medicare benefits at a rate that's often more affordable than paying premiums for Medicare and supplemental coverage.

Private health insurance companies approved by Medicare operate Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare Part C. Here are five tips to selecting the right plan for you:

1. Find Medicare Advantage plans in your area

Use the federal government's Medicare plan finder tool to see a list of plans available in your region. After you enter your ZIP code, the plan finder will ask you a few questions, including which drugs you take, so you can see which plans cover your medications.

2. Understand the health insurance plan rules

Some Medicare Advantage plans operate as a health maintenance organization (HMO); others operate as a preferred provider organization (PPO). Each has a network of medical providers. You pay more out-of-pocket when you use providers outside the network, and generally it's more difficult to get services covered out of the network with an HMO than with a PPO. Read the plan rules, such as whether you need a referral to see a specialist or prior approval before certain services.

3. Evaluate the medical insurance plan network

Check the network to make sure it includes the hospitals and doctors you want to use.

4. Learn what the insurance plan covers

All Medicare Advantage plans must cover services that original Medicare covers, including hospitalization, emergency and urgent care, and outpatient medical services. Some plans also include prescription drug coverage and extras, such as vision, hearing and dental care. If the plan includes prescription drug coverage, make sure it covers the drugs you take.

5. Compare plans for price and quality

Besides getting health insurance quotes for how much you would pay in premiums, consider other out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. Also, use the Medicare plan finder to check the plans' quality ratings. Medicare provides one- to five-star ratings for how well plans perform overall and in five categories:

  • "Staying Healthy: Screenings, Tests, and Vaccines"
  • "Managing Chronic (Long-Term) Conditions"
  • "Plan Responsiveness and Care"
  • "Member Complaints, Problems Getting Services and Choosing to Leave the Plan"
  • "Health Plan Customer Service"

Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans takes place in the late fall once a year, and usually you sign up for a plan one year at a time. Review the options thoroughly before making a choice.