sneakers #generic WEB

North Carolinians who have AARP’s Medicare Advantage and Supplement plans will no longer be able to participate in the popular SilverSneakers fitness program, beginning Jan. 1.

AARP’s plans, offered through UnitedHealthcare, will not continue the benefit in 11 states for Medicare Advantage and nine states for Medicare Supplement. In both instances, that includes North Carolina.

Overall, about 1.2 million Medicaid Advantage customers and 1.3 million Medicare Supplement are being affected in those states.

However, SilverSneakers will be offered in group health plans in North Carolina provided to United Healthcare’s Medicare Advantage members.

SilverSneakers provides free group classes tailored to seniors, in addition to gym access at 15,000 sites nationwide. The program said there are more than 1 million eligible North Carolinians enrolled in 50 health plans, including Anthem, Aetna and Humana. For more information, go to www.silversneakers.com.

UnitedHealthcare said its newly branded Renew Active program will be made available for the first time, effective Jan. 1, in North Carolina.

Medicare Advantage SilverSneakers enrollees in North Carolina will be transferred to Renew Active. They will have access to participating gyms at no additional cost.

Meanwhile, AARP Medicare Supplement enrollees in the nine states will transfer to a yet-to-be-branded program that offers 50 percent off monthly fees at participating gyms, as well as telephone access to wellness coaches and to various online communities and health-related resources. The enrollment fee will be waived or reduced.

Steve Warner, who leads UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage product team, told Kaiser Health News that more than 90 percent of policyholders who are eligible for SilverSneakers “never step foot in a gym” or use this benefit.

“Offering our own fitness program gives us the flexibility to customize them based on what’s important to our members,” UnitedHealthcare said in a statement.

“Which is why we offer innovative features, such as online exercises to keep the mind active, incentive programs for meeting walking goals, and wellness coaches to help people improve their health and quality of life.”

UnitedHealthcare is not alone in deciding to leave SilverSneakers.

Humana took a similar step in 2015, only to reinstate the program amid consumer complaints. Humana said SilverSneakers is available to about 3.5 million Medicare Advantage and Medigap policyholders nationwide.

Carrie Collins, chief marketing officer for the YMCA of Northwest N.C., said it will continue to accept SilverSneakers participants. Renew Active will be available at most YMCA of Northwest N.C. affiliates.

“SilverSneakers is still part of other insurance providers’ plans, such as Humana and Aetna,” Collins said.

Blue Cross Blue Shield NC offers no-cost gym memberships through its Medicare Advantage plans, as well as coverage for hearing exams and hearings aids. It had 72,000 enrollees in 2018.

Blue Cross NC said Oct. 2 that it was lowering its 2019 Medicare Advantage plan by an average of 30 percent, or between $200 and $675 a year.

The insurer said several factors led to the rate reduction, including improved efforts to better manage care, reduced medical expenses and improved health outcomes for Medicare Advantage customers.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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