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Senior citizens who want to sign up for – or change their current – Medicare Advantage plan must do so by Saturday, and area health insurers say they’ve gotten questions from thousands of concerned members as this deadline approaches.

The region’s largest health plans say news coverage of the Affordable Care Act, and the troubled federal insurance exchange created by that law, has sown confusion among many enrollees in the Medicare Advantage program.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and Independent Health are emphasizing that people who want to keep their Medicare Advantage plan don’t have to do anything before Saturday’s deadline.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion,” Brian Beaton, the Blues’ director of sales for Medicare, said Sunday. “For the folks on Medicare, it’s really business as usual.”

Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare “Part C” or “MA plans,” are offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare.

People who enroll in Medicare Advantage get their Medicare “Part A” and “Part B” coverage – hospital and medical insurance, respectively – through Medicare Advantage instead of original Medicare.

Many Medicare Advantage plans also include “Part D,” or prescription drug, coverage.

The plans can be attractive because they fill in gaps in original Medicare, such as deductibles and co-insurance payments for which the member may be responsible, Beaton said.

Medicare Advantage plans can offer additional benefits, such as a no-cost gym membership that is part of one BlueCross BlueShield offering here.

Medicare Advantage is growing in popularity as more members of the baby boom generation reach age 65, with Beaton citing an estimate that 10,000 people in this country turn 65 every day.

Univera Healthcare has 21,657 members enrolled in its five Medicare Advantage plans, spokesman Peter Kates said.

About 46,000 people in Western New York are enrolled in one of six direct-pay Medicare Advantage plans offered by BlueCross BlueShield.

Independent Health has about 75,000 Medicare Advantage enrollees locally in its five plans, said Frank Sava, a company spokesman.

Both insurers said they’ve received a high number of phone calls, and visits to Medicare Advantage meetings they’ve held in the community, since open enrollment for 2014 began Oct. 15.

They expect more of the same in the days leading up to Saturday’s deadline for people who want to sign up for Medicare Advantage, or make a change in their current coverage, and have it go into effect for 2014.

“We expect increased volume through this week,” Sava said.

Many senior citizens have heard of cancellation notices going out for people enrolled in private health insurance that doesn’t meet the minimum standards under the Affordable Care Act.

But Beaton and Sava said the federal health care reform law is not eliminating the Medicare Advantage program.

A visit to Medicare.gov, the website of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, found local seniors and others eligible for Medicare could choose from 25 Medicare Advantage plans that include drug coverage.

email: swatson@buffnews.com