Should Medicare money be spent on free gym memberships for seniors? Medicare pays Medicare Advantage plans a lot of money to cover seniors’ medical expenses and manage their health care. Critics of these plans say they shouldn’t be spending money on free gym memberships for people who enroll in Medicare Advantage.
In Tucson, around 18,000 people are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans (and one Medigap plan) that offer free gym memberships. About 5,300 (35%) use their gym membership on a regular basis. Silver Sneakers contracts with Advantage plans to manage the fitness program for seniors at more than 20 facilities in Tucson.
At the Pro Fitness gym on Prince Road, 200 to 300 seniors use the facility 2 to 3 times per week. They can use weight machines, tread mills, and the pool. Or, they can participate in Silver Sneakers classes that offer light exercise and aerobics specifically designed for seniors. Classes are held three times per week, both morning and evening.
The Silver Sneakers class I visited had 15 participants who spent an hour moving, stretching, lifting light weights, and working up a sweat. The oldest participant was a 94-year old woman, and the youngest was a man in his 30′s who is on Medicare because of a disability.
Megan Ewald, an account manager for Silver Sneakers, has some good stories to tell about the benefits of working out. She is aware of three marriages that resulted from meetings at Silver Sneakers classes around town.
Critics of Medicare Advantage say plans attract healthier seniors with free gym memberships. But the people I observed at the Silver Sneakers class were a mix of ages and fitness levels. There was the 94 year old woman, and the young man who had suffered a stroke. There was a man with a walker, and at least two women who were working on losing weight. One of them said she had lost 25 pounds through exercise and diet, all because of her free gym membership.