Life Time Clubs to Limit Access to Seniors on Medicare

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Beginning in January, the Life Time chain of fitness clubs will restrict Medicare health insurance subscribers to visiting Life Time locations between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays and after 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Sundays will be the only days without restrictions on seniors, who until this policy change had been allowed to visit whenever they wanted all week long.

As reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Life Time said the changes came after negotiations with Medicare fitness program administrators about the rate the programs will pay the company on behalf of Medicare members. The rate Medicare providers pay is significantly discounted from the standard membership, which can be as high as $299 a month.

"Ultimately, as opposed to not renewing agreements and providing no further membership options for Medicare enrollees, we aimed to create a solution that could continue to serve a large and rapidly growing Medicare population and do so with a continued, significant price advantage," Life Time, based in Chanhassen, Minn., said in a statement.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners, Medica and UCare said about 18,000 seniors — mostly Minnesotans — work out at Life Time as part of their Medicare coverage.

Access to fitness centers is not a standard benefit in Medicare, which provides health insurance for seniors and certain special populations, according to the Star Tribune report authored by Nicole Norfleet and Christopher Snowbeck, who add, "But a growing share of seniors opt to receive the coverage through Medicare Advantage plans from private insurers, which routinely include access to gyms as an extra benefit. The fitness benefit also is a part of a few Medicare supplemental policies, which private insurers sell to round-out benefits in original Medicare."

To administer fitness benefits, health insurers hire third-party companies such as SilverSneakers, Silver&Fit and Renew Active/One Pass, which is part of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group.

People with Medicare memberships can purchase an upgrade for as low as $80 per month for unlimited access during all open hours, Life Time said.

Other fitness centers place limits on Medicare health plan members' frequency of visits or number of classes, according to the Star Tribune. For example, at some specialty gyms — including Pure Barre, F45 Training and StretchLab — membership through partner Medicare programs includes a set number of classes or sessions a month with the option to pay for more.

But Joshua Haberman, the chief executive at Bloomington-based insurance broker Haberman & Alexander, told the Star Tribune that Life Time's decision strikes him as atypical. The health clubs YMCA of the North operates, for example, don't limit the hours for Medicare members.

"I've never heard of anybody restricting hours," he said. "You're either in or you're out."

John Atwood — founder and managing partner of Boston area-based Atwood Consulting, which advises gyms and other athletic facilities — told the Star Tribune that it can be difficult for fitness facilities, including nonprofits such as the YMCA, to offer subsidized memberships for Medicare fitness programs such as SilverSneakers. "The amount of revenue that comes in from SilverSneakers is so small, it's hard to justify having the program," he said.

Through the past couple of years, Life Time has invested millions of dollars to open more resort-like clubs with numerous amenities such as saltwater pools, cabanas and spas, the Norfleet and Snowbeck reported. As Life Time clubs have elevated their amenities, the company has increased its membership dues, with the lowest tier at $99 per month.

In April, May and June of this year, Life Time turned a profit of $17 million, compared with a net loss of $2.3 million during the same time last year. That, in large part, is the result of revenue per membership increasing about 10 percent and membership dues and enrollment fees jumping 25 percent to more than $387,000.

Last year, Life Time launched its ARORA programming for seniors, offering memberships discounted about 10 percent to people 65 and older.

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