Even Medicare beneficiaries with very low incomes are willing to pay extra to supplement basic Medicare benefits with private insurance.[@@]

Researchers at a research center affiliated with the America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, have published 2 studies this week that assess the appeal of private Medicare programs to Medicare enrollees with annual incomes under $20,000.

Both studies are based on 2002 data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that runs Medicare, the federal program that insures the health of elderly and disabled U.S. residents at all income levels.

One of the studies dealt with the Medicare Advantage managed care program, which provides health maintenance organizations and preferred provider organization plans that handle beneficiaries’ basic and supplemental health care needs.

The other study focused on Medicare supplement insurance plans, which are private insurance plans that fill in the many gaps left by the basic Medicare fee-for-service program.

AHIP researchers found that Medicare Advantage plans tend to be most popular among low-income and minority beneficiaries and that Medigap plans are most popular in rural areas, according to AHIP President Karen Ignagni.

About 50% of the 2002 Medicare Advantage enrollees and 71% of the minority Medicare Advantage enrollees had annual incomes under $20,000, AHIP researchers found.

In the Medigap program, 45% of all 2002 policyholders and 53% of rural policyholders had annual incomes under $20,000.

Medicare Advantage plans were especially popular with low-income enrollees in big cities and other densely populated areas, while Medigap policyholders were, on average, poorer than most other Medicare enrollees who were not eligible for the Medicaid program for low-income people.

AHIP has been promoting the value of collaboration between private insurers and public health programs, and Ignagni says the 2 new studies demonstrate the value of public-private partnerships.

“Private-sector coverage options strengthen the safety net for low-income Medicare beneficiaries and help expand access to important health care services,” Ignagni says.