Medicare Advantage plan enrollment increased to 11.8 million in April 2011, up 6% from the total recorded a year earlier, but some of the enrollees may have had a harder time reading their plan forms.
The percentage of Medicare Advantage program enrollees in plans that offer vision benefits seems to have fallen to 79%, from 84% in 2010, officials at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in a review of the Medicare Advantage program prepared at the request of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The GAO researchers looked at bid pricing data and plan benefit package data from plans that cover about 71% of the Medicare Advantage program enrollees.
Medicare Advantage is a program that gives private insurers a chance to offer alternatives to traditional Medicare coverage.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) is supposed to impose funding changes that could cut into Medicare Advantage plan profits in 2012 and into availability of plans in 2013.
Earlier laws also have rattled program carriers, by, for example, requiring the carriers offering Medicare private fee-for-service (FFS) plans to include provider networks in the plan designs, in an effort to hold down overall use of medical services and medical costs.
The number of private FFS plans fell to 239 this year, from 435 a year earlier, and those plans suffered a 54% drop in totla enrollment, GAO investigators found.
But enrollment in health maintenance organization (HMO) plans, which account for the bulk of Medicare Advantage enrollment, increased 9%.