A seedling over a Medicare card (Image: Allison Bell/TA)

Enrollment in all types of Medicare Advantage plans increased to 21 million in January, up 7.6% from the total for January 2018, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Enrollment in the core Medicare Advantage health maintenance plans increased 6.9%, to 13.5 million.

(Related: Medicare Activity Might Have Been Strong: Google Trends)

A separate CMS database shows that enrollment in the traditional Medicare program, which CMS calls Original Medicare, increased to 38.8 million in December 2018, from 38.3 million in January 2018.

Total Medicare enrollment increased to 60.4 million in December, from 59.4 million in January.

Medicare Enrollment Periods

The Medicare Fall Open Enrollment Period for 2019 coverage ran from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. A more limited Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period started Jan. 1 and will run through March 31.

During the second open enrollment period, Medicare Advantage plan enrollees can shift from one Medicare Advantage plan to another, or return to the traditional Medicare program, but consumers cannot use that open enrollment period to sign up for Medicare Advantage coverage for the first time.

What Google Saw

Google search traffic during the fall open enrollment period suggested the enrollment activity was strong.

Search activity for the term “Medicare plan” appeared to be about 20% higher throughout the latest open enrollment period than during the comparable open enrollment periods in 2016 and 2017.

Why This Matters to Agents and Brokers

Because of factors such as low interest rates and regulatory confusion, insurers have mixed feelings about selling many of the products on their shelves.

They have a good shot at making money on selling Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement insurance plans, and many are still paying commissions on Medicare plan sales.

What a Web Broker Saw

Analysts at eHealth Inc., the parent of the eHealthMedicare.com site and other web-based health insurance shopping sites, found that insurers’ interest in the Medicare plan market translated into tough competition for web shoppers’ business, and good deals for those shoppers.

Many consumers signed up for Medicare Advantage plans with no drug coverage and no monthly premium bills for the enrollees. For consumers who chose plans with a monthly premium for the enrollees, the average bill fell to $52 for 2019 coverage, from $72 per month for 2018 coverage.

For Medicare Advantage plans that offer prescription drug coverage and charge a premium, the average monthly premium fell to $43, from $50.

The average monthly premium for Medicare supplement insurance, or Medigap insurance, increased to $152, from $141.

The eHealth analysts could not include some important measures of plan quality, such as provider network adequacy, but they found that out-of-pocket cost figures improved, or stayed about the same.

For Medigap plans, the average deductible fell to $207, from $210.

For Medicare Advantage plans with drug benefits, the average deductible fell to $130, from $150, and the average annual out-of-pocket spending limit for covered services fell to $5,415, from $5,589.

For Medicare Advantage plans without drug benefits included, the average annual out-of-pocket spending limit fell to $5,249, from $5,387.

Resources

Overall Medicare enrollment figures are available here.

Information about Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D drug plan enrollment is available here.

Analysts at eHealth post their market reports here.

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