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Medicare Plan Players May Have Gotten Consumers' Attention

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A 2021 Medicare card (Credit: CMS)

Medicare plan issuers and distributors might have succeeded to drawing older consumers’ attention away from the elections and COVID-19.

The Google Trends tool shows that search activity for the term “Medicare Advantage” was about 13% higher during the Medicare annual election period that ended Monday than it was during the comparable period in 2019.

Search activity for “Medicare Part D” and “Medicare supplement” has been about the same.

Resources

  • A Google Trends comparison of search activity for the terms “Medicare Advantage and “Medicare supplement” are available here.
  • An article about Walmart jumping into the Medicare plan agency business is available here.

The annual election period for Medicare Advantage plan coverage and Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 every year. The annual election period that just ended was for coverage that starts Jan. 1, 2021.

Medicare supplement insurance products, or Medigap products, have an open enrollment period system tied to people’s birthdays, rather than a single enrollment period for all consumers.

Medicare Basics

Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people ages 65 and older; people with kidney disease serious enough to lead to dialysis or a transplant; and people with Social Security Disability Insurance.

About 25 million of the 63 million people with Medicare coverage have signed up for Medicare Advantage plans, or plans that give private insurers a chance to offer an alternative to traditional Medicare.

About 38 million Medicare enrollees use traditional Medicare coverage, which Medicare program managers call “Original Medicare,” and 14 million of those Original Medicare users buy Medicare supplement insurance, to pay Original Medicare deductibles and to fill in other holes in Original Medicare benefits.

Google Trends Barometer

Google uses its own search traffic to power its Google Trends search activity analysis tool.

One problem with this method as a market strength barometer this year is the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Medicare enrollees are trying to stay home as much as possible, and many are still avoiding face-to-face meetings with financial professionals.

But search activity for other terms older consumers might use, such as “AARP,” “home care” and “grocery delivery,” have been about the same during the 2019 annual election period and the annual election period that just ended.

YouTube Barometer

Recently posted YouTube “Medicare plan” videos sorted by views reveals that UnitedHealth Group Inc. and eHealth Inc. have been especially active at marketing Medicare plans through YouTube videos and YouTube commercials this year.

But a comparison of search activity for “Medicare Advantage” with other terms consumers ages 65 and older might use shows:

  • UnitedHealth has generated 12 million views with a 31-second “Wow! Zero-Dollar Co-Pay Plans” video in just a month, and 5.9 million views with a 16-second video about Medicare plans with vision coverage.
  • EHealth, a web broker, has generated 3.9 million views with a 3-minute video about shopping for Medicare Advantage plans online.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that runs Medicare, attracted 1.9 million views with a 16-second video about the start of the annual election period.

Consumer Knowledge Gaps

Medicare plan marketers say they continue to see widespread problems with Medicare enrollees’ health insurance literacy.

Managers of MedicareAdvantage.com, a Medicare plan lead-generation site affiliated with Tranzact, an arm of Willis Towers Watson LLC, recently reported that only 44% of the Medicare enrollees they surveyed could define the term “deductible.”

Similarly, Oak Street Health, a company that provides routine health care, found that 25% of the Medicare enrollees were confused about the differences between the various Medicare plan options. About 78% of the Oak Street survey participants said they were satisfied with their Medicare benefits, but only 53% said they understood their Medicare benefits.

What Consumers Are Buying

When eHealth analyzed its Medicare plan shoppers, it found that what the shoppers are paying out-of-pocket for their share of the coverage premiums may stay about the same in 2021.

Midway through the annual election period, consumers’ share of the monthly premiums for 2021 Medicare Advantage plan coverage was $5, or about the same as the 2020 average.

Consumers’ share of the monthly premiums for 2021 Medicare Part D prescription drug plan coverage was $20, unchanged from the 2020 average.

Shoppers’ Medicare supplement insurance premiums increased to $160 per month for 2021 coverage, from $157 per month for 2020 coverage.

— Read Medicare Advantage Plans May Have More Search Buzzon ThinkAdvisor.

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