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Medicare Enrollment Period Ends

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What You Need to Know

  • Complaints about the JJ Walker ads seem to have peaked in mid-November.
  • Fluent found early on that about 25% of current Medicare enrollees said they were likely or very likely to change their coverage.
  • About 88% of eHealth Medicare Advantage plan enrollments have been for plans with a $0 premium.

The annual enrollment period for 2022 Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans ended Tuesday.

Google Trends search activity charts are giving mixed signals about consumers’ interest in changing plans.

Search activity for the terms “Medicare” and “Medicare Advantage” was stronger over the summer than during any other off-season period since the current version of the Medicare Advantage program came to life.

In November, search activity was double what it was in November 2018 but about the same as in November 2019 and down about 20% from the November 2020 total.

The Medicare Helpline lead-generation service hired Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, a comedian who starred in the television series ”Good Times” in the 1970s, to appear in a commercial talking about Medicare Advantage plans’ expanded social support benefits, such as benefits that can provide some meal delivery or transportation services for patients coping with serious health problems.

Annual enrollment period search activity for “JJ Walker” spiked in early July and then again in late October, but it fell sharply in November.

The Annual Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage program gives insurers a chance to sell plans that serve as alternatives to traditional Medicare coverage. The participating insurers can use a combination of cash from the federal government and enrollees’ premium payments.

Issuers cannot exclude sick applicants or charge them higher premiums.

To compensate for the lack of medical underwriting, and to encourage the 63 million Americans who are eligible for Medicare to pay Medicare plan premiums even when they feel healthy, the government limits when enrollees can sign up for Medicare Advantage coverage for the first time without showing they have what the government considers a good reason to shop for coverage.

The main sign-up period runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. The government also offers a more limited Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, aimed solely at the 28 million consumers who already have some type of Medicare Advantage plan coverage, from Jan. 1 through March 31.

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Shopping and Premium Trends

Fluent, a company that provides marketing program performance data, surveyed Medicare enrollees immediately before the start of the annual enrollment period. The firm found that 25% of survey participants said they were likely or very likely to change plans.

That figure suggests that about 7 million people could have actively shopped for coverage during the latest annual enrollment period.

One question was whether the COVID-19 pandemic might have caused consumers to look harder for richer plans, or plans with lower patient cost-sharing requirements, than for cheaper plans.

But a web broker, eHealth, reports that, as of the middle of the annual enrollment period, about 88% of its customers who had signed up for Medicare Advantage plans had signed up for plans with a $0 premium.

Some consumers, agents and regulators have complained about the JJ Walker Medicare ads and suggested that they gave viewers an incorrect idea about what Medicare Advantage plan benefits packages are like.

But many enrollees may have ended up with two or more of the new types of supplemental benefits.

The Better Medicare Alliance, a group for insurers and others with an interest in the Medicare Advantage program, hired Milliman, an actuarial firm, to analyze Medicare Advantage plans’ supplemental benefits.

Milliman looked at which plans offered at least some coverage for adult day care services; home-based pain relief services; in-home support services; caregiver support services; or therapeutic massage.

About 824 plans will provide at least one of those benefits in 2022, up from 575 this year, and 202 will cover at least two of those benefits next year, up from 175 this year, the alliance reports, based on the Milliman analysis.

(Image: Igor Negovelov/AdobeStock)