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Life Health > Health Insurance > Medicare Planning

How Older Consumers See the Medicare Plan Market Now

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Many policymakers in Washington see changes in Medicare program policy as a way to get at some of the program’s $888 billion in annual revenue.

Your clients just want someone to pay the medical bills.

Two firms — Deft Research, a Minneapolis-based market research company, and eHealth, a health insurance web broker — recently published results from Medicare plan shopper surveys, to try to find out what the clients are thinking.

What It Means

If you sometimes have trouble distinguishing between Medicaid, original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Advantage special needs plans and Medicare supplement (Med supp) insurance letter policies, think of how confused the typical client must be.

This is a situation where a trusted, knowledgeable advisor can make a difference.

The Numbers

Deft provides a smattering of information in front of a login wall. The web broker, eHealth, has posted a more comprehensive survey report. Here are five insights from the firms’ survey results.

1. Many clients who prefer Med supp are still out there.

Clients can choose between Medicare Advantage plans, which often resemble commercial managed care health plans, to fill in the many gaps in original Medicare coverage, or they can use Med supp policies.

Both Medicare Advantage plans and Med supp plans come from private health insurers.

Medicare Advantage plans use a combination of cash from the Medicare program and enrollee premiums to provide what looks to the enrollee like an alternative to original Medicare coverage.

Medicare Advantage plans tend to have much lower monthly premiums than Med supp policies. They offer care coordination services, and they often provide many extra benefits, such as dental benefits and hearing care benefits. In exchange, the enrollee must accept active efforts by the plan to manage use of care and steer enrollees toward using in-network doctors and hospitals.

Med supp policies simply fill in the gaps in original Medicare coverage. They tend to come with significant monthly premiums, but patients usually pay less out of pocket when they get care, and they can see any care provider that takes Medicare.

Deft found, when it surveyed consumers who are aging into being eligible for Medicare, that a significant share, 32%, would prefer to sign up for Med supp coverage. About 49% say they’re likely to buy Medicare Advantage plan coverage.

2. The percentage of Deft survey takes who prefer Med supp coverage is shrinking.

The percentage of Deft survey participants who expect to get Medicare Advantage plan coverage has increased from 45% in 2021, and from 40% in 2017.

The percentage who lean toward signing up for Med supp coverage has fallen from 36% last year, and from 45% in 2017.

3. Enrollee satisfaction with Medicare Advantage plans is high.

Some critics dislike the Medicare Advantage program because they are involved with the Med supp market and would prefer to sell Med supp coverage.

Others believe the Medicare Advantage program costs the federal government too much and sends too much federal revenue to private plan providers.

Medicare Advantage plan critics celebrated recently when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General found that, although Medicare Advantage plans approved about 95% of care preauthorization requests, 13% of the denials conflicted with Medicare Advantage program rules.

When eHealth surveyed 2,848 consumers who bought Medicare Advantage plans through eHealth’s website in late May, it found that 88% were very or somewhat satisfied with their Medicare Advantage coverage, and that only 3% would not recommend the Medicare Advantage program to others.

4. Medicare Advantage plan shoppers value product menu curation.

The eHealth website provides access to just about every Medicare Advantage plan available.

The company asked survey takers this question: “Would you prefer to shop from a limited selection of health plans with an option to get personal advice, or to shop from among all plans with no option for personal advice?”

About 55% said they would prefer to shop from a limited selection of plans, with an option to get personal advice.

Just 20% said they wanted to see all plans, with no personal advice.

About 25% might have been in even more urgent need of guidance: They were too confused to know whether or not they wanted access to personal advice.

5. Live-human advisors are a major force.

Even though all of the eHealth survey participants were web-savvy people who had purchased Medicare plans from eHealth, just 26% of those participants said they had first heard about the Medicare Advantage program by doing online research.

About 20% of the web broker users said they had first heard about the program from a life insurance agent.

Aggressive television, radio and print advertising campaigns have come under attack in recent years, but 19% of the survey participants said they had learned about the program from ads.

Just 6% said they had first heard about the program from the government.

(Image: Shutterstock)


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