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Why Medicare Advantage patients don’t switch plans


A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows a small percentage of Medicare beneficiaries in private Medicare Advantage plans changed their plans during the 2016 open enrollment period.

Medicare beneficiaries in private Medicare Advantage (MA-PD) plans and Part D (PDP) stand-alone prescription drug plans without low-income subsidies did not seem too interested in changing up their plans during the 2016 open enrollment period, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study found that only 8 percent of MA-PD beneficiaries and 10 percent of PDP beneficiaries voluntarily switched their plans between 2016 and 2017.

Of the 9.4 million beneficiaries enrolled in a MA-PD without the subsidies, only 7.6 percent voluntarily switched to another MA-PD and another 1 percent switched to traditional Medicare with a PDP. Of the 11.7 million PDP enrollees without the subsidies, 8.3 percent switched to another PDP, while 1.7 percent switched to an MA-PD, the study found.

In open enrollment periods from 2007 to 2016, the study found that between six and 11 percent of MA-DP enrollees and between 10 and 13 percent of PDP enrollees voluntarily switched their plans.

With the average of 28 Medicare Advantage plans and 28 standalone Part D plans which are available for beneficiaries in 2020, the study said the low rates of changes could be due to beneficiaries being satisfied with their current plan and either feel they don’t need to compare plans, or choose to stick with their plan after comparing.

The study also indicates the low rates of plan change could be due to difficulty with comparing plans. In the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey of 2017, 35 percent of Medicare beneficiaries said it was very or somewhat difficult to compare the options. That number rose to 44 percent for those in self-reported poor health, and 40 percent amongst those with five or more chronic conditions.

The MA-PD and PDP plans vary widely on a slew of factors, and the study notes that comparing them all can be time consuming and challenging. It says that in 2017 about 45 percent of people on Medicare said they rarely or never review or compare their options. That number shoots to 57 percent among those 85 years old and older.

The authors of the study say that the results may not be overly concerning, but it could lead to avoidable costs and unrealized benefits for large shares of the population on Medicare. At a time where one of the top priorities among some Democratic presidential hopefuls is opening Medicare to more patients, understanding these barriers to finding the best plan should be a key part of these policy decisions.

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