Medicare Mulligan: Seniors Embrace Medicare Advantage Do-Over Opportunity

Seniors took full advantage of a recent “do-over” opportunity to swap out Medicare Advantage (MA) and prescription drug plans purchased last fall for alternative coverage options, according to a recent report by eHealth.

The January 1-to-March 31 Medicare enrollment period for the first time since 2011 allowed people who’d signed up with MA plans or Medicare Part D prescription drug plans during the traditional autumn enrollment period to change to a new MA plan or shift to original Medicare. People could also pick up a Part D prescription drug plan during this period if they made the change from an MA plan to original Medicare. Previously, you could only use the first quarter enrollment window to change back to original Medicare.

With the new option, the volume of Medicare applications on eHealth surged by 87% over the same period last year, from 28,641 applications in the first quarter of 2018 to 53,543 this year. More than half of respondents (53%) said they used the new open enrollment opportunity to switch from one MA plan with prescription drug coverage to another that also included a prescription drug benefit.

Why did people decide to switch their coverage? About half of all plan changes were driven by dissatisfaction with either the prior insurance company, out-of-pocket costs or provider networks. Specifically:

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  • 22% said they switched plans because they were unhappy with their former insurance company
  • 15% were unhappy with copays and other out-of-pocket costs
  • 12% switched because their preferred doctor was no longer in-network
  • 9% switched due to drug coverage
  • 9% changed due to increased premiums
  • 8% switched because of a move to a new area

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage is Growing

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MA plans are increasingly popular with seniors. One in three Medicare beneficiaries, or 20.4 million people, were enrolled in MA plans in 2018, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s up 8%, or 1.5 million people, from the previous year. MA enrollment has grown 84% since 2010.

The ability for seniors to drop a MA plan before the fall open enrollment is helpful for those who missed changes – co-pays, provider network and drug formularies, for example – that inevitably occur each year to Medicare plans.

The full eHealth report, Medicare 2019 Open Enrollment: Costs and Sentiments can be read here.

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