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Few seniors comparison shop for healthcare, though rising costs hit them hardest

Seniors are more likely to weigh prices for groceries, gas, cable and internet service, and even travel deals, than for a Medicare plan.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Though seniors are the ones most affected by rising healthcare costs, few older Americans are taking steps that would help them reduce those costs, reserving their due diligence for other living expenses, says a new national survey.

According to "The Cost of Complacency" survey commissioned by WellCare Health Plans, seniors are more likely to comparison shop for groceries, gas, cable and internet service, and even travel deals, than they are to shop for a Medicare plan. In fact, only 33 percent of seniors reported they comparison shop for a Medicare plan at all.

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And despite nearly universal consensus among experts that seniors should review their healthcare coverage every year, the research revealed that only about 40 percent review their Medicare plan annually to determine if they're getting the best deal. They're more likely to review their cable and internet plan (44 percent) and their homeowners/automotive insurance (46 percent) each year than their Medicare plan, and nearly as likely to review their cell phone plan (35 percent) as they are their healthcare coverage.

The findings come at a time when many seniors are coming into Medicare with more health conditions than previous generations, and with most Medicare plans changing from year to year.

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Americans on the cusp of Medicare in their late fifties have more serious health problems than people at the same ages did 10 to 15 years ago, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs. The Kaiser Family Foundation said that out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare accelerate with age, and the growth in spending between younger seniors and older seniors is drastic: the percentage of healthcare spending doubles from age 65 to 69 to age 70 to 79. Yet the new survey showed that 63 percent of respondents don't bother to review their Medicare plan for the best deal because they were satisfied with the plan they were on previously.

When it comes to priorities, seniors put a premium on cost. A full 77 percent of respondents ranked cost -- including premiums, copays and deductibles -- as the single most important factor when shopping for a plan.

What may be relevant for payers and providers to consider is that many seniors confess to ignoring reviewing their coverage each year because the process evokes negative emotions. One in five seniors report the process of reviewing their coverage to be a painful, frustrating and confusing, and women are 29 percent more likely than men to view reviewing their coverage to be an awful experience.

In fact, one in four respondents report reviewing their Medicare plan was among the top two most unpleasant experiences, in comparison to things ranging from getting a colonoscopy to doing their taxes to renewing their driver's license.

Despite the difficulties they encounter in reviewing their coverage, 57 percent of seniors choose to review their plan by themselves rather than seek out help. And, surprisingly, seniors are least likely to involve their adult children or other caregivers in the process.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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