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Medicare Advantage premiums down 7 percent on average, enrollment up 10 percent

Data released by the Department of Health and Human Services today show that premiums for Medicare Advantage plans decreased an average of seven percent for 2012 and that enrollment in the plans increased by 10 percent.

The average decrease exceeds the four percent estimated drop in Medicare Advantage premiums made by HHS in September at the beginning of the open enrollment period. The average monthly premium for 2012 is $31.54 in 2012 down from an average of $33.97 in 2011. Since the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, MA premiums have decreased by more than 16 percent on average and enrollment in the plans has increased by 17 percent. Total enrollment in MA plans now exceeds 12.8 million seniors.

[See also: HHS says ACA changes to Medicare will save $120B over 5 years.]

"The Medicare Advantage program is stronger than ever," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in the announcement. "Premiums are down on average, enrollment is up, and thanks to the Affordable Care Act we have unprecedented new tools to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities are getting the best value out of their coverage."

In addition to rising enrollments and lower premiums, HHS said that more plans are attaining Four- and Five-Star ratings as part of the agency's Five-Star rating methodology intended to improve the overall quality of the health plans provided under the MA program.

[See also: Proposal requires Medicare providers to advise members of right to file quality complaints.]

"The Affordable Care Act has strengthened Medicare Advantage by motivating plans to improve the quality of their coverage," added Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, in a press release.

Further, in 2012 high-rated plans under the HHS rating system, for the first time, will qualify for bonus payments as an incentive to achieve a high quality score. Five-star rated Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans will have the added incentive of being able to market and enroll new members throughout the year instead of being restricted to the yearly open enrollment period.

According to figures released by HHS, access to Medicare Advantage plans continues to remain nearly universal. On average, there are 26 different Medicare Advantage plans available in nearly every county in the country. In all, more than 99.7 percent of the senior population has access to a Medicare Advantage plan.

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