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COVID-19 benefits one reason consumers chose a Medicare Advantage plan for 2021

Telehealth is another benefit cited by consumers as Medicare open enrollment ended December 7.     

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Medicare open enrollment ended on Monday, with preliminary data showing that more consumers are choosing Medicare Advantage plans for 2021 due to the plans' supplemental benefits.

This is no surprise, as private plans have pushed the supplemental benefits of their MA plans through television and other advertising, including numerous mailings, in a way the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not do for traditional Medicare.

While enrollment numbers are not yet available, a new Medicare Advantage study found that for 2021, consumers are choosing MA not only for the telehealth benefits, but for COVID-19 supplemental benefits offered by the private plans. 

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Of those who decided on an MA plan because of supplemental benefits, 35% cited COVID-19 supplemental benefits specifically, while 27% cited telehealth benefits, the report said.

Thirty-five percent are enrolled in an MA plan for 2021 because they've had it before and prefer it; 29% like the prescription drug coverage; 16% like the affordability; and 9% like the supplemental benefits, the report said.

In addition, 45% are switching from an original Medicare plan in 2020 to a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021, the report said.

Of those enrolled in a MA plan for 2021, 65% compared all of their Medicare options before enrolling, while 26% did a "brief amount of research."

WHY THIS MATTERS

The popularity of MA plans is growing for consumers and insurance companies.

One-third of MA plans (34%) are offering supplemental benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, including care/relief packages, waived or reduced cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment, and personal protective equipment, according to analysis from Avalere at the start of open enrollment.

Later in October, CMS released an interim rule mandating that all Americans have access to a COVID-19 vaccine, when it becomes available, at no out-of-pocket cost. Private insurers must cover the vaccine at no charge to beneficiaries and are prohibited from charging administration costs of the vaccine, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said at the time.

MA plans continued to increase their supplemental benefit offerings in 2021, including meals and transportation to physician visits and coverage of over-the-counter drugs and wellness, benefits not covered under Medicare Part A, Part B or Part D, 

The drawback has always been the narrower networks of MA plans compared to traditional Medicare.

THE LARGER TREND

Even CMS promoted the benefits of Medicare Advantage plans just prior to open enrollment on October 15.

More than 94% of Medicare Advantage plans were expected to offer additional telehealth benefits, up from about 58% of plans offering telehealth benefits in 2020. 

Also, average 2021 premiums for Medicare Advantage plans were expected to decline 34.2% from 2017 and become the lowest average monthly premiums since 2007.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com