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A quarter of Medicare Advantage subscribers changed providers in 2021, poll finds

There's a desire for greater personalization, with 86% of members wanting their plan to personalize communication, care and services.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Medicare Advantage members are accustomed to change, at least according to new numbers provided by a new Icario survey. Conducted online by the Harris Poll among more than 1,200 Medicare subscribers, of whom 535 are Medicare Advantage subscribers, the poll revealed that 40% of Medicare Advantage subscribers made changes to their plans for 2021 and 25% say they stayed in a Medicare Advantage plan, but changed health plan providers.

Icario is a health action company that uses technology, data science and behavioral insights to improve health outcomes.

The survey showed high levels of member satisfaction and an interest in personalization. Largely, MA subscribers seem to be mostly satisfied with their plans, based on the 87% who feel their plan currently meets their healthcare needs and the 83% who clearly understand their benefits with their current plan. 

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But there's a desire for greater personalization around care, with 86% of MA subscribers wanting their plan to personalize communication, care and services to meet all of their health needs.

In addition to the importance of patient experience and satisfaction on retention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has strengthened the weighting of satisfaction in the calculation of Medicare Advantage Star Ratings, a critical component in plan selection and financial performance.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

The challenge now for MA plans is to raise the bar in terms of personalization and communication, a challenging task given healthcare's complexity. When regulatory and compliance requirements are factored in, communicating in a personalized way can be a difficult undertaking. According to Icario CEO Steve Wigginton, though, the effort is worth it: It has a positive impact on plan quality, satisfaction and health outcomes.

The survey also identified the potential to improve membership satisfaction with the incorporation of rewards and incentives as part of a health action strategy, with 75% of MA subscribers saying they would feel more positive about their Medicare plan if it offered them rewards and incentives for certain activities or behaviors, such as recommended cancer screenings, wellness visits or quitting smoking.

Maintaining high levels of satisfaction and member experiences is seen as a way to help health plans prevent member losses and improve profitability. That requires a comprehensive view of the member and their satisfaction.

THE LARGER TREND

Preliminary data at the end of Medicare open enrollment showed more consumers chose MA plans for 2021 due to their supplemental benefits, including telehealth and COVID-19 supplemental benefits.

A December 2020 study showed that, among 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.

Earlier this month, CMS issued a final rule that will require Part D plans to offer a real-time benefit-comparison tool starting January 1, 2023. CMS said the rule is meant to strengthen and modernize the Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug programs so enrollees can obtain information about lower-cost alternative therapies under their prescription drug benefit plan. The agency said it expects the changes will result in an estimated $75.4 million in savings to the federal government over 10 years.

Despite the popularity of MA plans, North Shore Insurance Brokers managing partner Ina Goldberg takes issue with the plans, saying that as people age, more serious health problems begin and MA members start paying more out-of-pocket, which will often add up to more than all of those monthly supplemental payments they would have made for original Medicare.

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