Two new studies on Medicare Advantage (MA) supplemental benefits indicate that more and more plans are taking advantage of the ability to use non-medical incentives to differentiate themselves among the increasing competition. While one report looks at the number of plans across the country offering these new non-medical benefits, the other study uncovers member preferences when it comes to common supplemental benefits.

The first report, released by ATI Advisory, examines the new, non-medical supplemental benefits offered by MA plans to chronically ill members in 2022. These benefits are often targeted to address social determinants of health and financed through rebates and premium dollars. This year, 1,292 MA plans offer special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill (SSBCI) compared to 923 in 2021.

The most common non-medical supplemental benefits include:

Food and produce: 763 plans offer some sort of benefit in 2022 compared to 345 plans in 2021 (121 percent increase).

Pest control (treatment or products): 326 plans offer pest control this year compared to 208 plans in 2021 (57 percent increase).

Transportation for non-medical needs: 375 plans offer this benefit in 2022. Last year, only 177 plans offered it, an increase of 112 percent.

Complementary therapies: The benefit, offered alongside traditional medical treatment, wasn’t offered by any plan in 2021. This year, 123 plans are offering complementary therapies.

Services supporting self-direction: Plans may offer services to assist in establishment of decision-making authority for health care needs, such as power of attorney or education, such as financial literacy. This year, 151 plans offer the benefit compared to 96 in 2021 (57 percent increase).

Structural home modifications (such as widening of hallways or doorways, installing permanent mobility ramps, or easy use faucets): 57 plans offer the benefit in 2022 compared to 42 plans last year (36 percent increase).

General supports for living (such as subsidies for rent or utilities): In 2022, 328 plans offer the benefit compared to 150 plans in 2020 (119 percent increase).

This year, some plans are also offering “other” non-primarily health related SSBCI such as pet care (160 plans), travel care assistance (123 plans), and barber shop and beauty shop care (123 plans). One plan is offering housekeeping services.

Deft Research study uncovers member preferences

With so many plans offering these new benefits, Deft Research has recently released an executive briefing of its 2022 Medicare Advantage Supplemental Benefits Conjoint Study, the first of nine major Medicare research projects Deft will produce in 2022 as part of its Senior Market Insights Service.

The market research report surveyed 2,162 Age-Ins and seniors in Original Medicare only, Medicare Supplemental coverage, and Medicare Advantage to uncover the benefits that are most attractive to them when they search for new coverage.

George Dippel, executive vice president, client services for Deft, wrote in the executive research brief that while more options are generally good for beneficiaries, they spell trouble for an individual plan designer or MA marketer. That means it’s important that supplemental benefit design works for all beneficiaries, including those consumers nearing the threshold for Medicare eligibility (Age-Ins).

“Standing out from a field that is growing more crowded by the day is tough. Winning disproportionally in such a crowded field is even tougher. But knowing the nuances of both supplemental benefit structure as well as senior segment benefit preference can give plan managers the best chance to do both,” Dippel wrote in the executive brief.

The 2022 conjoint study took all four sets of respondents through an adaptive-based conjoint exercise where they demonstrated their preference for MA premium (with or without givebacks), medical network, dental options, eye care, meals/ grocery delivery, OTC options, tools to help seniors age in place, hearing, transportation, fitness, and utility/ home allowances.

For example, for the utility/home allowance benefit, Deft provided four dollar-equivalent options:

  • $300 yearly allowance for pest control
  • $300 yearly allowance for reverse osmosis water filtration
  • $300 yearly allowance for a window AC unit, HEPA air filter, or space heater
  • $25 monthly assistance with utility bills

Medicare Marketing and Sales Summit

While Age-Ins expressed interest in the pest control benefit, Deft found it detracts from plan preference for current eligibles. Age-Ins also were less interested in cash assistance with utility bill help than are current fixed-income seniors.

Dippel will discuss the results of Deft’s soon-to-be-released Medicare Shopping and Switching Study and benefit preference trends at RISE’s Medicare Marketing & Sales Summit, Feb. 16-18, at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. The information from the study, as well as the conjoint research, is essential to prepare for AEP in 2022.