For the second year in a row, Deft Research has found a higher proportion of age-ins lean toward selecting a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan when they enter Medicare. Although the balance of interest between MA and MedSupp may have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t appear to be reversing, according to an executive summary of the 2021 Age-In Study.

The annual study gives insight into the health plan preferences of seniors who are considering Medicare health insurance for the first time. This population, who are “aging in” into Medicare are typically between the ages of 60 and 65 and are a key source of new customers for MA and supplemental Medicare insurers. The Deft Research study findings help health insurers understand the likely coverage choices of Age-Ins upon their initial Medicare enrollment as well as the channels which they tend to shop and enroll.

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The research is the fourth study in Deft’s 2021 six-part Senior Market Insights Service. The survey looks at Age-Ins’ retirement plans just over one-year removed from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; expected plan selections and reasons for those preferences; the appeal of supplemental benefits; shopping activities and the timing of those activities, including agent utilization and online shopping; and Medicare enrollees’ experiences with the process of transitioning to Medicare.

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The 2021 Medicare Age-In Study includes the responses of two sample groups. The first is a quantitative sample that included 1,731 respondents with the following breakdown: 644 Age‐Ins who are in their initial enrollment period (IEP); 243 full Social Security Age‐Ins; 307 late‐to‐Medicare seniors; and 537 recently enrolled Medicare members. The survey was administered May 24 to June 3. The second sample involved respondents who kept a monthly diary to provide their thoughts on the transition to Medicare in their own words. That qualitative sample included 187 respondents not yet enrolled in Medicare who completed at least the first month of the survey and 51 diary respondents who completed all five months of the survey.

Here are four findings from the executive summary of the report: 

For the second year in a row, a higher proportion of Age-Ins report they are leaning toward selecting an MA plan when they enter Medicare. The top reasons for their interest: Extra benefits, affordability, and the combination of medical and drug coverage. For those who preferred MedSupp, they said they preferred to have the ability to use any doctor/hospital and to have all their medical bills covered by insurance.

Age‐Ins leaning toward a private Medicare plan are often more aware of the supplemental benefits available with MA plans. When looking just at traditional supplemental benefits (excluding dental coverage), the three most popular benefits were eyewear allowances, over-the-counter allowances, and rewards for healthy behaviors.

Nearly two‐thirds of 65‐year‐olds who are still in their IEP but not yet enrolled in Medicare have begun shopping for a plan. Motivators to begin shopping: for younger Age-Ins, a birthday; for older Age-Ins, retirement; and late-to-Medicare seniors cited a change in health needs.

Overall, one‐third of recent Medicare enrollees who were previously insured converted to Medicare with that insurer. Maintaining positive member experiences among under‐65 members not only positively impacts loyalty, but it can also pay dividends as those members age into Medicare, Deft noted.

For more information about the full results of the survey, contact Deft Research.