RISE examines the latest research news on Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid.

Deft Research: Seniors more aware of OEP and AEP switchers use opportunity to change plans again

Deft Research recently published its 2021 Open Enrollment Period Study, which offers insight into how the fall’s annual election period (AEP) played out and whether the experience is related to disenrollment in the open enrollment period (OEP). An executive research brief based on one aspect of the study findings reveals that since the OEP’s inception three years ago, the proportion of seniors aware of the switching opportunity has increased to about 75 percent. Furthermore, seniors who switched plans during the fall AEP are more likely to switch again during the January to March OEP.  Indeed, one in five seniors who made a move in the fall switched again in the winter, according to the executive research brief. George Dippel, executive vice president, said in the brief that this 19 percent “switch again” number reflects the state of senior marketing and retention efforts. It also should sound alarm bells with carriers and field marketing organizations as the switch again rate indicates that MA plans can’t count all its AEP enrollments on January 1.

AJMC study finds Medicare Advantage frequently outperforms traditional Medicare in key metrics

In a review of peer-reviewed papers published since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more than half of the analyses find that Medicare Advantage (MA) outperforms traditional Medicare on quality, health, and cost outcomes. The review, published in The American Journal of Managed Care, included 35 studies and 208 analyses and found that in more than half of the studies MA beneficiaries experienced better quality of care, better health outcomes, and lower spending across a wide range of settings of care and research questions. Study authors recommended that future research should look to leverage experimental and nonexperimental study designs to isolate the benefit of MA for beneficiaries and identify what aspects of the MA benefit add the greatest value.

5M more Americans enrolled in Medicaid during pandemic

A research letter published in JAMA Network Open reports that Medicaid enrollment increased as the economic shutdown due to COVID-19 began in March 2020. Indeed, researchers found that five million more Americans enrolled in Medicaid by September 2020 compared to January 2020. However, enrollment growth was greater in states with smaller changes in unemployment in 2020. Researchers say this may indicate that Medicaid growth is associated with factors other than job loss, including reduced work hours making more people eligible, greater focus on health care during the pandemic, and the fact that Congress offered states more funding in exchange for a requirement that they not disenroll anyone from Medicaid during the public health emergency.

COVID-19 linked to worsening mental health among older adults in the US

A new University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation poll of people age 50 to 80 finds that nearly one in five older adults say their mental health has gotten worse and their sleep has suffered since the pandemic began in March 2020 and 28 percent reported heightened anxiety or worry. The National Poll on Healthy Aging results were based on responses from a sample of 2,074 adults aged 50 to 80 who answered online questions in January 2021.

Women, people in their 50s and early 60s, and older adults who have a college degree or higher were more likely than others to report worse mental health than before the pandemic. The poll also found that 24 percent of older adults who say their physical health is fair or poor were most likely to report worse mental health.

“As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, with most older adults getting vaccinated, it’s important to ensure adequate access to mental health screening and care to detect and address any lingering effects of this prolonged period of stress,” says Lauren Gerlach, a geriatric psychiatrist at Michigan Medicine who worked with the poll team. “This is especially important to those who might have a harder time accessing mental health care, including those with lower incomes and worse physical health.”