The annual study, conducted by J.D. Power, measures member satisfaction with Medicare Advantage (MA) plans based on six factors: coverage and benefits; provider choice; cost; customer service; information and communication; and billing and payment.

The 2021 MA study finds that although overall customer satisfaction with their plans have significantly increased year over year, many MA plans struggle when it comes to information and communication, noted James Beem, manager director of global health care intelligence at J.D. Power, in the study announcement.

The findings are based on the responses of 3,359 members of MA plans across the United States during January through March 2021.

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“Medicare Advantage plans have begun to position themselves as community health organizations, realizing that the key to better outcomes is more active engagement with members to encourage preventive health and smart utilization of provider resources,” Beem said. “When plans do get that engagement formula right, satisfaction, advocacy and retention all improve significantly.”

Here are other highlights from the study:

Members’ active management of care declines in 2021: Fifty-five percent of MA plan members actively managed their care in the past year, a decline of nine percentage points from 2019. The two most common ways in which plan members actively manage health care are checking whether a treatment or service is covered and asking their doctor or pharmacist for a generic drug instead of a brand name.

Communication still misses mark: Despite improvements in satisfaction with information and communication this year, it is the lowest-performing factor evaluated in the study. Overall satisfaction scores are 54 points higher (on a 1,000-point scale) when members successfully engage with their plan to ask a question or solve a problem than when they have no engagement at all.

RELATED: Study: Email, SMS text soar as effective health care consumer engagement channels in 2020, reflecting urgency of COVID-19 communications

New members cite worse health, lower income than established members: Just 34 percent of new MA plan members (those ages 65-68 or in their first year with the plan) say they are in “very good” or “better” health and 46 percent say they have an annual income of $50,000 or more. These compare with 39 percent of established plan members (ages 69+ and not in the first year of the plan) who say they are in “very good” or “better” health and 56 percent who earn $50,000 or more.

Health plan portals show promise: Seventy-eight percent of MA members are registered for their health plan’s member portal—up four percentage points from last year. Two-thirds of members have logged in to their health plan’s portal. Portal use is associated with higher levels of satisfaction and improved member engagement.