The Commonwealth Fund’s 2022 Biennial Health Insurance Survey asked seniors why they chose a Medicare Advantage plan or traditional Medicare and what resources they used to decide on coverage.

More benefits and a limit on out-of-pocket costs are the main reasons seniors gave for choosing a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, while greater selection of providers was the main reason for those who opted for traditional Medicare, according to a recent survey conducted between March 28 and July 4 and published by The Commonwealth Fund. The survey findings are based on 1,605 respondents aged 65 and older who were enrolled in Medicare.

The findings were released following an August Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report that nearly half of eligible Medicare beneficiaries—28.4 million out of 58.6 million Medicare beneficiaries overall—are now enrolled in  MA plans. That represents a more than doubling of the share of the eligible Medicare population enrolled in such plans from 2007 to 2022 (19 percent to 48 percent). A September report from KFF also found few big differences between traditional Medicare and MA on various measures.

Survey highlights

The top reasons that MA members chose their plans were:

  • More benefits (24 percent)
  • Out-of-pocket cost limit (20 percent)
  • Recommendation by someone they trust (15 percent)
  • Offered by their partner’s employer (11 percent)

The top reasons that Medicare enrollees chose the traditional option were:

  • More provider choice (40 percent)
  • Recommendation by someone they trust (nine percent)
  • Continuing coverage from employer (seven percent)

Who helps them decide on coverage:

  • About one in three Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of coverage, used insurance brokers or agents to choose a plan
  • About one in five beneficiaries relied on friends and family to help make coverage decisions
  • Beneficiaries with the lowest incomes used (12 percent of those with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) and 14 percent of those with incomes between 100 percent and 200 percent of FPL)
  • Only three percent of those with incomes above 40 percent relied on

The influence of marketing on decision-making:

  • Overall, about six percent of survey respondents said that marketing was a source of information in choosing a plan
  • About 12 percent of Black survey respondents reported that advertisements were helpful to them, compared to only five percent of white respondents
  • Twelve percent of beneficiaries in the lowest income category (below 100 percent of FPL) said they had been informed by advertising and marketing efforts, compared to only two percent of those in the highest income category (above 400 percent of FPL)

During a recent panel discussion at RISE West, eight seniors shared their experiences with Medicare and MA. Many of the factors they discussed echo the findings from the Commonwealth Fund survey. They said reasons for choosing their plans were a network that includes their current and nearby doctors, better over-the-counter benefits, and an attractive rewards program.