The annual report compiles the latest data to provide a full picture of the Medicare Advantage (MA) landscape from beneficiary demographics and enrollment trends to consumer savings and improved outcomes, as well as MA’s response to COVID-19 and the continued drive to health equity.
The Better Medicare Alliance (BMA), a research and advocacy group that supports MA, on Thursday released its 2021 State of Medicare Advantage report, which reveals near-universal satisfaction, greater consumer savings, and better health outcomes in MA compared to traditional fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare.
The 24-page annual report also provides a snapshot of the MA community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are seven of the key findings:
Enrollment is up: MA enrollment has nearly doubled over the last decade with enrollment at 26 million individuals in early 2021, or 42 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries. Furthermore, enrollment is projected to increase to more than 50 percent of total Medicare enrollment by 2030. The report said the spike in enrollment is driven by increased access to MA plans. In 2021, Medicare beneficiaries have access to more than 4,800 plans offered across the country, an increase of 2,100 from 2017. Of the 4,800 plans offered, 2,900 are in rural counties.
Members are happy: Recent polling shows that 98 percent of MA beneficiaries are satisfied with their coverage, while 97 percent are specifically satisfied with their network of physicians, hospitals, and specialists. The overall satisfaction rate was 99 percent among minority beneficiaries.
Supplemental benefits are more popular than ever: About 90 percent of MA plans offer benefits such as wellness, dental, vision, or hearing coverage and over two-thirds of plans cover all four benefits. Vision benefits are the most common supplemental benefit. Furthermore, in 2021, more than 94 percent of MA plans also offered additional telehealth benefits, reaching 20.7 million beneficiaries.
Health outcomes are better: MA beneficiaries had 41 percent and 18 percent fewer avoidable acute and chronic hospitalizations, respectively, than traditional FFS Medicare beneficiaries. Indeed, 21 percent more MA beneficiaries received a physician visit within 14 days of discharge compared to traditional FFS Medicare beneficiaries. MA beneficiaries were also more likely to receive an annual flu vaccine.
Members report more cost savings: MA beneficiaries report lower average annual individual spending, with cost savings of $1,640 resulting in a 40 percent lower rate of cost burden than traditional FFS Medicare. The report finds that the MA average monthly premium is $21 in 2021, which is $2.63 less than 2020 and the lowest average premium since 2007.
Members are more diverse with higher rates of social risk factors: Minorities comprise 33.7 percent of MA beneficiaries compared to 16 percent of traditional FFS Medicare beneficiaries. MA beneficiaries are also more likely than those in traditional Medicare to be dual-eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, and more than half of MA beneficiaries live on annual incomes of less than $24,500.
MA providers and plans quickly responded to COVID: In addition to offering telehealth visits, some providers went above and beyond by providing tablets to their patients who lacked the necessary technology to complete a virtual visit. Many health plans waived beneficiary cost sharing for telemedicine visits, and all waived consumer out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 treatment. Some plans sent their beneficiaries care packages that included hand sanitizer, masks, thermometers, and over-the-counter health items to protect their members from COVID-19 and the flu. Others offered additional support services, including meal delivery, patient contact to address social isolation.