Avalere: More Medicare Advantage plans to offer supplemental benefits in 2022

More Medicare Advantage plans are offering in 2022 supplemental benefits that tackle social determinants of health such as meals and transportation, a new analysis finds.

The analysis, released Tuesday by consulting firm Avalere Health, comes a few days after Medicare open enrollment started and represents a growing trend among plans to tackle health inequities.

“This early look at the benefits shows that certain types of non-medical benefits—most notably meals—are widely available at a $0 premium, whereas other types of benefits—such as in-home support services—are offered less widely,” the analysis said.

Avalere looked at MA plan benefits data from the first quarter of 2021 and the plan benefits packages for 2022 released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Researchers examined the claims data to determine whether there was any increase in benefit offerings based on a plan’s star ratings. The analysis excluded special needs plans because they are only available to specific beneficiaries.

For 2022, meal delivery was the most common offered benefit of the four that were analyzed, with 68% of plans offering the benefit. The second most popular was transportation services with 39%, followed by nutrition at 30% and in-home support services with 11%.

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The percentage of plans with meal benefits was up compared to the 2021 plan year, when 55% of plans offered the benefits. Plans that offered nutrition also increased from 17% in 2021 to 30% in 2022.

Plans that offer transportation benefits slightly increased, with 39% compared to 36% in 2021.

The supplemental benefit that plans offered the least was in-home support, with 11% offering the benefit in 2022 compared with 6% in 2021.

Avalere also looked at the relationship between star ratings and supplemental benefits.

“Because plans with 4 or more stars receive higher payments, they have more funding available to provide supplement benefits or reduce cost-sharing, compared to plans with fewer stars,” the analysis said.

Plans with more stars offered more of the benefits. For example, in 2022, 70% of plans with four or more stars offered meal deliveries compared with 62% of plans that have less than four stars.

However, the percentage of plans with four stars offering nutrition was lower compared to 2021, with 16% of plans offering the benefits in 2022 compared to 18% this year.

The findings come as the number of plans with high star ratings skyrocketed for 2022, with nearly 70% of plans having a rating of four or more.

Avalere’s analysis comes as the Biden administration has made closing health disparities a major priority.