Medicare Advantage enrollment in chronic illness benefits tripled in 2021: Avalere

More than 3 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries chose plans for the 2021 coverage year that provide additional supplemental benefits for chronic illnesses, a major increase over the more than 1 million that signed up in 2020, a new analysis found.

The analysis, released Friday by consulting firm Avalere Health, also found the number of enrollees in MA plans that offer such benefits increased this year compared to 2020. The analysis comes as the Biden administration is likely to make social determinants of health a major priority, with supplemental benefits in MA plans an area in which to address those issues.

“Stakeholders should consider engaging with the Biden administration around their early experiences with [supplemental benefits for the chronically ill] and any policy change that could facilitate their wider adoption,” the analysis said.

The analysis found that this year, 787 MA plans are offering special supplemental benefits that range from meal delivery to pest control and virtual visits. The plans represent 16% of all plans that Avalere analyzed.

“Overall, in 2021, 15% of enrollees in non-employer MA plans are enrolled in plans offering [supplemental benefits], as compared to 6% in 2020,” Avalere said.

RELATED: Study: Higher MA star ratings associated with improvements in members’ outcomes

The analysis also found that 86% of the total Medicare beneficiary population live in a county with at least one MA plan that offers one of the benefits.

Plans could start to offer the supplemental benefits that were not specifically health-related starting in 2020. This year, plans started offering new benefits like prescription deliveries for those who must stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, the number of plans offering these benefits—and associated enrollment—are relatively small compared to the most prevalent benefits,” the firm said.

The most popular supplemental benefit was meals, with 356 plans employing the benefit. The second-most popular was food and produce with 336 plans, and pest control was a benefit offered by 200 plans.

Avalere looked at the plan benefit package data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in 2020 and 2021.