How the WellCare acquisition is driving Centene's approach to Medicare Advantage

Centene has unveiled its plans for Medicare Advantage in 2021. (Centene)

Centene is growing its Medicare Advantage (MA) footprint by 30% in 2021.

The insurer said that it will offer MA plans in 1,249 counties across 33 states next year, an increase of 30% from plan year 2020. Centene will move into two new states, Rhode Island and Vermont, and add plans in about 275 counties.

Centene is also bringing PPO plans to 10 more states in which it already offers HMO plans, according to an announcement.

Michael Polen, Centene's senior vice president and CEO of Medicare Solutions, told Fierce Healthcare that the goal is to reach as many beneficiaries as possible with a wide variety of options so they can make the choices that work best for them.

"We continue to focus on expanding so we have a product portfolio that can really be attractive to every type of beneficiary that’s out there," Polen said.

RELATED: WellCare teams with Shipt to offer free grocery delivery to Medicare Advantage members

Centene finalized its acquisition of WellCare Health Plans in January, and integrating the two companies was a major undertaking over the course of this year. The $17 billion merger created one of the largest sponsors of government coverage in the country.

Polen said the team is "excited" about the growth opportunities the integration offers. Historically, Centene was not as aggressive in the Medicare space specifically, but bringing WellCare into the fold kicked those efforts into high gear.

"There was a lot of focus on really bringing the Centene organization and the WellCare organization together, and that was a big focus of this year: to really able to continue to move forward with our ultimate strategy to continue to be an industry leader in the Medicare space," he said.

He added that the strength of their combination offers an alternative in the market to the legacy players, which offer plans that are administered by a government-market focused organization.

RELATED: Centene to expand ACA exchange footprint by nearly 400 counties in 2021

Much like many of its peers in the industry, Centene also has also put emphasis on telehealth, virtual care and home health options in the wake of the pandemic. Polen said among Medicare beneficiaries, Centene saw near-zero utilization skyrocket due to COVID-19.

These services will be available with no cost-sharing for members heading into 2021 as well, he said.

Home options like telehealth and remote monitoring allow members to play a greater role in directing their own care, Polen said.

"From a health plan perspective, we’re very supportive of that because what we’re looking for is to allow members to engage in their healthcare," he said.

Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage begins Oct. 15.