J.D. Power gives Medicare Advantage plans bad marks on communicating with members

Medicare advantage plans are generally doing a bad job communicating with their beneficiaries, an issue that has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study from J.D. Power (PDF) found.

The study of Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, released Thursday, found Highmark had the highest overall satisfaction plans, with Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Humana coming in second and third. But all plans had some issues with communication.

“Despite the significant positive effect on member satisfaction, just 15% of MA plans deliver all three information and communication performance indicators,” the study said.

This gap has gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers are 3.3 times more likely to receive a helpful communication from their bank than from their health plan, according to additional data from other J.D. Power financial studies.

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The study comes as the MA market has become lucrative for insurers. More than one-third of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in an MA plan.

The study is based on six factors: coverage and benefits, provider choice, cost, customer service, information and communication and billing and payment.

J.D. Power found increased communication could have a positive effect on overall member satisfaction, especially with helping members understand their out-of-pocket costs and providing reminders for preventive services.

“Overall member satisfaction increases 209 points (on a 1,000-point scale) when plans meet three key performance indicators related to information and communication,” the release said.

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The study also delved into the impact of telehealth in MA, which has exploded in use during the pandemic after the Trump administration gave providers more flexibility to get Medicare reimbursement for telehealth.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, just 5% of Medicare Advantage members had used telehealth,” J.D. Power said. “Based on additional J.D. Power research conducted since the beginning of the pandemic, 20% of Medicare plan members say they are interested in receiving information about telehealth.”

J.D. Power’s study was based on responses from 3,314 members in MA plans across the country and was conducted from January through March.