J.D. Power: Medicare Advantage plans still struggle with member engagement

Medicare Advantage
A new survey looks at communications challenges for Medicare Advantage plans. (Getty/designer491)

The Medicare Advantage (MA) population continues to grow, but plans still struggle with member engagement and communication, according to a new survey.

J.D. Power released its annual MA study this week, which found that while satisfaction with communication is improving, it's still the lowest-rated factor included in the survey. For plans that communicate effectively with members, satisfaction with coverage is notably higher, the study found.

James Beem, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at J.D. Power, told Fierce Healthcare that 4 in 10 MA members report little to no interaction with their plans, which is quite low for a "direct-to-consumer product."

That number is "higher than the year before, and a little bit better than commercial health insurance, but that's still a big gap in my mind," he said.

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The study also found declines in the number of MA members who say they are taking an active role in managing their care. Just over half (55%) of those surveyed said they were actively involved in their care management, a decrease of nine percentage points from 2019.

The most common steps members take, according to the survey, are actively asking whether services or therapies are covered in their plans or asking a physician or pharmacist to provide them with a generic drug instead of a branded product.

More members are also logging into portals, with 78% reporting use in 2020. That is an increase of four percentage points from 2019, according to the survey. Use of these tools is associated with higher satisfaction with the member's plan.

Beem said new MA members are more likely to take to technology tools, as they're often already tech-savvy before aging into Medicare. Because of the differing demands of these populations within MA, health plans should be thinking about how to connect with them in unique ways.

"We're seeing a generation coming into Medicare Advantage that's been well-groomed on all things digital," he said. "I think the onus is on the health plans to diversify their offerings."