Kaiser Family Foundation: 7 in 10 Medicare beneficiaries don't shop for new plans

A computer on a pink background with five gold stars in front of it.
Nearly half of all beneficiaries don't go to a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website designed to help them choose a plan, new data show. (Lydia Zuraw/KHN illustration; Getty Images)

New data show that 7 in 10 Medicare beneficiaries didn’t compare plans during the 2018 open enrollment period, even though plans can change in their benefits and costs.

The data, released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, come as open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Part D starts Oct. 15. Kaiser also discovered that tools the federal government offers to help consumers choose a plan—including a website and helpline—are not widely used.

“With a growing number of Medicare private plan choices available each year, the fact that such a large share of seniors and people with disabilities report not comparing plans during the open enrollment period warrants attention,” the analysis said.

Kaiser found that 71% of all beneficiaries didn’t compare their plan to other plans available for the 2019 coverage year, and 29% did compare plans.

There were roughly the same numbers of beneficiaries in MA (68%) and traditional Medicare (73%) that chose not to search for a new plan.

A greater number of beneficiaries in MA’s drug plans (81%) didn’t compare drug coverage, either.

“Among stand-alone drug plan enrollees, more than 7 in 10 said they did not compare drug coverage offered by their current [prescription drug plan] to other [prescription drug plans],” Kaiser said.

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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services offers several tools to help consumers shop for plans during open enrollment, including a plan comparison website and a helpline.

But 47% of beneficiaries in Medicare haven’t visited the official Medicare website for information, and 42% said that either they or someone they know did visit the site. Another 11% didn’t have access to the internet.

More than half of all beneficiaries (53%) also haven’t used Medicare’s helpline for information.

Roughly half of beneficiaries (51%) did read a handbook called Medicare & You, and 31% said they haven’t read it all. Another 18% of beneficiaries said they didn’t receive it or didn’t know whether they had gotten the handbook.

Beneficiaries who are most likely to be affected by changes in plans such as out-of-pocket costs—people under 65 who have disabilities—were the most likely not to compare plans during the open enrollment period.

“Our analysis finds that beneficiaries who are Black and Hispanic, with low incomes and fewer years of education were less likely to compare plans,” Kaiser said.

The unwillingness of consumers to shop around comes as the number of plans on MA and Part D is expected to increase again for the 2022 coverage year. An earlier analysis from Kaiser found that there were 33 plan offers for this year, the most ever.

Major insurers such as Cigna, Anthem and Aetna have already worked to expand their MA footprint for 2022.