Kaiser takes top spot in MA satisfaction rankings

Kaiser Permanente ranked as the highest in overall satisfaction for the fifth year in a row in the J.D. Power 2019 Medicare Advantage Study.

Overall, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans increased their market share, reaching 20.4 million Americans, and have been maintaining consistently high levels of overall customer satisfaction, according to the global marketing information services company. Between 2018 and 2019, the rate of private plan membership for Americans over the age of 65 grew by almost 10%, said James Beem, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at J.D. Power.

Overall customer satisfaction with MA plans was up one point from 2018.

"Compared to 2018, significant year-over-year declines in satisfaction with billing and payment and cost are offset by gains in the other four factors, including significant increases in customer service and information and communication. Overall satisfaction is highest among members who have not switched health plans within the past year," Beem told FierceHealthcare. "Conversely, members who switch out of need have the lowest level of satisfaction."

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The gap between health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) is narrowing. On a 1,000-point scale, HMOs scored an 804 versus PPOs, which scored a 794. In 2017, the gap was 20 points—810 points for HMOs and 790 for PPOs.

Beem notes that HMO members are significantly more likely than PPO members to gather information in general and are significantly more likely to use existing relationships, health plan ratings, advertising and news media to make decisions. 

"Encouraging potential PPO members to gather information regarding their coverage is critical to a plan positioning itself for success. PPO members are nearly twice as likely as HMO members to not gather information. PPO members who do not gather information have significantly lower overall customer satisfaction than those who do (767 vs. 799)," Beem said.

People who have been MA members with the same plan for the longest seemed the most satisfied, with an overall customer satisfaction rating of 822 for those with a plan that was nine to 11 years old. Almost 60% of plan members have only been with their current plan for less than five years. About 84% of respondents did not switch plans this year, but for those who did, cost was the most frequent reason.

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However, J.D. Power found people who switch plans for cost-related reasons only have lower satisfaction scores (777) than those who switch for other reasons (808).

There are several attributes in plans that consistently receive lower scores from members. Aside from cost, communication is ranked at the top. Less than 9% of MA members say they’ve experienced all three of the study’s effective communication indicators.

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan ranked at the top of the list of MA plans with a score of 833, beating out Highmark with a score of 818 and Humana at 803. Respondents ranked the six factors in a plan in order of importance: coverage and benefits (29%), provider choice (17%), cost (15%), customer service (15%), information and communication (12%) and billing and payment (12%).