KFF: Small share of Medicare Advantage and Part D enrollees switched up plans

Medicare enrollment form and pen
A new analysis found that Medicare Advantage and Part D beneficiaries rarely switched plans from 2016 to 2017, which could be a distressing trend. (Getty/zimmytws)

Only a small share of Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D beneficiaries switched their health plans during the 2016 and 2017 open enrollment, even though plan options expanded, a new analysis found.

The analysis released Monday by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation comes as the open 2020 enrollment period for Medicare ends Dec. 7 and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has taken heat for complications with its new Plan Finder feature.

From 2016 to 2017, only 8% of MA enrollees voluntarily switched their plans while 88% stayed put and 3% involuntarily switched. During that same period, only 10% of Part D plan holders switched and 90% did not.

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MA and Part D enrollees on low-income subsidies were also hesitant to switch, as only 7.6% picked a new plan from 2016 to 2017. 

The analysis didn’t conclude why seniors are so reluctant to make plan changes. Kaiser speculated that one reason could be that beneficiaries are generally satisfied with their current plan and don’t want to move to a new plan.

But another reason could be that seniors “find the process of comparing plans too challenging, are unaware of the open enrollment period, or have limited confidence in their ability to choose a better plan,” Kaiser’s analysis said.

A 2014 Kaiser study found that many beneficiaries didn’t want to switch plans because the process was frustrating.

CMS has taken strides to improve plan selection as the number of MA plans has increased in recent years. MA rates for the 2020 coverage year were the lowest since 2007, and the number of plan choices per county increased from 33 plans in 2019 to 39 in 2020, CMS announced last month.

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The agency also rolled out a new plan finder for Part D, MA and traditional Medicare plans.

But consumer advocates charge that the plan finder has given seniors wrong cost information and other inaccurate information, according to a report from ProPublica.

CMS shot back on recent reports by stressing that the plan finder “has experienced no outages since it was launched.” The agency said that it displays the most accurate information on premiums, deductibles and cost-sharing for MA and drug plans.

The agency added that seniors can call the 1-800-MEDICARE hotline to get information on finding a plan.

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