New data show Medicare Advantage beneficiaries had lower hospitalization, mortality rates for COVID-19

New data show that beneficiaries on Medicare Advantage (MA) have a 19% lower rate of hospitalizations for COVID-19 during the first nine months of the pandemic compared to traditional Medicare participants.

The data—released Thursday by MA advocacy group Better Medicare Alliance—also show that fewer MA beneficiaries died of COVID-19 compared with those on traditional Medicare.

“COVID-19 illuminated opportunities for policymakers to lean in, learn and improve our healthcare system,” said Allison Rizer, principal and lead research of ATI Advisory, the consulting firm that conducted the study. “This analysis adds to that dialogue by showing that some of the most vulnerable individuals during the pandemic may have fared better in Medicare Advantage than those in Medicare [fee-for-service].”

Researchers looked at data from the fall 2020 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. The study discovered that there were 664 COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 MA beneficiaries compared to 788 hospitalizations for those in traditional Medicare.

Fee-for-service Medicare also saw a 22% mortality rate of beneficiaries who were hospitalized with the virus, compared with 15% for those in MA.

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“Medicare Advantage beneficiaries comprised 40% of the Medicare population during the studied time frame and 36% of all Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized with COVID-19,” according to a release on the study. “By comparison, [fee-for-service] Medicare beneficiaries compared 60% of the Medicare population and 64% of hospitalizations.”

The study also showed that access to care during the pandemic among dual-eligible beneficiaries was greater among those on MA than those on traditional Medicare.

For example, 78% of dual-eligible beneficiaries on Medicare and Medicaid in MA had access to diagnostics compared to 66% for traditional Medicare. Another 58% of duals were able to get a regular checkup compared with 43% in traditional Medicare.

MA dual-eligible beneficiaries also had a slight advantage (68%) for getting treatment for an ongoing condition compared to traditional Medicare (63%).

MA and traditional Medicare beneficiaries both had roughly the same access to telehealth services, with MA beneficiaries slightly above at 50% and traditional Medicare at 48%. Telehealth use burgeoned during the pandemic after the federal government loosened restrictions on reimbursement for providers.

MA has exploded in popularity among insurers as more payers are participating ahead of open enrollment that starts next week.