MA plans serve more people with social health risk factors like food insecurity: report

Medicare Advantage plans serve beneficiaries with more social risk factors such as low incomes and food insecurity than traditional Medicare, a new report finds.

The report, published Tuesday by advocacy group Better Medicare Alliance, looks at the role of social determinants of health in traditional Medicare and the MA program. It concludes that MA plans are well positioned to tackle social determinants of health and the federal government should take that into account.

This report shows that MA is the choice for increasing numbers of enrollees with significant risk factors,” said Allyson Schwartz, president and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance, in a statement.

The report, conducted by research firm ATI Advisory, looks at results from the 2017 Medicare beneficiary survey.

It found more than half of MA beneficiaries that are below the poverty line are from a racial or ethnic minority, compared with 42% in traditional Medicare.

This higher percentage continues for beneficiaries in the next income bracket of 100% to 199% of the federal poverty level. It found that 31% of those beneficiaries were minorities compared with 20% for those in traditional Medicare.

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The report also found MA beneficiaries are more likely to have lower levels of education, which studies have shown are a strong predictor of health outcomes.

There were 19% of MA beneficiaries with less than a high school degree compared with 13.5% of traditional Medicare plan holders.

Other parts of the report include:

  • Nearly half of the lowest-income Medicare beneficiaries are food insecure. Among Medicare beneficiaries below the poverty line, 48% were in MA and 44% in traditional Medicare report not having enough money or food
  • 28% of MA beneficiaries living below the poverty line speak a language other than English compared with 24% in traditional Medicare
  • 18% of MA beneficiaries below the poverty line speak little to no English, roughly in line with 17% in traditional Medicare.

The report comes as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expands supplemental benefits for MA plans, including transportation benefits

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It recommended CMS include social risk factors in risk adjustment and in plan star ratings to enable MA plans to address social determinants of health.

Members of the Better Medicare Alliance, which lobbies Congress to improve the MA program, say the report shows the role of MA in treating more complex and at-risk individuals.

“Policymakers should look at these findings and know that when they stand up for Medicare Advantage, they are standing up for the health and financial security of their constituents who are most in need,” Schwartz said.