Seniors on Medicare Advantage less likely to have issues paying medical bills: CDC study

Seniors on traditional Medicare were more likely to be a part of a family that has problems paying medical bills compared to beneficiaries on Medicare Advantage (MA), a new study found.

But beneficiaries on MA were also more likely to struggle with medical bills compared to those on private insurance coverage.

The study, (PDF) released Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that overall the percentage of people in families that had a problem paying a medical bill decreased from nearly 20% in 2011 to 14% in 2018.

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Among adults 65 and over, the percentages of people in families that had a problem paying a medical bill in the past year were 12.4% in Medicare only and 12.3% for those in Medicare and Medicaid.

But a lower percentage of people on MA (8.3%) or private coverage (5.6%) were in a family that had trouble paying their medical bills.

The gap between private coverage and people on Medicare or MA grew among adults 75 and over. Ten percent of these adults enrolled in traditional Medicare were in families with problems paying their medical bills, and 7.2% were in MA plans.

But only 4.2% of those with private coverage reported the same.

The CDC’s analysis used data from the National Health Interview Survey, which is a household survey of the U.S. population.

RELATED: UnitedHealth: MA plan holders save nearly 40% more compared to fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries

Proponents of MA touted the study’s results as evidence that the program, which allows Medicare beneficiaries to purchase plans run by private beneficiaries, leads to cost savings.

“We are pleased that federal researchers have confirmed what we have known: Medicare Advantage delivers important cost protections to beneficiaries,” said Allyson Schwartz, president and CEO of advocacy group Better Medicare Alliance, in a statement.

The group also pointed to a July 2019 study (PDF) it commissioned that found MA beneficiaries save on average $1,276 a year in medical costs compared to beneficiaries on traditional Medicare.

MA has become an increasingly lucrative market for insurers, which have increased investment in the market.