Survey: Seniors select BCBS Medicare plans based on brand familiarity, disregard star ratings

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When it comes to selecting Medicare plans, star ratings have little impact on seniors' decisions. Instead, they tend to focus more on the brand's familiarity and track record, according to a recent survey from HealthPocket.

HealthPocket looked at star ratings--which are on a 5-star scale, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best--for Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) Medicare plans to determine whether their quality carried out across the Blues' brand, and how knowledge of the brand's reputation impacted consumers' choices. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) assesses star ratings based on a variety of quality metrics. 

Here's a rundown of what the HealthPocket survey found.

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  • Overall star ratings for plans ranged from 2.4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars. The best plan had an 80 percent higher quality rating than the worst Blue Cross plan.

  • BCBS companies had an overall star rating of 3.60. While Blues' plans prove to be popular, this average score is slightly lower than the average star rating for Medicare plans in general. By and large, consumers want Medicare Advantage plans with high ratings, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. 

  • BCBS' average star rating was higher than UnitedHealthcare (3.38), but below Humana (3.95) and Aetna (3.82).

  • Because CMS has the authority to sanction low-quality Medicare contracts, CMS sanctioned two Part C contracts and one Part D contract from CapitalBlue Cross for failing to adhere to CMS' requirements. Both Medicare Advantage contracts had ratings of 4, but in light of the sanctions, the ratings dropped to 2.5. The insurer accounted for 50 percent of all sanctioned Medicare contracts in 2015.

HealthPocket concluded that, based on the results, quality is not the same across all BCBS plans. While the difference in quality is not surprising--there are 37 companies under BCBS' umbrella--many consumers do not realize BCBS is not a single company.

"Given the inconsistent quality of plans from these well-known insurers, it is important for seniors to consider quality and not just brand familiarity when they choose Medicare plans," the survey concluded.

It's possible that BCBS' long run of success could limit its ability to progress in the industry, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. But because the Affordable Care Act leveled the playing field for all insurers, a business model that was once deemed innovative may have lost some of its spark.

For more:
- here's the survey

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