Here's what major national payers are offering in Medicare Advantage for 2022

Medicare Advantage
National payers are putting a focus on supplemental benefits in the wake of COVID-19 as well as aiming to provide additional low-cost options for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries. (Getty/designer491)

Medicare Advantage (MA) open enrollment begins Oct. 15, and major national payers are outlining their plans for the coming year.

The market is one of the hottest in the insurance industry and is a key growth target for many insurers. Recent Kaiser Family Foundation data show that enrollment in MA plans has more than doubled over the past decade, reaching more than 26 million members, or about 42% of the Medicare population.

Options are growing for members as the market heats up; KFF found that for the 2021 plan year, beneficiaries had access to 33 different plans, the most ever.

RELATED: Medicare Advantage premiums to decline slightly in 2022, Part D to rise by nearly 5%

Here's a look at what several big insurers have planned for 2022.

UnitedHealthcare set to reach 94% of Medicare eligibles

The nation's largest private insurer is expanding its reach in MA to 276 additional counties for the 2022 plan year, meaning an additional 3.1 million Medicare beneficiaries will have access to UnitedHealthcare plans during open enrollment.

UHC said it's expanded geographic footprint will reach 94% of Medicare eligibles. It currently boasts 7.3 million MA members.

“Medicare Advantage plans continue to evolve in new and exciting ways. But what we consistently hear from our members and Medicare consumers overall is that they crave stability of benefits and a hassle-free experience that gets them the care and coverage they need at a price they can afford,” said Tim Noel, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, in a statement.

“We challenge ourselves every year to strike that balance of meaningful innovation in our offerings with plan predictability, broad value and the distinctive experience our members have come to expect from UnitedHealthcare. And I believe we hit the mark on that again this year," Noel said.

RELATED: UnitedHealthcare expects to add 900K Medicare members this year

A key focus in designing benefits was prescription drug affordability, UnitedHealthcare said. For example, more than 70% of current members and 90% of eligible consumers will have access to tier 1 drugs with a $0 copayment, up from 30% and 59%, respectively, in the 2021 plan year.

In addition, most plans will offer $0 copays for tier 1 and tier 2 drugs ordered through Optum's mail order pharmacy, and the insurer is taking steps to support members who may be in the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

Most members will see premiums stay flat or decrease, with nearly 3 million people enrolled in plans with $0 premiums, UnitedHealthcare said.

The insurer is also investing in new programs that target the social determinants of health or offer members greater options in how they receive their care. A unified member card, called UCard, will combine over-the-counter and food benefits cards with the member's ID card and can be used to redeem benefits or rewards at 30,000 retail locations.

Most plans will also include HouseCalls, which will offer one free in-home visit from a clinician per year, which includes social needs assessments and testing options for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hepatitis D.

Anthem puts focus on supplemental benefits

Anthem will expand into 154 new counties for 2022, reaching an additional 1.5 million Medicare eligibles, said Elena McFann, president of Anthem's Medicare business, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare.

In addition, the insurer is expanding its product and plan lineups across 800 counties it currently serves, offering additional choice to some 24 million Medicare beneficiaries, McFann noted.

Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, the company is putting a key focus on its Essential Extras benefits, which offer members a choice from a slew of potential supplemental benefits. Members can select one of the benefits at no additional cost, with options ranging from food benefits to home care to transportation.

McFann said that in designing the 2022 slate of Essential Extras options, Anthem looked to the supplemental benefits that have shown to be able to make a significant difference in how its members think about and manage their health.

RELATED: CMS suspends Part D enrollment in 2022 for UnitedHealth, Anthem MA plans

"If you think about the mission that we have here at Anthem, particularly with regard to our Medicare members, it’s really about focusing on whole health," she said.

New benefit options this year include the Flex Card, which will offer members a $500 stipend to buy dental, vision or hearing services and related items, which would be on top of what's already included in their selected plan. The goal, Anthem said, is to offer members flexibility in where they choose to spend those funds.

Members can also now select a Healthy Groceries card, on which up to $50 per month will be offered to use at participating stores. This will reduce their monthly out-of-pocket expenses on food, Anthem said.

Another new option for the 2022 plan year is 60 hours of in-home support including light housekeeping, errands and tech support. McFann said this benefit also aims to provide companionship, which has become increasingly important to members who are isolated due to COVID.

Options that return from previous years include a health and fitness tracker, transportation, pest control and healthy meal delivery.

Cigna plans another year of record expansion

Cigna is planning its third straight year of record growth in MA, adding 108 new counties and moving into three new states: Connecticut, Oregon and Washington. The insurer has increased its MA footprint by 80% since 2017.

Overall for 2022, Cigna's MA footprint will include 477 counties across 26 states and the District of Columbia. Each market will have at least one plan with a $0 premium, Cigna said.

Plans will also offer $0 copays for virtual primary care, behavioral health care and physical therapy, the insurer said. Christine Leo, vice president of Medicare product for Cigna, told Fierce Healthcare that the impacts of COVID-19 were a factor in weighing which benefits to include in 2022, particularly around virtual care and telehealth.

"Many older adults have had virtual care visits during the pandemic, and they have indicated to us their desire to continue them even after the pandemic ends," Leo said.

RELATED: Cordani: Cigna's Medicare Advantage enrollment up 11% year over year

New program offerings for 2022 include the addition of the Senior Savings Model to several plans, capping the cost of insulin at $35 per month regardless of which coverage phase the member is in. 

Through the Social Connection Program, Cigna MA members in certain regions can connect with a partner who will assist them with key activities of daily living such as transportation, meal prep and chores. These partners will also spend time with the beneficiaries to assist with isolation, for example simply talking or watching a movie together.

Leo said loneliness has been a focus across Cigna for some time, and the pandemic has further exacerbated that challenge. Isolation can significantly impact health, she said.

"It made sense to extend this work to older adults who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic," Leo said. "Many have been isolated."

Cigna also said it will consolidate Express Scripts' slate of Medicare prescription drug plans for the 2022 plan year, making three options available: Cigna Secure Rx, Cigna Essential Rx and Cigna Extra Rx. Each plan has unique features; Cigna Extra Rx, for example, offers a high level of coverage and savings on insulin, with $0 copays at preferred pharmacies.

All three plans have options for $0 copays on select drugs ordered through preferred home delivery.

Aetna grows affordable plan options

Aetna, a subsidiary of CVS Health, will expand its $0 premium MA plan options for the 2022 plan year, the insurer said. It estimates that 84% of Medicare eligibles nationwide will have the option to select a $0 premium plan from Aetna for the coming year.

It will expand its Medicare Advantage plans into 83 new counties, reaching an additional 1 million beneficiaries. All told for the 2022 plan year, it will offer plans in 1,875 counties, reaching 53.2 million Medicare eligibles.

More than 2.9 million people are currently enrolled in an Aetna MA plan. Aetna serves 9.8 million Medicare beneficiaries through its suite of Medicare products including prescription drug plans, dual eligible plans and Medicare Eagle Plans for veterans.

“The pandemic continues to disrupt so many aspects of our lives, including our health and well-being,” said Christopher Ciano, president of Aetna Medicare, in a statement.

RELATED: Aetna says 2021 Medicare Advantage plans spotlight members' 'total health'

“While we’re still focused on protecting our members from COVID-19, we also want to help improve their overall physical and mental health," Ciano said. "That’s why we expanded our Aetna Medicare Solutions portfolio of products to include more benefits designed to make care more affordable, accessible and convenient."

Aetna is also planning to grow the reach of its Medicare Eagle plans for 2022, making them available in 41 states and 1,151 counties to more than 5.8 million veterans of Medicare age. All of these plans will feature $0 premiums, $0 primary care copayments, dental benefits, hearing benefits, an over-the-counter allowance, access to the SilverSneakers fitness program and $0 lab copayments.

In select Medicare plans in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Aetna will be responsible for members' full cost of medical care and hospice services. 

Aetna said it will cover telehealth for primary, urgent and specialty care provided by a doctor in all of its 2022 MA plans, including coverage for behavioral health. Network providers such as CVS MinuteClinic and Teladoc are available around-the-clock for virtual visits.

Seventy-seven plans across 28 states will include a Healthy Foods benefit card, with an allowance toward nutritious food options across 30,000 national retailers. Aetna also said it will partner with Papa to provide 10 hours per month of companionship at no cost in select plans across eight states.