New Study Shows Why the Coronavirus Pandemic is Leading Many Americans to Enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan For 2021

Key Findings 1 35% are enrolled in a MA plan for 2021 because they’ve had it before and prefer it, 29% like the prescription drug coverage, 16% like the affordability, and 9% like the supplemental benefits. 2 Of those who decided on a MA plan because of supplemental benefits, 35% cited COVID-19 supplemental benefits specifically, […]

Key Findings

  • 1 35% are enrolled in a MA plan for 2021 because they’ve had it before and prefer it, 29% like the prescription drug coverage, 16% like the affordability, and 9% like the supplemental benefits.
  • 2 Of those who decided on a MA plan because of supplemental benefits, 35% cited COVID-19 supplemental benefits specifically, while 27% cited telehealth benefits.
  • 3 45% are switching from an original Medicare plan in 2020 to a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021.
  • 4 Of those enrolled in a MA plan for 2021, 65% compared all of their Medicare options before enrolling, while 26% did a “brief amount of research.”

From October 15th to December 7th, eligible Americans can enroll in a Medicare plan for 2021. 

They can opt for original Medicare (parts A and B), or they can have their benefits delivered through a Medicare Advantage plan (part C)

The latter, which is offered through private insurers, has steadily grown in popularity in recent years as it can be more cost-effective, flexible, and usually will include Part D prescription drug coverage. 

Out of 67.7 million Medicare beneficiaries in the United States in 2020, roughly 24 million (36%) are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, which represented a 9% year-over-year increase. By 2030, the Congressional Budget Office projects that 51% of all Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. 

And with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to ravage the nation, it looks like Medicare Advantage plans will become even more popular according to findings from a recent study conducted by MedicareAdvantagePlans.org.

Why Are Americans Moving Towards Medicare Advantage Plans?

Here at MedicareAdvantagePlans.org, we surveyed adult Americans that are eligible for Medicare and already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan for 2021.

First, we wanted to uncover why these consumers have opted for a Medicare Advantage plan for the upcoming year…

As mentioned earlier, Medicare Advantage plans are becoming in vogue because they are cost-effective, flexible, and will oftentimes include Part D prescription drug coverage so the three most populated answers found in the pie chart come as no surprise. 

The next most-populated answer, “I like the supplemental benefits that are included in a Medicare Advantage plan,” is where things get more interesting, especially considering the pandemic we currently find ourselves in. 

Supplemental benefits are a big reason why many Americans are switching to Medicare Advantage plans. 

They do not need to be provided by Medicare providers or at Medicare-certified facilities, but only need to abide by the rules laid out by a specific Medicare Advantage plan. Popular supplemental benefits include vision, dental, over-the-counter benefits, and fitness.

Supplemental benefits have become such an important selling point for Medicare Advantage plans that there will be a 64% year-over-year increase in the number of Medicare Advantage  plans that are offering such benefits in 2021. 

And as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 34% of Medicare Advantage plans are now offering COVID-19-related supplemental benefits in 2021, which includes covering costs for things like testing, PPE, and care packages. 

Amongst our survey respondents that indicated supplemental benefits as the reason they are enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan for 2021, here’s how many cited COVID-19-related supplemental benefits specifically…

Other than the common supplemental benefits, like dental and vision, that respondents cited, “COVID-19 related supplemental benefits” was one of the most populated answer choices as 35% of respondents that were drawn to a Medicare Advantage plan cited this type of supplemental benefit specifically.

In regards to how the coronavirus pandemic is shaping the Medicare Advantage plan market, it’s also noteworthy that 27% of applicable respondents pointed to a telehealth supplemental benefit.

With people trying to limit their exposure to potential COVID-19 hotspots, like a doctor’s office, the telehealth industry has boomed so it’s easy to understand why many Medicare Advantage beneficiaries have become more attracted to this supplemental benefit.

Medicare Advantage plans were already surging in popularity, but it looks like the coronavirus pandemic will further catalyze that surge because beneficiaries can likely have their COVID-19 related costs covered through specific supplemental benefits.

Many Beneficiaries Are Switching From Original Medicare Plans to Medicare Advantage Plans

The data shows Medicare Advantage plans are becoming more and more popular with each passing year. 

Compared to original Medicare plans, Medicare Advantage plans can be more cost-effective, while still offering prescription drug coverage and a variety of supplemental benefits.

And according to our survey data, eligible Americans want to experience the possible benefits of a Medicare Advantage plan for themselves as many are switching from original Medicare coverage in 2020 to a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021…

Nearly half of all 2021 Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, 45% to be exact, are making the switch from their original Medicare coverage in 2020. 

Further, 52% indicated they are not making the same switch, which likely indicates they were happy with their Medicare Advantage plan in 2020 and want to keep it for the new year.

When looking at this data and other external sources, all signs point to Medicare Advantage plans continuing to increase in popularity as eligible Americans look for more flexible coverage options outside of what original Medicare coverage can offer.

Are Medicare Advantage Beneficiaries Simply Doing More Research?

A recent story by The New York Times discussed how the Medicare marketplace has become more competitive as of late, especially with the rollout of Medicare Advantage plans, and that enrollees would benefit the most by doing their research and pricing out the market.

However, the story cited a recent study that found 57% of Medicare enrollees don’t review or compare their coverage options annually, including 46% who “never” or “rarely” revisit their plans.

This isn’t great news when you think about all the consumers out there that are possibly missing out on Medicare Advantage benefits because they either don’t know what they are or understand how it could be better (or more cost-effective) for them.

Interestingly, when we asked our Medicare Advantage enrollees if they’ve done their research, here’s what we found…

As it turns out, 65% of respondents indicated they always compare all available options, while another 26% said they did a brief amount of research.

Only 7% said they never or rarely do any research before enrolling.

What can be drawn from this? 91% of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries do some amount of research before selecting their plan while the New York Times story found 57% of all Medicare enrollees never did any research, so perhaps if every eligible consumer did their homework before enrolling we would have far more opting for a Medicare Advantage plan.

Is it possible that the benefits of Medicare Advantage plans so outweigh original Medicare coverage that all it takes is a bit of research to understand which option is generally more consumer-friendly?

Methodology

The data from this report comes from an online survey administered by online survey platform Pollfish. The survey was created and paid for by MedicareAdvantagePlans.org. In total, 700 adult Americans that were eligible for Medicare in 2021 and enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan for 2021 were surveyed on the questions found in this report. By using screener questions, we were able to find adult Americans that were eligible for Medicare in 2021 and enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021.

Survey Results

Before enrolling in Medicare for 2021, did you review or compare your available coverage options before eventually enrolling in a specific program? 

  • Yes, I always compare all available options. (65%)
  • I did a brief amount of research before enrolling. (26%)
  • No, I never or rarely do any research on my options before enrolling. (7%)
  • I’d rather not say. (1%)

Are you switching from another Medicare plan in 2020 to a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021?

  • Yes (45%)
  • No (52%)
  • I’d rather not say. (3%)

Why are you going with a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021?

  • I’ve had a Medicare Advantage plan before and prefer it. (35%)
  • I like that the Medicare Advantage plan includes prescription drug coverage. (29%)
  • It’s more affordable than a standard Medicare plan. (16%)
  • This is my first time hearing about Medicare Advantage plans and I like it. (8%)
  • I like the supplemental benefits that are included in a Medicare Advantage plan. (9%)
  • Other/None of the above (5%)

(If applicable) What specific supplemental benefits encouraged you to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan? (SELECT ALL THAT APPLY)

  • COVID-19 related supplemental benefits (testing, PPE, care package, etc.) (35%)
  • Acupuncture (13%)
  • Dental (62%)
  • Fitness (28%)
  • Hearing (25%)
  • In-home support services (23%)
  • Meals (22%)
  • Over-the-counter benefits (38%)
  • Telehealth (27%)
  • Transportation (30%)
  • Vision (52%)
  • None of the above (12%)