Increase in Medicare Advantage Plans Means Lower Prices for Beneficiaries

Published December 6, 2018

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage has doubled since 2010, to more than 20 million, growing from one-quarter of Medicare recipients to more than one-third, a Kaiser Family Foundation study reported. The current number of enrollees is three times as many as in 2005.

Administrator Seema Verma of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says these numbers are expected to increase further, with CMS “projecting all-time record enrollment of 22.6 million beneficiaries for 2019.”

Next year, the number of MA plans will increase to 2,734, an increase of 400 compared to 2018, including a 13 percent increase in special-needs plans (SNPs). The number of companies offering MA plans is also increasing, with 14 new payers joining in 2019.

More Options, Lower Premiums

As options are increasing for MA beneficiaries, premiums are decreasing. CMS reported average MA premiums are expected to be the lowest they have been in three years, decreasing 6 percent from their 2018 level. Nearly half of all MA beneficiaries will pay $0 in monthly premiums, and 90 percent of beneficiaries will have access to MA prescription drug plans with no premiums.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar says these reductions can be attributed to the increase in competition.

“Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage demonstrate the successes possible when we harness consumer choice and private-sector innovation to improve care and lower cost,” Azar said in a statement.

Widespread Access

Arianna Wilkerson, a state government relations manager with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says access to these plans will be widespread, providing a boon to beneficiaries.

“Virtually all Medicare recipients will have access to these plans,” Wilkerson said. “The average recipient has access to 24 plans. Although 250 counties will only have access to two or fewer plans and 115 counties will not have access to any MA plan, these numbers are comparatively small. Significant progress has been made in consumer choice, and the increase in plans in 2019 indicates more access in the future.”

‘A Win for Everyone’

MA benefits taxpayers as well as Medicare beneficiaries, Wilkerson says.

“More options in the MA market will mean Medicare recipients can choose a plan that strikes the right personal balance between affordability and comprehensiveness,” Wilkerson said. “Payers are encouraged to differentiate their plans, because consumers have the ability to choose those plans that work best for them, which results in more competition in the market and is a win for everyone, including taxpayers, because more competition means lower costs.”

Nicole Staley (Nicole.staley24@gmail. com) writes from Pensacola, Florida.