Medicare’s New Plan Finder Could Boost Insurers’ Advantage Enrollment

October 8, 2019

courtesy of NAELA eBulletin:
Bruce Japsen Senior Contributor

Myriad upgrades to the way seniors choose Medicare health plans and drug coverage online could boost already fast-growing private Medicare Advantage enrollment.

Calling the upgrades  the first in a decade, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)  Tuesday announced a new “Medicare Plan Finder” on the government’s Medicare.gov web site that allows 60 million seniors and others with Medicare coverage to shop and compare Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D drug plans.

“The new Plan Finder walks users through the Medicare Advantage and Part D enrollment process from start to finish and allows people to view and compare many of the supplemental benefits that Medicare Advantage plans offer,” CMS said in a  statement Tuesday morning.

CMS said seniors can compare pricing and plan options between original Medicare, supplemental policies and Medicare Advantage plans. And they can also “compare up to three drug plans or three Medicare Advantage plans side-by-side,” CMS said.

The upgrades will be welcome to seniors, but also to health insurance companies as they invest billions of dollars in their own upgrades and medical care provider networks to offer seniors private Medicare Advantage coverage.

“CMS’ Medicare Plan Finder redesign could boost Medicare Advantage enrollment by reducing the complexity of the purchase process,” says Andrew Kadar with L.E.K. Consulting, which has projected enrollment of seniors in private Medicare Advantage plans could reach 70% of those eligible for federal health benefits for the elderly between 2030 and 2040, a new report shows.

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans surpassed 22 million in 2018, which is 35% of total Medicare beneficiaries.

The new plan finder and related technology upgrades come ahead of annual open enrollment when seniors begin in October to choose their plans for 2020. The new plan finder also comes as health insurers including Anthem, CVS Health’s Aetna health insurance unit, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth Group are expanding sales of Medicare Advantage plans into new states, counties and regions. Meanwhile, several startups and new entrants including Bright Health and medical care provider plans are also expanding while some companies like Oscar Health, best known for sales of individual Obamacare coverage, are going to be selling Medicare Advantage for the first time.

Medicare Advantage plans provide extra benefits and services to seniors, such as disease management and nurse help hotlines, as well as some plans providing vision and dental care. But the Trump administration via CMS has changed the rules for Medicare Advantage plans to allow them to cover more supplemental health benefits beyond what Medicare Advantage typically covers.

Though open enrollment is more than a month away, CMS wants seniors and others to try out the plan finder and offer feedback in the meantime.

“We want consumers to have the best tool possible when open enrollment begins on October 15,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said. “Try it out and let us know what you think.”