Medicare Advantage Plan Options to Increase by 600 in 2020 as Enrollment Reaches 40%

The Trump administration continued to cheer on the growth of Medicare Advantage plans Tuesday, with the nation’s top Medicare official touting the wider array of options available to beneficiaries next year.

American seniors will have 600 additional Medicare Advantage plan choices next year, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma announced in a Twitter post as the government rolled out a long list of sunny managed Medicare statistics.

At the same time, the government projected that the average monthly plan premium will drop from $26.87 to $23 in 2020.

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“More plan options at lower costs for our beneficiaries is a result of @CMSGov providing plans more flexibilities including removing limits requiring meaningful differences among a #MedicareAdvantage Organization’s plans beginning in 2019,” Verma tweeted Tuesday morning.

That 600-option figure represents a national total; on a county-by-county level, available Medicare Advantage plan options will increase from an average of 33 to 39, a boost of nearly 50% since 2017. CMS also projected record-high enrollment in fiscal 2020 of 24.4 million, or about 40% of the approximately 60 million Medicare-eligible seniors — a gain from 22.2 million in the current fiscal year and a 30.6% jump from 2017.

“President Trump has promised American patients a system with affordable, personalized health care, a system that puts you in control, provides peace of mind, and treats you like a human being, not a number,” Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said in a statement announcing the stats.

The government estimates for 2020 confirm a long-running trend in senior care, as more and more Medicare beneficiaries opt for the added benefits that these public-private managed plans provide.

In addition, CMS and HHS under the Trump administration have focused on expanding the types of services that Medicare Advantage plans can cover. Back in April, officials finalized guidance that will allow MA insurers to include telehealth services as a basic benefit, freeing them to use direct federal funding to cover remote interventions — instead of having to budget for telehealth coverage out of their own income.

CMS in Tuesday’s release estimated that more than half of all plans will offer telehealth benefits in 2020, covering more than 13 million beneficiaries.

The government has also made several moves to push Medicare Advantage out of the institutional setting. In 2020, around 250 MA plans will cover such non-health expenses as meal delivery, transportation, and home upgrades, as officials seek to keep older Americans healthier and in their homes longer than in previous generations.

The rise of Medicare Advantage has presented significant challenges for skilled nursing operators more accustomed to fee-for-service Medicare, which typically pays a higher rate per patient day (PPD): As of the second quarter of this year, that gulf stands at $432 PPD for MA versus $525 for traditional Medicare, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

Operators also frequently point to shorter lengths of stay: While SNF residents covered under Medicare spent an average of 38 days in the setting in 2017, their Medicare Advantage counterparts had stay lengths shorter than three weeks, advisory firm Plante Moran observed earlier this year.

Despite the negative trends for nursing homes, it’s clear that the current administration sees Medicare Advantage as the future of government-reimbursed health care; Verma used the Tuesday statement to take a shot at growing support for single-payer coverage, which has emerged as a key issue among some Democrats pursuing the party’s presidential nomination.

“On the contrast, proposals for more government through Medicare for All or a public option would only harm the progress we have made to protect and strengthen the Medicare program for future generations,” she said.