94% of Seniors Satisfied with Medicare Advantage — But Many Still Don’t Know About Managed Care

Medicare Advantage, a frequent source of headaches for skilled nursing operators, remains overwhelmingly popular among seniors, according to a new poll — and its growth has come even as many enrollees remain unaware of their options when they turn 65.

About 94% of seniors with Medicare Advantage plans reported being “satisfied,” a poll commissioned by the Better Medicare Alliance found; that figure includes 65% of respondents who reported being “very satisfied.”

“A lot of beneficiaries are actually quite happy with their coverage and care,” Allyson Schwartz, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Medicare Advantage advocacy group, told Skilled Nursing News.

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The poll, conducted by market research firm Morning Consult on behalf of the group, also found that 94% of seniors were satisfied with their choice of doctors, 84% were happy with their plans’ wellness programs, and 80% were satisfied with their co-pays and deductibles.

Those sunny numbers mirror overall trends in Medicare Advantage enrollment figures, which have shown steady adoption among seniors: The public-private plans now cover 34% of all eligible beneficiaries, according to the most recent set of data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. For comparison, that number sat at just 24% at the start of this decade, and is projected to grow at a rate of about 4% each year.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

That trend hasn’t necessarily been good news for skilled nursing operators, as Medicare Advantage plans generally pay lower daily rates for post-acute care services, while also enforcing substantially shorter lengths of stay, than traditional fee-for-service Medicare. The rise of such plans has been blamed for the financial headwinds currently buffeting the skilled nursing industry, along with declining Medicaid reimbursements and a persistent staffing shortage.

But for many seniors, the chance to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan — which can potentially bring them savings in the form of lower co-pays and an out-of-pocket cost cap — is difficult to pass up.

“From a financial point of view, especially for modest-income seniors or those living on a fixed income — which is just about everybody — the financial benefits could be significant,” Schwartz, a former Democratic U.S. representative from Pennsylvania, said.

Having a core team of physicians that are encouraged to work together across settings also leads to consumer satisfaction with MA, according to Schwartz; in addition, insurers are increasingly offering a wide range of supplementary benefits, such as adult day services and in-home care, designed to keep residents in the community as long as possible.

“They do like their doctors and providers,” she said. “They like the care coordination. They like the doctors talking to each other, and they like to be under more coordinated care.”

The Better Medicare Alliance survey also revealed that the significant recent growth in Medicare Advantage has come despite the fact that seniors aren’t immediately aware of their supplementary options. About 45% reported not knowing about MA when they initially turned 65 and became eligible for the plans, and a third enrolled in regular Medicare said they wish they’d known more about MA from the start.

People tend to switch to a supplemental MA plan after a few years of traditional FFS enrollment, a situation that Schwartz ascribed to a general lack of information promoting the plans to seniors. For instance, incoming beneficiaries receive a notification regarding their Medicare Advantage options three months before they turn 65, she said, while the Social Security Administration directs enrollees to a website without providing any additional information.

“They just didn’t know about it, or the decision was overwhelming,” she said. “If you’ve ever tried signing up for Medicare, it’s not as straightforward as people think going into it.”

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