More beneficiaries are switching to Medicare Advantage plans than traditional Medicare plans, partly driving higher enrollment in Medicare Advantage (MA), a new research shows.
That’s a reversal from a few years ago, the study, published in JAMA Health Forum, found. From 2015 to 2016, the switch rate from MA to traditional Medicare was 4.6%, compared to 4.1% for traditional Medicare to MA. This changed from 2016 to 2017, when the switch rate from MA to traditional Medicare was 3.7% and 5.3% for traditional Medicare to MA. The gap widened over the years: in 2019-2020, the rate of switching from MA to traditional Medicare was 2%, compared to 6.8% the other way around.
KNG Health Consulting researchers relied on the limited primary beneficiary data sets from 2014 to 2020 from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to conduct the study. They examined change by demographic group, Medicare-Medicaid enrollment status, and mortality status.
Enrollment in graduate programs has grown dramatically in the past few years, representing 46% of the total Medicare population in 2021, up from 19% in 2007. It is expected to cross the 50% mark in 2023, it said in the report. That increase was driven by both more traditional Medicare beneficiaries switching to MA plans and new enrollees choosing MA plans, according to the report.
“Medicare switching behavior has changed over time, with switching to MA accounting for more of the increase in MA enrollment,” the researchers wrote.
Differences in switching rates were higher when broken down by dual eligibility status, the researchers found. In 2019 to 2020, the MA to traditional Medicare was 1.6%, compared to 6.1% the other way around. For Medicare-Medicaid beneficiaries, the transition rate was 4.5% for MA to traditional Medicare and 11.2% for traditional to MA.
Black and Hispanic beneficiaries switched more than white beneficiaries, the study also found. In 2020, 13.4% of black beneficiaries and 13.5% of Hispanic beneficiaries opted out of traditional Medicare and moved to MA, compared to 5.9% of white beneficiaries. Patterns also varied by age and mortality status, although not much by sex.
“Transition may be related to changes in health status, inclusion of additional services in MA, cost considerations, and access to specialist health care clinicians,” the researchers said. “The observed trends may reflect the increasing importance of access to non-[traditional Medicare] benefits in MA, cost considerations among beneficiaries, and differences in enrollment preferences of black and Hispanic beneficiaries compared with white beneficiaries.”
Traditional Medicare beneficiaries and MA beneficiaries show similar levels of satisfaction, found a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report. However, MA enrollees were more likely to have a usual source of care and were more likely to receive preventive care, while traditional Medicare enrollees were more likely to use home health services, skilled nursing services, or post-acute care in a hospital.
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