More Than Half of All People on Medicare Do Not Compare Their Coverage Options Annually

Nov 10, 2020 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

Each year, people with Medicare have the opportunity to review their coverage options and change plans during the open enrollment period (October 15 to December 7). Medicare beneficiaries with traditional Medicare can compare and switch Medicare Part D stand-alone drug plans or join a Medicare Advantage plan, while enrollees in Medicare Advantage can compare and switch Medicare Advantage plans or elect coverage under traditional Medicare instead. Kaiser Family Foundation analysis shows that only a small share of Medicare beneficiaries voluntarily switch plans. This “stickiness” may indicate that beneficiaries are satisfied with their current coverage, but it may also indicate that many people on Medicare find it difficult to compare plans, are unaware of the open enrollment period, or are not confident in their ability to select a better plan.

In 2018, 43% of all Medicare beneficiaries reported they review or compare Medicare coverage options at least once every year, and 57% reported that they do not review or compare options annually. This latter group includes 24% who never compare plans, 22% of beneficiaries who rarely compare plans, 8% who compare once every few years, and 3% who compared only once when they first signed up for Medicare or their Prescription Drug Plan. The share of Medicare beneficiaries who do not annually review their coverage options is higher among people ages 85 and older, with lower incomes, lower education levels, and in fair or poor health.

While most people on Medicare say it was very easy (23%) or somewhat easy (46%) to understand the Medicare program, about one in three people with Medicare overall (30%) said the Medicare program was somewhat difficult (23%) or very difficult (7%) to understand. Four in ten (41%) Medicare beneficiaries in fair or poor health reported it was somewhat or very difficult to understand the Medicare program, compared to 28% of beneficiaries in good, very good, or excellent health.

The marketplace of Medicare private plans operates on the premise that people with Medicare will compare plans to select the best source of coverage, given their individual needs and circumstances. With a growing number of Medicare private plan choices available each year, the fact that such a large share of seniors and people with disabilities are not comparing coverage options each year warrants attention, given the potential consequences of these decisions.

You can find the full KFF report here.


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