Medicare Advantage enrollees happier with plans than FFS beneficiaries

An online poll of 3,975 Medicare beneficiaries conducted from March 23 to March 26, 2015, revealed high satisfaction with federal health care plans. A glance at the numbers shows that overall, those with traditional Medicare as just as happy with plans as those with Medicare Advantage (MA). However, when questions were presented about various plan particulars, those with MA reported much higher satisfaction.

Plan aspects

When asked about benefits, MA enrollees reported an 11 percent increase in satisfaction rate over those with Medicare. The trend continued to varying degrees for choice of providers, coordination of care, drug coverage, costs, preventive care, and simplifying the health process. No individual plan aspects received higher satisfaction rates for Medicare than MA. The highest rate of variation was for drug coverage, with only 54 percent of Medicare enrollees reporting satisfaction while 81 percent in MA were satisfied. The lowest reported satisfaction rate for MA was for out-of-pocket costs, at 72 percent (66 percent for Medicare).

Funding issues

A Medicare expert at the Urban Institute, Robert Berenson, noted that the federal government takes over some of the increased costs for MA enrollees, who generally get more benefits and are required to pay less out of pocket. Traditional Medicare enrollees, according to Berenson, are usually poorer and sicker than those with MA, and this might explain a more negative view of insurance and health care. Almost a third of all Medicare program seniors are enrolled in MA plans, indicating an increase of more than 40 percent over the last five years. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) cut government funding to MA to allow for other health care expansion (see MA beneficiaries face cuts in 2015, despite agency mitigation, Health Reform WK-EDGE, April 23, 2014). According to a bulletin from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) last year, MA was to receive $156 billion less in funding over the next decade. Recently, Congress and insurers have united to protest reductions in payment rates.