Medicare Advantage looks forward to a stable new year

The Medicare Advantage (MA) market appears that it will remain relatively stable in 2017, undergoing limited changes in average premiums, plan offerings, and insurer participation, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Issue Brief. While KFF determined that factors like plan availability, premiums, out-of-pocket limits, and other plan features, suggest a stable market, the Issue Brief warns that lawmakers’ plans proposing to transform Medicare into a “premium support system” could have uncertain consequences for both plans and beneficiaries.

Plans

The Issue Brief points to the following highlights for MA plans in 2017:

  • with a total of 2,034 MA plans offered in 2017, the average MA beneficiary will be able to choose between 19 plans (a number which has remained stable since 2012);
  • the average MA beneficiary will have a choice of plans offered by six firms;
  • enrollees in MA prescription drug plans (MA-PDs) who stay in the same plan between 2016 and 2017, will experience, on average, a premiums increase of 4 percent;
  • premiums remain relatively flat while out-of-pocket costs for Part A and B benefits have increased by 25 percent, since 2011, to $5,332 in 2017; and
  • about 41 percent of MA plans are rated as 4 stars or higher in 2017.

Shortcomings

The Issue Brief notes that it remains difficult for consumers and researchers to obtain the information necessary to allow plan comparisons. Specifically, it is difficult to find data to compare plan networks, cost sharing, extra benefits, or the performance of individual plans on quality and efficiency metrics. Access to such material could be helpful in strengthening program oversight and assisting consumers with making appropriate plan choices.

Medicare Transformation

KFF acknowledges that some lawmakers are planning to build off of the MA model to transform Medicare into a “premium support system.” The Issue Brief warns that such a transformation would constitute a significant departure from the status quo, in terms of altering federal payments to plans and plans’ financial incentives—changes with unknown impact for Medicare and its beneficiaries.