News & Commentary

Medicare Advantage Enrollment Rocks On


Even as the health insurance industry comes under increasing political fire (Medicare for All, anyone?), it continues to lure beneficiaries into Medicare Advantage, with 2019 looking to be the best year ever for the program.

Of course, as has been noted, MA plans may have an unfair advantage over traditional Medicare. MA plans bid against a benchmark determined by the government that’s based on how much it costs to care for beneficiaries in a county. But some experts argue that the benchmarks—and other pricing mechanisms—are way too generous and pay the MA plans too much.

While policymakers sort that out (if they ever sort it out), MA plans are letting the good times roll. “Health insurers are reporting unprecedented growth in the number of seniors flocking to private Medicare Advantage plans amid talk of a single payer government-run approach that could uproot such coverage,” Forbes reported.

Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who is vying for her party’s 2020 presidential nomination, said recently that she’s quite willing to do away with the insurance industry and offer Medicare for All. Other Democratic presidential hopefuls are playing it coy.

The industry won’t go down without a fight. America’s Health Insurance Plans released a poll (could you pass that grain of salt?) showing that two thirds of Americans like the health care system just the way it is. The poll of 1,756 U.S. adults also showed that 86% are concerned about the increasing costs of prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, Anthem reported that enrollment in its MA plans jumped by 35%, to more than 1 million at the end of last year, compared with 746,000 at the end of 2017.

UnitedHealth Group now has 4.9 million MA enrollees, a 12% jump from the 4.4 million it had at the end of 2017.

Humana, with 3.9 million members, expects to add 375,000 to 400,000 bene­ficiaries to its MA rolls, representing 12% to 13% growth, company officials told financial analysts on February 6. Humana credits the growth, in part, to its joint venture with Walgreens Boots Alliance, which includes clinics inside Walgreens stores.

Even Cigna, which does not have much of a footprint in the MA marketplace now but vows that will change, showed a slight uptick in enrollment, about 1% (from 432,000 to 436,000).