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2020 Consumer Survey Insights:
Medicare Enrollment Decisions

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report that 60 million Americans are currently covered by Medicare. With that number only expected to grow, millions more who are nearing eligibility will be on the hunt for information as they weigh options for coverage.

While many pay toward Medicare programs throughout their entire working lives, utilizing those benefits can present new challenges. From out-of-pocket limits to prescription drug coverage and even more subtle differences between plans, many consumers are left searching for answers to complicated Medicare FAQs.

As more than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, these questions are bound to increase. And with so many changes to healthcare and insurance coverage each year, programs like Medicare will grow in complexity — and importance.

Faced with pressing decisions regarding their healthcare, how are Medicare-eligible consumers determining which plan is right for them? What trends have we recognized in consumer preferences this year? We completed our own primary research to find out the current state of Medicare consumer opinions in our latest healthcare survey.

How Are Consumers Making Medicare Decisions?

To better understand the needs and preferences of Medicare eligible consumers, we used Google Consumer Surveys to survey Americans age 65 and older in September 2020, discovering their preferred plans, their intentions to make changes to current plans, and even whether they are taking advantage of telehealth options in the age of COVID-19.

We first asked respondents whether they felt they had enough information to make an informed Medicare plan decision this year. Nearly two in five of these eligible consumers said they did not have the appropriate knowledge to decide.

These responses identify a need to bridge a significant knowledge gap, though perhaps even more so, they identify a need to bring clarity to those who are seeking medical coverage as a senior citizen, when medical concerns are likely to rise and obtaining the right coverage becomes doubly important.

We then asked consumers what helped them the most in making Medicare plan decisions. Overall, our Medicare-eligible respondents relied most heavily on advice from family members, senior advocacy groups, or friends, with nearly one in four respondents seeking information from these sources.

The above list reveals what respondents view as the most helpful Medicare plan decision-making resources, in order of perceived helpfulness.

In addition, our Medicare-eligible respondents sought help via online research, utilizing internet resources as part of their decision-making process.

In-depth online resources should be widely available to consumers in the decision-making phase of Medicare eligibility, particularly in an age where inaccurate online information is widespread. These resources should be easy to follow, keeping in mind that many aspects of Medicare coverage involve submitting the proper paperwork at the right time or recognizing the subtle differences between plans.

Which Medicare Plans Are Preferred?

To select a plan, consumers need to determine what type of coverage is necessary to them. While Original Medicare refers to Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance), there is another option, called Medicare Advantage.

The Medicare Advantage plan is an alternative option to Original Medicare that bundles parts of various plans, including hospital insurance, medical insurance, and prescription drug coverage.

When we asked our respondents which Medicare plan they would choose if they were to sign up this year, 55.9% indicated they were not sure which plan they would select. It is possible that the majority are undecided due to feeling uninformed, though among those who did indicate a preference, Original Medicare had a slight edge over Medicare Advantage plan, with 25.2% selecting that option.

Are Consumers Making Changes to Their Plans?

While Original Medicare was slightly preferred among our respondents, we wondered if consumers intended to make changes to their plans this year. Among those surveyed (to whom the question applied), 43.7% did not intend to make changes, perhaps indicating satisfaction with their current plans.

But what would make a consumer want to switch their plan? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has doubled in the past decade, as the plan offers specific benefits that are not available under Original Medicare. With pros and cons to each plan, consumers must weigh their options based on the services they need.

eHealth Medicare notes that Medicare Advantage plans may cost less and can make it easier for consumers to coordinate care if they have many different health providers. On the other hand, Advantage plans can require prior authorization for certain services, and can limit the providers or regions that consumers can choose from.

For others, options for Medicare Advantage plans may be limited in availability. While offerings are growing, some consumers likely have limited or no options for Medicare Advantage plans due to their location. As expansion continues, more consumers will have access to Medicare Advantage benefits, with many insurance providers increasing coverage options in additional U.S. locations. In one recent example, 3.2 million are set to receive access from UnitedHealth Group’s planned additions in 2021.

While our data indicates that most do not intend to change their plans this year, some — about 10.5% — have switched from an Original Medicare plan to a Medicare Advantage plan in the past. For those who select an Advantage plan, they may obtain extra, more comprehensive benefits. These Medicare Advantage benefits vary based on:

  • Dental
  • Fitness
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Meals
  • Transportation assistance
  • In-home support
  • Bathroom safety
  • Telemonitoring services
  • Support for caregivers

For Medicare enrollees who have specific needs or require additional care, coverage for these extra services can make all the difference in solidifying their choice to switch up their plan, and we may see this trend take shape as needs evolve.

Are Medicare Consumers Taking Advantage of Telehealth?

In light of the pandemic, healthcare needs have dramatically shifted over the past year. Many healthcare providers were forced to limit their in-person office visits for a certain period of time, causing many non-urgent appointments to be rescheduled or canceled altogether. For those who regularly visit specialists or who receive ongoing medical therapies, this posed a significant problem — and even significant risk.

For some types of appointments, telehealth became a temporary solution. Particularly for those over age 65, who are at higher risk of contracting viruses like COVID-19, telehealth provided an option that eliminated the need to be seen in-person.

We found that over the past year, 17.5% of respondents had at least one telehealth appointment, while another 6.9% had several. Another large percentage, though, indicated they had not taken part in telehealth, proving that while more senior citizens are taking advantage of telehealth options, we still have a long way to go.

For some, concerns about telehealth and its availability persist. In our spring 2020 telehealth survey report, we discovered that 41.2% are concerned about the quality of healthcare provided via telehealth, while 41.85% are concerned that diagnoses would not be accurate.

As we move ahead, telehealth visits are sure to continue, though especially among Medicare enrollees, there may be a delay in adoption.

Should the Medicare Eligibility Age Be Lowered?

While Medicare eligibility currently begins at age 65, there are many who are currently advocating for this age to be lowered. To get a sense of how consumers felt about this topic, we asked a group of adult U.S. consumers ages 18 and up if they were in favor of this change.

The results were mixed. We discovered that while one in three are in favor of lowering the eligibility age, most didn’t have an opinion on the matter.

While we may be months or even years away from a potential change to the current Medicare guidelines, it’s important to note that the topic is resonating with consumers across all age groups.

Interpreting Findings & Moving Forward

For those nearing the age of Medicare eligibility, finding a clear path to choosing the right plan can be daunting. With so many consumers indicating that they’re not equipped with the right information to make such an important decision regarding their medical care, it’s clear that work still needs to be done in providing the appropriate education and resources.

Healthcare needs have changed rapidly over the past year, and for Medicare eligible consumers, meeting those needs – and finding the right coverage – is of chief importance. Comparing Medicare plans and seeking additional support in the decision-making process can make a tremendous impact on the consumer’s experience.