More Americans Choosing Medicare Advantage Plans Amid Pandemic

January 30, 2021
Matthew Gavidia
Matthew Gavidia

Matthew is an associate editor of The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®). He has been working on AJMC® since 2019 after receiving his Bachelor's degree at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in journalism and economics.

A 9% year-over-year increase was observed in the number of US Medicare beneficiaries who enrolled in a Medicare Advantage health plan in 2020, with the increase in enrollment influenced by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic and its related effects.

Based on preliminary open enrollment data collected from October 15 to December 7, 2020, 36% of the 67.7 million Medicare beneficiaries in the United States are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan this year, marking a 9% year-over-year increase.

In a study conducted by MedicareAdvantagePlans.org, researchers sought to poll Medicare beneficiaries on their reasoning for enrolling in a MA plan. As the authors note, MA plans, also known as Medicare Part C, have grown in popularity in recent years as it has been associated with being more cost-effective, flexible, and typically including Part D prescription drug coverage.

After surveying adult Americans that are eligible for Medicare and already enrolled in a MA plan for 2021 (N = 700), this year’s increase in enrollment was influenced by several factors, particularly the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and its related effects.

While 29% chose the plan for its prescription drug coverage, and 16% for its affordability, 9% of MA enrolled Americans chose it for its supplemental benefits.

Of those 9%, more than one-third (35%) cited COVID-19 supplemental benefits specifically and 27% referenced its telehealth benefits.

Addressing virtual care, more than 94% of MA plans are expected to offer additional telehealth benefits, up from approximately 58% of plans who offered these benefits in 2020. Additional supplemental benefits indicated as the reason for enrolling in a MA plan in 2021 included dental (62%), vision (52%), and over-the-counter benefits (38%).

“Supplemental benefits have become such an important selling point for MA plans that there will be a 64% year-over-year increase in the number of MA plans that are offering such benefits in 2021,” noted the authors. “And as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 34% of Medicare Advantage plans are now offering COVID-19-related supplemental benefits in 2021, which includes covering costs for things like testing, personal protective equipment, and care packages.”

Notably, 45% of respondents are switching from their original Medicare plan to a MA plan in 2021. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 51% of all Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in a MA plan by 2030.


So, what may be stopping more Americans from transitioning to MA plans?

As authors note, 65% of respondents who chose to enroll in a MA plan had first compared all available coverage options, with a further 26% saying they did a brief amount of research before enrolling.

In contrast, researchers highlight that an article by The New York Times found that 57% of Medicare enrollees do not review or compare their coverage options annually, including 46% who never or rarely revisit their plans. “This isn’t great news when you think about all the consumers out there that are possibly missing out on MA benefits because they either don’t know what they are or understand how it could be better (or more cost-effective) for them.”

In 2021, average premiums for MA plans are expected to decline 34.2% from 2017, marking the lowest average monthly premiums since 2007.