How Do Seniors Choose Among Their Medicare Plan Options?

Seniors appreciate having a wide range of Medicare private plan choices available to them but often feel unqualified to choose among them, a new Kaiser Family Foundation report concludes. Based on discussions with seniors in four cities around the country, the report captures seniors’ experiences and frustrations in making decisions about their Medicare plans.

Seniors cite many factors as influencing their initial choice of a Part D or Medicare Advantage plan, including premiums, benefits, out-of-pocket costs, brand recognition (i.e., AARP) and adequate coverage for their health care needs, including coverage for their specific medications and, for Medicare Advantage plans, access to desired physicians and hospitals.

However, many seniors say the initial process of comparing and choosing plans was not easy due to the large volume of information they receive and their inability to compare plan features to determine which option is best for them. Few used the government’s online comparison tool, and those that did cite several shortcomings. Many relied on advice from sources they trust, including insurance agents, plan representatives, friends, family members, medical professionals and pharmacists.

After they enroll in a plan, many seniors are reluctant to revisit their initial decision and switch plans, even when premiums go up, because of frustration and confusion during their initial selection process and because of fears about disrupting their care or increasing out-of-pocket costs. They lack confidence in their ability to choose a plan that would be appreciatively better for them.

“How are Seniors Choosing and Changing Health Insurance Plans?” was based on focus-group discussions with seniors in Baltimore, Md.; Seattle, Wash.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Tampa, Fla.; and is authored by researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation and PerryUndem Research and Communication.

The report’s findings were discussed as part of a policy briefing in Washington, D.C.. Watch a video of the archived webcast of the briefing here. [add link to: http://kff.org/medicare/event/may-13-briefing-how-well-are-seniors-making-choices-among-medicares-private-plans-and-does-it-matter]. Click here to read the full report [link to: http://kff.org/medicare/report/how-are-seniors-choosing-and-changing-health-insurance-plans].

Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.