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Medicare Advantage Premiums Fall 33% in Q1

By Jack O'Brien  
   May 30, 2019

When zero-dollar premium plans were removed, costs still dropped by 13%, according to a survey from eHealth.

Average Medicare Advantage (MA) premiums dropped by more than 30% in Q1 2019, according to data released by eHealth on Thursday morning.

The health insurance exchange reported a 87% year-over-year increase in the amount of MA and Medicare Part D applications received during the open enrollment period (OEP) that lasted from January to March.

2019 marked the first year that consumers enrolled in a MA plan could switch to a different MA plan during OEP or leave MA and supplement their original Medicare coverage with a Part D prescription drug plan.  

Related: Medicare Advantage Dual Eligibles Have Fewer ER Visits Than Those Under FFS

Between 2011 and 2018, consumers weren't able to switch to a MA plan outside of the fall OEP unless they had "a circumstance that allowed you a Special Enrollment Period."

Despite the opportunity for additional coverage options, including those with lower average monthly premiums, 51% of respondents did not know about OEP prior to shopping for a new plan, according to eHealth.

Those surveyed gave several responses for why they switched to a new Medicare plan, including unhappiness with a former insurer, increased copays, doctor leaving network, and changes to drug coverage.

During the OEP, the average monthly for MA plans was $8, down from $12 in Q1 2018, while the average out-of-pocket limits decreased 11%, from $5,815 to $5,164.

Similarly, average monthly premiums for Part D plans decreased 4%.

Related: 13.3M Americans Spent More than 10% of Income on Premiums

When researchers removed zero-dollar premium plans, MA coverage options that are offset with copays or deductibles rather than premiums, average monthly premiums for MA plans still fell by 13% year-over-year.

Meanwhile, the average MA deductibles decreased 13% while Part D plan deductibles increased 5%, from $292 to $308.

Timing also made a difference regarding costs, as average MA premiums were 27% lower for individuals who enrolled during the OEP compared to those who enrolled during the annual enrollment period (AEP). 

However, average premiums for Medicare Part D plans increased 14% for individuals who enrolled during OEP compared to those enrolled during AEP.

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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