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.
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%.
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.