In a new study, researchers from Harvard Medical School's Department of Health Care Policy found that the large variety of managed care plans offered by the Medicare Advantage program may be counter-productive.
Elderly patients, particularly those with low cognitive ability, often make poor decisions—or no decisions at all—when faced with an overwhelming number of complex insurance choices. Ironically, those with impaired cognition may benefit most from the more generous coverage often offered by Medicare Advantage plans.
"We are providing the most complex insurance choices to the very population that is least equipped to make these high-stakes decisions," says J. Michael McWilliams, assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing general internist in the Division of General Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Most other Americans choose from just a few health plans, but elderly Medicare beneficiaries often have to sift through dozens of options."
The study will appear online August 18 in the journal Health Affairs. It will also appear in the September print edition of Health Affairs.
The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 initiated a series of payment increases to the Medicare Advantage program. These payment hikes dramatically increased the number of private plans participating in the program and encouraged plans to compete for enrollees by offering lower premiums and more generous benefits, such as prescription drug coverage.
In order to examine the effects of these expanded choices and benefits of enrollment in Medicare Advantage versus traditional Medicare, McWilliams and his team looked at 21,815 enrollment decisions from 2004 to 2007 made by 6,672 participants in a national longitudinal survey, and compared enrollment decisions between participants with different cognition levels and different plan offerings in their area.
The researchers found that, on average, an increase in the number of plans was associated with increased Medicare Advantage enrollment, provided the number of available plan options was fewer than 15. When the number of options surpassed 30, as it did in 25 percent of U.S. counties, such increases were actually associated with decreased enrollment. More importantly, beneficiaries with low cognitive function were substantially less likely than their peers with high cognitive function to appreciate the advantages offered by these plans, choosing to remain in the traditional Medicare program instead.
The authors suggest the reason for lower enrollment could be that beneficiaries became overwhelmed and chose traditional Medicare by default. Furthermore, elderly Medicare beneficiaries with limited cognitive abilities may have difficulty identifying the most valuable option from a complex set of Medicare alternatives. This is particularly concerning given the high and rising prevalence of cognitive impairment and dementia in the aging Medicare population.
The findings also have important policy implications as health insurance exchanges are established under the recent national health reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act. These exchanges, the authors say, could be helpful to seniors and the Medicare program if expanded to handle enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans.
"Efforts to limit choice and guide seniors to the most valuable options could especially benefit those with cognitive impairments, who without more help appear to be leaving money on the table," McWilliams said. "Better enrollment decisions could in turn strengthen competition by rewarding high-value plans with more enrollees."
This research was funded by the Beeson Career Development Award Program, National Institute on Aging and American Federation for Aging Research.
Full citationHealth Affairs, online release August 18, 2011
McWilliams JM (1,2), Afendulis CC (1), McGuire TG (1), Landon BE (1,3)1- Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
3- Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA
Harvard Medical School http://hms.harvard.edu has more than 7,500 full-time faculty working in 11 academic departments located at the School's Boston campus or in one of 47 hospital-based clinical departments at 17 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutes. Those affiliates include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Children's Hospital Boston, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Forsyth Institute, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Hebrew SeniorLife, Joslin Diabetes Center, Judge Baker Children's Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and VA Boston Healthcare System.
David Cameron | EurekAlert!
Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.06.2017 | Information Technology