Medicare Advantage plans are increasingly offering telehealth as a basic Medicare benefit, instead of a supplemental benefit, the study indicated.
Not only have Medicare Advantage plans continued to increase their health-related supplemental benefits for 2021 open enrollment, but this year one in three plans will also offer supplemental benefits relevant to the pandemic, a recent Avalere study found.
“MA plans are quickly adapting to the new reality by recognizing the needs of Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic,” explained Joanna Young, principal at Avalere. “They are offering specific supplemental benefits and enhancing the availability of telehealth options for commonly used services, such as doctors’ visits.”
The study analyzed Medicare Advantage benefits data that CMS released from 2018 to 2021.
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“Due to different naming conventions that plans use to describe their supplemental benefits—primarily those not associated with specific rubric/category in the PBP file structure—Avalere’s counts might be underestimating the actual availability of specific supplemental offerings,” the researchers warned.
The health-related benefits which more Medicare Advantage plans will be offering include transportation, over-the-counter drug coverage, and meal delivery services. These, as well as in-home support services, make up some of the more popular benefits between 2018 and 2021.
The prevalence of meal delivery benefits has seen the biggest increase over the past three years, rising 34 percentage points. This increase is closely followed by over-the-counter benefits, which have jumped 29 percentage points since 2018.
These percentages represent a growing portion of an increasing number of health plans. Medicare Advantage enrollment has seen a boost in enrollment this year, accompanied by a drop in premium prices. In 2018, there were 2,888 Medicare Advantage plans but in 2021 members will be able to choose from almost 4,500 plans.
Vision, hearing, fitness, and dental benefits are among the top supplemental benefits overall, offered by 98, 94, 92, and 91 percent of Medicare Advantage plans respectively.
Less popular but on the rise, the study found that acupuncture has seen increased uptake among Medicare Advantage plans since 2018. While 13 percent of Medicare Advantage plans offered the benefit in 2018, nearly a quarter of all Medicare Advantage plans will offer it in 2021 (23 percent).
The report cited telehealth as holding steady with seven percent of all health plans offering telehealth as a supplemental benefit in 2018 to 2021.
However, this seven percent reflects the number of plans that offer telehealth as a supplemental benefit, but many plans are now offering it as a basic Medicare benefit. Almost six in ten plans embraced Medicare-covered Part B telehealth benefits in 2020. In the new year, 94 percent of plans will do so.
COVID-19 forced a major overhaul in the way that the industry engages through telehealth, particularly in Medicare. Early on in the crisis, CMS expanded telehealth coverage for public payers.
Previous research confirmed that these CMS COVID-19 waivers around telehealth in Medicare have increased access to telehealth options for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.
But the response to coronavirus has done more than shift telehealth from a supplemental benefit to a basic Medicare benefit.
According to the Avalere study, 34 percent of Medicare Advantage plans will be offering 2021 supplemental benefits that are directly related to the pandemic.
Most plans that offer pandemic supplemental benefits are sending out care packages (27 percent of all 2021 Medicare Advantage plans). A minimal percentage of plans will reduce cost-sharing related to COVID-19, provide personal protective equipment, or cover COVID-19 testing as a supplemental benefit.
Policies around Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits related to the coronavirus pandemic vary largely by state.
For example, in West Virginia, South Dakota, and North Dakota, more than 80 percent of beneficiaries will have access to coronavirus-related 2021 supplemental benefits. Smaller states, though, have lower access. Only up to five percent of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in Maryland or Rhode Island could have access to such benefits.
Source: Healthpayer Intelligence