By Rachele Elasky, product manager, and Sarah Chien, analytics solutions manager, Carrot Health.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in recent months predicted both lower premiums and richer benefits for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans in 2021. Specifically, CMS anticipated a decrease in average premiums of more than 34% from 2017 levels while plan choice, benefits, and enrollment increased—making the average monthly premium the lowest in 14 years.
But while CMS accurately depicted the indisputable trend of moving toward lower costs and higher value in MA offerings, it did not tell the whole story. To do that, we consolidated and reported on all Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) benefit data nationwide released by CMS. This provides a much clearer picture on how these trends impact individual members vs. across member populations.
Following are the highlights of that analysis.
More Plans Offered Than Ever Before
There will be a 13% increase over 2020 in the number of MA plans available nationwide for individual enrollment in 2021. At 3,545, this is the most plans ever offered and includes 665 new plans—a nearly 4% increase from the 642 new plans offered in 2020.
While MA enrollment is rapidly increasing, the competition is growing even faster. In 2021, there will be 21.5 MA plans in the country for every 100,000 beneficiaries. That compares to 16.8 plans per 100,000 in 2018, which is an increase of more than 53% in just four years.
This growth is not uniform across the country, however. Densely populated markets in the Northeast such as metropolitan geographies typically have the most plans to choose from although enrollment growth rates have been higher in more rural areas of the country in recent years.
New Plans, More Value
New MA plans being introduced into the market for 2021 generally offer more value than existing plans through lower premiums and richer benefits. Among new plans, premiums are one-fifth of those for existing plans ($9 vs. $42), anticipated out-of-pocket costs are lower, and nearly every supplement benefit is offered at a higher rate.