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Complex choices in Medicare Advantage program may overwhelm seniors, study finds
Date:8/18/2011

cisions 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."


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Contact: David Cameron
david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0441
Harvard Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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