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Some Older Americans Overwhelmed by Medicare Options, Study Says
Date:8/29/2011

MONDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Although older Americans have many Medicare options to choose from, they may not be making good decisions about their coverage, according to a new study.

Some seniors -- particularly those with impaired brain function -- can become overwhelmed by the variety of complex Medicare Advantage plans available to them, preventing them from finding the best plan to fit their needs, according to researchers from Harvard Medical School's department of health care policy.

"We are providing the most complex insurance choices to the very population that is least equipped to make these high-stakes decisions," said Dr. J. Michael McWilliams, assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School and a general internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in a university news release.

"Most other Americans choose from just a few health plans, but elderly Medicare beneficiaries often have to sift through dozens of options," McWilliams said.

The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 increased the number of private plans participating in the Medicare Advantage program, which purports to usher in more competition, lower premiums and result in better benefits, including prescription drug coverage.

In assessing how these changes affected enrollment in Medicare Advantage compared to traditional Medicare, researchers examined nearly 22,000 enrollment decisions made by more than 6,600 participants over the course of four years, taking into account their mental status and the plans available to them.

The study, published online and in the September print issue of Health Affairs, found that enrollment in Medicare Advantage increased when the number of Medicare Advantage plans available to seniors was fewer than 15.

When there were more than 30 plans available, however, enrollment dropped. The researchers pointed out that 25 percent of U.S. counties offer
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