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

more than 30 Medicare Advantage options.

Elderly people with impaired brain function were much less likely to understand and take advantage of the wide array of benefits offered by Medicare Advantage plans and instead were more likely to choose the traditional Medicare program by default, according to the report.

Given the increasing numbers of older Americans with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, the findings should prompt policymakers to establish better ways to assist seniors in making the right choice for them, researchers said. That could include offering fewer choices or helping them make better decisions based on those options.

"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," said McWilliams. "Better enrollment decisions could in turn strengthen competition by rewarding high-value plans with more enrollees."

Not all experts would agree that the seniors who chose Medicare over Medicare Advantage were making the wrong choice, however.

Medicare Advantage plans have serious drawbacks compared to the original Medicare, according to the Medicare Rights Center (MRC), a non-profit consumer advocacy group.

Among the problems with Medicare Advantage the MRC cites are higher costs for skilled nursing care, home health care and in-patient hospital costs; unstable private plans that may suddenly stop coverage; restrictions in the choice of doctors, hospitals and other providers members can choose; and problems getting urgent or emergency care.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on Medicare.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Harvard Medical School, news releas
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