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Five Reasons to Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Medicare Advantage

Unless you’re a political junkie or an avid follower of economic policy, chances are you don’t remember much about the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, and based on the name alone, it may not sound like life-changing stuff. But as it turns out, it helped revolutionize health care for older adults over the last 20 years.

In 1997, 5.2 million people (14 percent of Medicare beneficiaries) opted to get their Medicare benefits from a private company rather than through Original Medicare. The enactment of the Balanced Budget Act in August 1997 led to the creation of a program called Medicare + Choice that dramatically expanded the private plan options available to consumers. Today that program is known as Medicare Advantage.

Over the past 20 years, the number of people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans has more than tripled to nearly 20 million as of August 2017 – just over a third of beneficiaries.i  Growth in recent years is especially impressive, with 71 percent more people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans today than in 2010.

“Trust is at the core of the increasing popularity,” said Brian Thompson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, the largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans nationwide. “The quality improvements that we’ve seen show how Medicare Advantage has invested in care coordination and in proactively ensuring that people are getting the care they need, and that has driven a level of trust.”

Beyond its popularity, Medicare Advantage has made meaningful contributions to the strength of the U.S. health care system as well as the health and well-being of the country’s senior population in the past two decades.

So, in observance of the 20th anniversary of Medicare Advantage, let’s highlight five of its most notable achievements and how they’ve impacted America’s seniors.

 

Serving an Increasingly Diverse Population 

Like the rest of the United States, the senior population is becoming increasingly diverse. According to U.S. Census data, 8 percent of people 65 and over in 2015 were Hispanic, and 9 percent were African American.ii  By 2060, the Census Bureau projects those percentages will grow to 31 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

In addition to becoming more diverse, the United States is also aging. By 2060, the 85-and-older population will more than triple from 5.9 million to 18.2 million.

In many ways Medicare Advantage is ahead of the demographic trends, attracting a disproportionate share of older beneficiaries as well as beneficiaries from minority groups.

Whereas 36 percent of people enrolled in Original Medicare are over the age of 75, 41 percent of all Medicare Advantage enrollees fall into that age group. And of the people who have flocked to Medicare Advantage over the last two decades, 15 percent are Hispanic, according to data from the Better Medicare Alliance, while Hispanics make up just 8 percent of beneficiaries in Original Medicare.iii  Nearly half of Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries choose an Advantage plan.iv

Check back tomorrow for the third of five Medicare Advantage achievements we’re highlighting in celebration of the program’s 20th anniversary this year.

Medicare Advantage Achievement No. 1: Here’s To Your (Better) Health

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Think Medicare Advantage could be right for you? Check out the plans available in your area by using the Plan Finder on www.Medicare.gov, or visit www.UHCMedicareSolutions.com to learn more about UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage plans. You can make changes to your coverage during Medicare Open Enrollment, which ends on Dec. 7.

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Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract and a Medicare-approved Part D sponsor. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.

Y0066_171023_143001 Accepted

i CMS enrollment data, 2017

ii A Profile of Older Americans: 2013 https://www.giaging.org/documents/A_Profile_of_Older_Americans__2016.pdf

iii Medicare Advantage Demographic Report-February 2015, Better Medicare Alliance http://bettermedicarealliance.org/policy-research/resource-library/medicare-advantage-demographics-report-february-2015

iv ibid