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.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Perhaps one of the most significant advantages that Medicare Advantage has brought to seniors and other beneficiaries is a rather simple one – choice.
With the Medicare population approaching 60 million, it’s not hard to imagine that a one-size-fits-all approach to health care coverage would likely leave many people dissatisfied.ii And that’s especially true as baby boomers continue aging into the program.
Experts who’ve studied this generation often identify consumerism as one of its defining traits. As compared to the Silent Generation that came before them, boomers are more likely to be savvy, discerning and demanding consumers, ready and willing to switch to new products and services to find one that best meets their needs.
It’s no wonder, then, that Medicare Advantage is an appealing option for so many seniors aging into Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans come in a wide variety of flavors, from HMOs to PPOs to Special Needs Plans designed for people with certain chronic conditions or financial needs. All these flavors allow older adults to choose benefits that suit their specific needs.
A 2010 AARP survey, for example, showed that more seniors named maintaining their physical health as a top priority (84 percent) than spending time with family (81 percent). These fitness-conscious older adults would likely be attracted to the many Medicare Advantage plans that include coverage of a gym membership.
The Bottom Line
Considering all that Medicare Advantage has accomplished in its first 20 years, one can only imagine the potential it holds to continue to shape the health care experience for America’s seniors in the next 20, when the senior population is expected to surge to nearly 80 million.iii
And as the senior population swells, UnitedHealthcare expects enrollment in Medicare Advantage will swell right along with it. Based on enrollment trends and demographic shifts, the company anticipates that Medicare Advantage enrollment could increase from roughly a third of beneficiaries in 2017 to nearly half.
With its growing popularity and the innovation it’s bringing to the Medicare program, Medicare Advantage should be an important part of the American health care system for years to come.
Happy 20th, Medicare Advantage – and many happy returns.
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.
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.
i CMS enrollment data, 2017
iii An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States, United States Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1140.pdf