Medicare Advantage Star Ratings: Who cares?

Seniors do not care about the Medicare Advantage and Part D star ratings.  This is the finding of  focus group research carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation last fall.

AIS Health has a good article on the report and a briefing that was held on May 13 by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Star ratings, from 1 to 5, are meant to help people compare Medicare Advantage plans and Part D plans. But most plans get 3.5 to 4 stars – and very few get 5 stars.  The star ratings are important to the plans because 4 and 5-star plans get bonus money from Medicare.

The leader of the KFF.org focus group has a PhD, but I could have told her what she would find from the focus groups she held in four cities:  Seniors and people under 65 on Medicare will generally choose their Advantage plan based on the co-pays, the maximum out-of-pocket, and if their doctors are in the  plan network.  Most seniors don’t want to change plans (though there are a good number who shop each year for a new plan). Same goes for Part D – and this is a problem because Part D plans can change a lot from year-to-year.

It also does not surprise me that seniors in the focus groups said the Medicare.gov is very confusing and hard to use.

The AIS article says the following:

The focus groups did turn up suggestions from the seniors interviewed on what would be helpful to them in making plan choices. These included, Jacobson said:

  • More in-person aid, such as agents coming to their homes;
  • Easy ways of finding out how much they could save by switching plans;
  • A more user-friendly online tool to compare plans; and
  • More promotion of the stars system by Medicare, although seniors in the focus group acknowledged they still might not make use of stars in deciding on plans.

Surprise!  Surprise!

Seniors actually like it that insurance agents come to their homes to explain their Medicare choices.  The report says:

The seniors in the focus groups said they instead relied foremost on insurance agents, friends and pharmacists to help them decide on plans, she added.

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