Survey: Over Half of Medicare Beneficiaries Choosing New Plan for 2021 Due to COVID-19

With Medicare open enrollment closing in just a few days on December 7, over 60 million beneficiaries will finalize their health insurance plans for 2021.

Finding the right plan is more crucial now than ever given that the COVID-19 pandemic—which has already claimed over 260 thousand lives—disproportionately affects older populations that make up the majority of Medicare beneficiaries.

Given the importance of this open enrollment period, we decided to survey 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries to better understand how the pandemic has affected their decisions in choosing plans and to learn more about their general thoughts on Medicare.

Over Half of Medicare Beneficiaries Choosing a New Plan for 2021 Due to COVID-19

To start, we wanted to determine if Medicare beneficiaries were changing their plans this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We first asked our respondents if they plan on keeping their current Medicare plan or enrolling in a new one for 2021. The majority of respondents, 58%, plan on enrolling in a new plan.

We next asked those enrolling in a new plan for next year why they decided to change plans. The following chart shows the breakdown of responses.

As shown, 92.93% of respondents enrolling in new plans are doing so due to COVID-19.

The majority of those switching plans for 2021 are doing so to get more coverage due to the pandemic. These people likely feel more at risk for hospitalization and want to make sure they are covered in the case that they are.

This is supported by a later question in our survey in which 82.9% of all respondents said they were either very worried (45.4%) or somewhat worried (37.5%) about covering the costs of treatment for COVID-19 if they contracted it.

Many respondents also indicated they were choosing a new plan for next year because they wanted a cheaper plan (17.76%) or wanted a plan with more coverage for telemedicine (11.21%).

Interestingly, we also found that 37.10% of all of our respondents have never switched their Medicare plans in the past and 42.60% have only changed their plans once or twice; a sharp contrast to the 58% of beneficiaries switching plans for 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused beneficiaries to think more about their health insurance to make sure they have the coverage they need if something were to happen to them.

69% of Medicare Beneficiaries Spending More Time Choosing a Plan This Year Due to COVID-19

We next wanted to take this idea further by seeing if Medicare beneficiaries were spending more time choosing a plan due to the pandemic.

As shown in the graphic below, 69% of respondents said they did or will spend more time choosing a plan this year.

Even though 42% of Medicare beneficiaries are not switching plans for 2021, many of them are still taking the time to make sure their plans are well-suited for their needs.

With the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increasing with age, it’s essential for older people—which make up the majority of Medicare beneficiaries—to make sure they are covered if they need treatment.

61% of Medicare Beneficiaries Find it Difficult to Get Necessary Information to Make an Educated Decision on Plans

In a time like this, it’s crucial for there to be easily accessible information for people to make educated decisions about their health insurance.

To gauge if this is true for Medicare beneficiaries, we asked them if they found it difficult to find the necessary information about plans and coverage.

As shown in the chart, 61% of respondents found it very difficult (20.5%) or somewhat difficult (40.5%) to find the necessary information about Medicare plans and coverage to make an educated decision.

This is very alarming, especially during a pandemic like we are in now. Without access to the information they need, people may choose plans that don’t offer them as much coverage as they need or cost much more than they anticipate.

It may be necessary for the government to invest more in helping Medicare beneficiaries understand their options and how coverage works so there are no surprises that could put them in financial or health-related trouble.

High Out-of-Pocket Costs & Unexpected Medical Bills Concern Medicare Beneficiaries the Most

We next wanted to determine what concerns Medicare beneficiaries the most when it comes to paying for their healthcare.

Aside from the specific concerns over covering the costs of treatment for COVID-19 highlighted in the first section, we also found that high out-of-pocket costs and unexpected medical bills cause beneficiaries to worry the most.

A considerable amount of respondents also had concerns about meeting monthly premiums (33.10%) and having to avoid medical treatment to save on costs (31.50%).

Finding in-network doctors that respondents liked was the least common concern, coming in at only 15.60%.

Over 90% of Medicare Beneficiaries Plan to Use Telemedicine Even After the Pandemic is Over

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also saw a staggering increase in telemedicine services throughout the country.

Though telemedicine unquestionably helps reduce possible exposure to COVID-19, reports have shown that seniors may struggle with these services due to poor hearing and eyesight, lack of awareness on how to use the necessary devices, and more.

On the other hand, telemedicine services allow people to speak to providers from the comfort of their own homes without having to travel to doctors’ offices, possibly increasing the chance that they seek attention while reducing costs.

The next set of questions were designed to gauge how Medicare beneficiaries felt about telemedicine and if they’ll continue to use it in the future.

As shown in the chart above, only 46.7% of respondents had used telemedicine before the pandemic started. Since it started, however, 65.9% of respondents had used it.

Of those who had used telemedicine services since the pandemic started, an astounding 92.57% of respondents had said they would either continue using them “as much as possible” (55.39%) or “sometimes” (37.18%) once the pandemic was over.

Only 7.44% of respondents said they would not use telemedicine once the pandemic was over.

It seems that despite the challenges that accompany telemedicine, Medicare beneficiaries enjoy the benefits enough to use it moving forward.

94% of Medicare Beneficiaries Are Satisfied With Their Plans

Despite beneficiaries finding it challenging to get information about their plans, it seems that they are largely satisfied with the plans they end up choosing.

Our next question asked respondents if they are satisfied with their Medicare plans.

Nearly all respondents, 93.6%, are satisfied with their Medicare plans, with 49.7% being “very satisfied” and 43.9% being “somewhat satisfied.”

We also asked respondents what is most important to them when it comes to their Medicare plans to see what may be making them satisfied or dissatisfied.

As shown, having a plan with enough coverage was most important to the majority (54.4%) of respondents. After that, having a plan with low monthly premiums (18.3%) and one that accepts their current doctors (10.1%) were the most important.

84% of Medicare Beneficiaries Believe Prescription Drug Prices Are Too High

Despite almost all Medicare beneficiaries being at least somewhat satisfied with their plans, there is one thing most of them aren’t happy about: prescription drug prices.

Though the vast majority of respondents believe prescription drug prices are too high, there is reason for hope that things will change.

First, the Trump administration recently announced a prescription drug payment model that will lower Medicare Part B payments for certain prescription drugs. The plan is projected to save taxpayers and beneficiaries $85 billion over seven years.

In addition, President-elect Joe Biden is expected to work hard to address health insurance issues, including high prescription drug prices.

Methodology commissioned Pollfish to conduct this online survey of 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries. It was conducted over a two-day span from November 24, 2020, to November 25, 2020. A screener question was implemented to ensure all respondents were currently enrolled in a Medicare plan.