Quantifying the Medicare Advantage advantage
In the 15 years since its inception, the increase in popularity of Medicare Advantage (MA) – health coverage provided by private plans in contrast to traditional fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare – has been undeniable. Roughly half of all Medicare-eligible seniors are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plan and that proportion keeps rising.
Now there is a new addition to the growing body of evidence that MA plans are not only serving their enrollees well, but is bringing greater overall value to the Medicare program than that generated by the FFS approach.
A newly-released study by Avalere Health, Medicare Advantage Achieves Better Health Outcomes and Lower Costs for Beneficiaries with Chronic Conditions Compared to Fee-for-Service Medicare, finds that Medicare Advantage is outperforming traditional FFS Medicare with higher rates of preventive screenings, fewer avoidable hospitalizations, and fewer emergency room visits. In other words, healthier patients and significant dollar savings.
Overall, the Avalere study found that MA beneficiaries had 23 percent fewer emergency stays and 33 percent fewer emergency room visits than their peers in FFS coverage. This wasn’t the result of MA plans enrolling healthier individuals at the outset. Rather, the study found that a greater percentage of MA beneficiaries were in clinical and social risk categories that traditionally drive up costs in FFS Medicare.
Avalere found that MA outperformed FFS on a range of cost, utilization, and outcome metrics in caring for individuals with one or more chronic health conditions. Among patients with diabetes, for example, those enrolled in MA experienced 73 percent fewer serious clinical complications than FFS beneficiaries. And patients dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid – who generally have more complicated and serious health conditions – had 49 percent fewer hospital visits and a 17 percent lower average-cost-per-beneficiary in MA plans.
Former Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, president and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance (of which the Healthcare Leadership Council is a member) said “this study adds to the growing body of evidence showing the ability of Medicare Advantage to align incentives to better manage the care for a high-need population with multiple chronic conditions.” These patients, of course, account for the most significant portion of our country’s healthcare spending.
This study adds fuel to the argument that we can enhance healthcare quality and better contain spending through improved patient health when healthcare entities compete on the basis of value.