Medicare Plan Finder Reboot May Help Firms Study Competitors

 In Engagement Strategy, Patient Experience

CMS has launched a user-friendly Medicare Plan Finder tool designed to give beneficiaries more choices when comparing various Medicare pricing options, while allowing healthcare companies to see what their competitors are up to. Industry newsletter Health Plan Weekly spoke with a number of healthcare industry experts, including Change Healthcare’s Director of Government Programs, Shelley Mueller-Stevenson, about the new tool and how it will help create a more personalized shopping experience for consumers. We have reprinted the article below with permission of Health Plan Weekly. -Ed.


On Aug. 27, CMS announced the launch of a redesigned Medicare Plan Finder (MPF) that allows beneficiaries to compare pricing between traditional Medicare, Medicare Prescription Drug Plans, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans and Medicare supplement (Medigap) policies.

Experts tell AIS Health they give CMS credit for creating a user-friendly web tool that creates more personalized shopping features than the previous version. They advise payer executives to use the new online tool to study competitors’ products and then differentiate their products from competitors.

The redesigned online tool helps users navigate through the Medicare enrollment process. Specifically, beneficiaries can input the dosage, quantity and frequency of their medications and the pharmacies where they purchase their drugs and then sort Medicare Advantage choices by lowest monthly premium, lowest yearly drug deductible, lowest health plan deductible and lowest drug cost.

Michael Adelberg, a principal at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, credits CMS with “advancing the ball quite a bit” with its goal of modernizing the website to create a more personalized shopping experience for beneficiaries. A member’s ability to enter their Medicare ID number and then use the online tools to run comparisons on their drug and plan costs makes this a good consumer tool, he adds.

The new MPF is optimized to work on smartphones, unlike the previous version, Adelberg highlights. “While all seniors aren’t using smartphones, increasing numbers do. So moving in that direction makes sense and it’s good government,” he adds.

In redesigning the MPF, CMS had set a difficult goal for itself: balance the need to provide robust, meaningful information to beneficiaries, while not being so complicated that the online tool was difficult for members to use. Specifically, Adelberg cites the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that criticized the previous MPF for being too complicated for non-expert beneficiaries to navigate comfortably.

“It’s hard public policy,” he says. “You can’t squeeze the balloon on both ends.”

Per the GAO report, the previous version of the MPF was “difficult for beneficiaries to use and provides incomplete information, according to stakeholders and research studies.” Seventy-three percent of State Health Insurance Assistance Program directors, who are charged with educating Medicare beneficiaries about their benefits options, reported that beneficiaries had difficulty getting information using the tool.

Consumers Favor Dental, Vision Benefits

Lindsay Resnick, executive vice president at Wunderman Thompson Health, highlighted some new benefits offered by plans in MPF, including over-the-counter drug allowances and rides to medical appointments via Uber and Lyft. But there are four standard benefits that really seem to resonate with beneficiaries, he says: supplemental dental, vision, and fitness and gym memberships.

New entrants to MA like Oscar, Bright Health, Clover Health and Devoted Health have very customer-friendly messaging, says Resnick. The general ethos of their brands is “the insurance we want our parents to have,” he adds.

“To me, the jury’s still out [on these companies],” says Resnick. Achieving success will require these companies to scale their platforms for the senior marketplace. For example, Bright Health has done better in the under-65 market than in the over-65 market, he says. But even more established payers in the MA space must provide a good experience for members. If, for example, a member doesn’t get a welcome kit on time or they don’t hear from the company, they could switch to another MA plan or traditional Medicare between January and March 2020, says Resnick.

Will Seniors Be Less ‘Sticky?’

The conventional wisdom is that seniors will stay with their Medicare Advantage plan, provided that they can continue to visit the same physician and their medication coverage doesn’t change.

But Deft Research’s 2019 Medicare Shopping and Switching Study found that the year-over-year switch rate for Medicare Advantage members increased from 11% in 2018 to 14% in 2019. Still, this is lower than a 23% switch rate in 2015.

Adelberg says the redesigned MPF will allow beneficiaries, especially younger, more web-savvy ones “who are just ‘aging in,’” to really do “apples to apples” comparisons.

That could lead to a market that’s less sticky in the future, he says.

Adelberg advises payer executives to use the comparison tools to assess their competitors’ products and emphasize the positive aspects of their plans when customizing training for their agents and brokers. For example, if a payer’s plan has higher drug copays and more generous supplemental coverage, when compared with the competition, accentuate the more generous supplemental benefits, he says.

New Website ‘Doesn’t Change the Game’

Resnick says the redesigned MPF is a better website, but it “doesn’t change the game that much … If I put my health plan hat on, I still need to work on my customer lifecycle and brand awareness. I need to be able to answer [members’] questions, either with my call center rep or my own website.”

Still, the investment is an important one for CMS, especially given the growth in MA beneficiaries, he says. According to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation data note, in 2019, 34% of all Medicare beneficiaries — 22 million people — are enrolled in MA plans; that’s similar to 2017 and 2018 enrollment rates. The MA enrollment rate grew by approximately 1.6 million beneficiaries, or 8%, between 2018 and 2019. The share of beneficiaries in MA plans is expected to increase to 47% in 2029, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In 2019, UnitedHealthcare and Humana together have 44% of MA enrollees, whereas Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates, including Anthem Blue-branded plans, have 15% of enrollees. Combined, CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna unit, Kaiser Permanente, WellCare Health Plans, Inc. and Cigna Corp. have 22% of enrollees in 2019, per the data note.

Shelley Mueller-Stevenson, director of the government programs practice at Change Healthcare, says payers with 5-Star rated MA plans should maximize their rating in marketing materials. But the most powerful way to retain members is to incorporate the “voice of the customer” throughout the year.

Two good questions payer executives should ask, she says, include: “Where are the abrasions from physicians? What do members not like?”

If members are telling you they’re unhappy with your benefit for Part D or Part B or about having to pay copays, you need to build that into the design of your products, advises Mueller-Stevenson. Two methods to capture this information are in the grievances filed by members and in focus groups, she adds.

In addition, gender differences exist among Medicare beneficiaries, according to a report commissioned by HealthMine. Male MA beneficiaries are more comfortable accessing their medical data online and using portals, whereas female beneficiaries are more likely to rely on friends and family for information; women are also more likely to prefer getting health plan information by phone than their male counterparts.

Educate Members About Star Ratings

Payers should be mailing information to current and future customers now, says Nicole Althaus, vice president of member engagement products at HealthMine. You’re already sending letters to remind members about their annual exams, she says. Include in the mailing an infographic that educates members about Star ratings, she adds.

View the new Medicare Plan Finder at, the GAO report at and the Deft study at Contact Adelberg at, Resnick at and Althaus via Rob Wyse at

by Aine Cryts

The preceding was reprinted with permission of the publisher. Copyright © 2019 by Managed Markets Insight & Technology, LLC. All rights reserved. Health Plan Weekly is published 52 times a year by AIS Health, 2101 L Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20037. 800-521-4323 Subscriptions to HPW include free electronic delivery in addition to the print copy, and access to all content online. For subscriptions for five or more users, contact

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