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Shopping for insurance is worse than imagined for Medicare recipients

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Survey finds few retirees shop for Medicare Advantage plans

An eye opening survey recently found retirees are more prone to spend time finding the best deal for buying groceries than they do choosing health insurance. Shopping for insurance, for some, is worse than you might imagine according to a representative sampling survey of Medicare recipients.


I spoke with Bart Astor, the author of who shared some information about “The Cost of Complacency,” a national survey released by WellCare Health Plans, Inc and conducted by Kelton Global. The results are not only eye-opening but a wake-up call to healthcare consumers.

Not shopping for the right Medicare Advantage plan every year can have significant financial and health coverage consequences, which translates to bad news for retirees who may be struggling to make ends meet.

The survey

The Cost of Complacency Survey was conducted to find out how seniors perceive burdensome expenses, including the cost of healthcare and to find out how they approach managing common household expenses in comparison to how they shop for Medicare plans.

Included were 1026 people over age 65 who were Medicare eligible who responded to the online survey.

The results showed that even though 40% of respondents found healthcare expenses more burdensome than items such as utility bills and groceries only 33 percent take time to shop for a healthcare plan.

One out of five seniors said they would describe shopping for a healthcare plan as “awful”.

One out of four think comparing healthcare plan options to find the best deal is as bad as getting a colonoscopy, the survey found.

For many seniors, the unpleasantry of shopping for a Medicare plan could be related to cost, which by the way, isn’t the only thing smart shoppers must consider.

How to shop for a Medicare plan and why it’s important

I asked Bart Astor who is the author of AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life" and a spokesman for WellCare Health Plans why even shop for Medicare plans vs just buying a drug plan (part D) and opting for traditional Medicare part A and B.

Medicare Advantage plans are part C coverage and can vary in price, deductibles, out of pocket annual expense and coverage.

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Astor said “You have to compare apples to apples when you’re looking at comparing plans.”

You’re not only looking at cost. You’re looking at what is covered “and as you know traditional Medicare covers part A and part B and then you have the prescription drug. With Medicare Advantage part C you have lots of different options within those plans so it’s important to equate them.”

Astor said you should try to find out “what are the apples to apples”. He warns you can’t just assume because a plan costs more that it covers more.
“You can’t look at just the premiums or just the deductibles. You have to compare both”.

Another important consideration is whether doctors you may have been seeing for a long time are in network with your plan.

Other examples Astor discussed include value added services such as gym memberships and discounts on alternative therapies that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover.

Astor said some plans may offer vision and dental or mental health and substance abuse coverage while others may not.

“Rather than just be on auto pilot and look in the rearview mirror and say 'okay, what was last year is fine for me again next year’, you have to decide what has changed for me or how have the plans changed so that I’m looking in the future; I’m looking at 2018; I’m not looking at 2017 any longer.”

I asked, “How can you know things won’t change after you enroll in a new plan,” specifically doctors who go in and out of insurance plan networks?

Astor said, the Cost of Complaceny Study showed over 60 percent of recipients don’t even review their plan at all each year. Sometimes doctors leave networks and then come back. You may have to switch doctors during a plan year but when enrollment comes around again it’s best to review your choices again.

Some ways to make shopping for Medicare Advantage plans include making use of Senior Centers who offer volunteer assistance; statewide programs such as SHIPS and in Florida, the SHINE program. You can also speak with customer service representatives who are also very helpful and not just looking to sell a plan. Speak with experts who are very willing to guide you. Don’t risk not getting the coverage you need.

Cheaper plans aren’t always the best plans. Look at lifetime limits; be careful that you’re look at deductibles before you make a choice to save money on premiums.

Shopping for the best deal for groceries and other household expenses is important. It’s also important to take care of one of the biggest sources of financial concern - your healthcare plan and medical costs, yet few Medicare recipients say they do comparison shopping, finding it unpleasant and confusing.

It’s not too late to shop for your health insurance plan. Enrollment ends December 7. Astor says “take the time and lock it in….know you can change your plan in a year.”