UnitedHealth Group Predicts 50% Of Seniors Will Choose Medicare Advantage
Medicare Advantage plans could quickly become the choice of one in two seniors as millions flock to privately administered health benefits for the government’s health insurance for elderly Americans, the nation’s largest health insurer is predicting.
UnitedHealth Group executives are confident it’s only a matter of time before more than half of the nation’s seniors are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan over traditional fee-for-service Medicare. The insurer’s executives wouldn’t say when such growth would take place, but health plans reporting earnings in the next two weeks are expected to report solid growth.
Currently, just under 35% of Medicare beneficiaries, or about 20 million Americans, are enrolled in MA plans, which contract with the federal government to provide health benefits to seniors.
“We do think there's an opportunity to further advance the penetration of the Medicare Advantage,” UnitedHealthcare CEO Steven Nelson said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call earlier this week. “Where it can go, hard to tell, but I don't think it's unreasonable to think about something north of...40% approaching 50%. It doesn't seem like an unreasonable idea to us.”
The company’s bullish predictions about the two-decade-old effort to hand Medicare administration off to private insurers come amid partisan rancor over the future of privately subsidized individual policies under the Affordable Care Act. Some Democrats and Republicans would like to see allowing Americans under age 65 to “buy in” to Medicare or an MA plan, according to a proposal by 10 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
UnitedHealth wouldn’t predict when more than half of U.S. seniors would be in private plans, but the insurance industry has been successfully convincing members of Congress and Presidents of both political parties that private insurance has a role in administering Medicare health benefits.
Despite more liberal Democrats pushing a single-payer approach to healthcare that would provide “Medicare for all,” Medicare Advantage actually saw larger growth under Democratic former President Barack Obama than the Republican administration of George W. Bush, according to government statistics, according to government statistics.
As of May, 58 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare. Of that, “Original Medicare” enrollment is 37.9 million, with current MA enrollment at about 20.1 million, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Other major insurers that sell MA plans included most major carriers such as Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, Humana and Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. Such plans provide extra benefits and services to seniors, such as disease management and nurse help hotlines, as well as some plans providing vision and dental care and wellness programs. UnitedHealth’s rivals are expected to update Wall Street on their MA sales when they report earnings over the next three weeks.
Revenue in UnitedHealth’s Medicare business jumped 17%, or $2.5 billion, to $16.7 billion in the second quarter. The company is facing federal fraud allegations related to its Medicare Advantage business, but UnitedHealth has rejected the allegations as groundless.
Meanwhile, UnitedHealth's Medicare Advantage business continues to grow.
“Our Medicare Advantage business continues to benefit from strong consumer retention reflecting seniors' positive experience and the clear economic value of our offerings,” UnitedHealth Group president Dave Wichmann said. “In 2018, our distinctive product value and consumer experience should allow us to continue to grow as we expect to increase our overall Medicare Advantage market share in a growing Medicare Advantage market again next year.”
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Hispanic Market of Growing Interest to Insurance Agents
Not only are Hispanics the fastest-growing young demographic in the U.S., but they have the longest life expectancy at birth, facts that might interest insurance agents looking to build their books of business.
Underwriters of life insurance policies might also want to take note as the nation becomes more ethnically and racially diverse and as Hispanics continued to be underrepresented in life insurance coverage.
The data are the latest findings published by the National Center for Health Statistics in “Health, United States 2016.”
“By 2015, just over one-half of the child and adolescent population was non-Hispanic white and one-quarter was Hispanic,” study authors wrote in the 488-page report.
The NCHS is the principal data collection agency of the Centers for Disease Control within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
There were about 321 million people in the U.S. in 2015, compared with 216 million in 1975.
In 2015, nearly a quarter (24.6 percent) of the population ages 0 to 17 years old was Hispanic, an increase from 17.1 percent in 2000, as that age segment grew fastest.
Hispanics ages 18 to 64 years old made up 17.3 percent of the population, an increase from 12.2 percent in 2000, the report found.
Hispanics 65 years and older made up 7.9 percent of the population in 2015, an increase from 5 percent in 2000, the health data found.
By comparison, in 2015 whites made up 51.5 percent of the population age 0 to 17 years old compared with 61.3 percent in 2000.
In 2015 whites 18 to 64 years old made up 61.5 percent of the population, compared with 70 percent in 2000. Whites 65 years and older made up 77.8 percent compared with 83.8 percent in 2000, the data show.
Life Expectancy Highest Among Hispanics
That the nation’s population is moving toward racial and ethnic diversity isn’t exactly new, but the latest mortality data about Hispanics might be.
During 1975-2015, average life expectancy at birth in the U.S. rose from 68.8 years to 76.3 years for men and from 76.6 years to 81.2 years for women.
In 2015, Hispanic men had a life expectancy at birth, on average, of 79.3 years and Hispanic women had an expectancy of 84.3 years.
Non-Hispanic black men, with a life expectancy at birth of 71.8 years and non-Hispanic black women, with a life expectancy of 78.1 years, had the shortest, according to the data.
Life expectancy at birth was 7.5 years longer for Hispanic men than for non-Hispanic black men and 6.2 years longer for Hispanic women than for non-Hispanic black women.
The leading cause of death in 2015 was heart disease, which claimed 23.4 percent of all deaths, the data show.
Heart disease was followed by cancer (22 percent), CLRD, or chronic lower respiratory disease, (5.7 percent), unintentional injuries (5.4 percent), stroke (5.2 percent), Alzheimer’s (4.1 percent), diabetes (2.9 percent), influenza and pneumonia (2.1 percent), nephritis and nephrosis, or kidney disease (1.8 percent), and suicide (1.6 percent).
From 2011 to 2014, diabetes, a condition in which the body is deprived of insulin, affected 12 percent of adults age 20 and older.
From 1988 to 1994, diabetes affected 8.8 percent of adults 20 and older, the data show.
Between 2011 to 2014, the prevalence of diabetes among blacks and Hispanics of Mexican origin was almost twice as high than for non-Hispanic whites, the data found.
Medicare Advantage continues to grow with strong enrollment trends
Medicare Advantage (MA) increased enrollment by over a million members, or 6% growth, between March 31, 2016 and March 31, 2017. Nearly 34% of the 58.5 million people eligible for Medicare are enrolled in MA plans across the United States and U.S. territories.
Membership in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans increased from 17.98 million as of March 31, 2016 to over 19 million as of March 31, 2017. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage is expected to continue to grow at a steady rate as more and more Americans of the Baby Boom generation are entering retirement.
On April 3, 2017, CMS issued final updates to the Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug programs for 2018 in its Rate Announcement and Call Letter. On average, a 0.45% rate increase is expected for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans in 2018, which was a marginal increase from the .25% rate increase that was proposed in the February Advanced Notice and Draft Call Letter. Plans can expect a total estimated change of 2.95% in revenue when accounting for the expected growth in coding trend. Also, CMS said it will continue to use the bid-to-benchmark ratios used for 2017 payment to calculate MA Employer Group Waiver Plans (EGWPs) payments for 2018.
14 Medicare Stats That Will Blow You Away
The world of Medicare is surprisingly interesting, and knowing more about it can keep more dollars in your pocket over the course of your life while boosting your health, too. Here are some surprising Medicare stats to know. Here are 14 Medicare stats that might impress you.
Medicare is enormous
You surely know that Medicare is big business, but you probably don't appreciate just how big.
• $709 billion: That's how much Medicare benefit payments are expected to total in 2017. That's roughly equal to the gross domestic products (GDP) of Vietnam, and Greece combined. If that's not eye-opening enough, it's also roughly equal to the recent market values of McDonald's, Boeing, Nike, Starbucks, American Express, Lowe's, FedEx, Ford, and General Motors -- also combined.
• 20%: In 2015, Medicare spending accounted for 20% of all health spending in America in 2016. It also made up a remarkable 15% of the federal budget.
• 57,959,578: There are nearly 58 million enrollees in Medicare, as of April 2017. Considering that there are roughly 325 million people in America, that's a hefty 18% of the population -- nearly 1 in 5.• 18.3 million: Among the 58 million folks in Medicare, more than 18 million are estimated to be in Medicare Advantage plans as of 2017. Medicare Advantage plans are alternatives to the "original" Part A and Part B of Medicare, offering as much coverage and often more.
Medicare has an interesting history
History is full of fascinating details, and the history of Medicare is no exception:
• Four months: When Medicare was introduced in 1965, it required that hospitals be fully racially integrated to receive Medicare reimbursements. This requirement caused about a thousand hospitals to quickly (and often quietly) integrate, within four months, marking a major step forward for equality in America.
Medicare got a big boost from the ACA
The Affordable Care Act (the ACA, often referred to as Obamacare) has had a major effect on Medicare:
• 4.4%: The ACA was designed, in part, to contain healthcare costs that were rising at rapid rates. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows that Medicare spending grew at an annual average of 9% between 2000 and 2010, and then slowed to an annual average of 4.4% between 2010 and 2015. And that's even as baby boomers started to enter the Medicare rolls in 2011. The KFF also notes, "Average annual growth in spending per beneficiary averaged 1.4% between 2010 and 2015, down from 7.4% between 2000 and 2010."
• $0: The ACA required Medicare to offer enrollees more coverage -- especially in the form of preventive services -- for no additional cost.
Medicare is threatened by current proposed legislation
As most of us are aware, there are many changes to healthcare, including Medicare, being proposed in Washington these days. The current administration is pushing to repeal and replace the ACA and has proposed legislation that's likely to deliver less care at a higher price. Here are some things to know:
• 3 years: Congress' plans to repeal the Medicare tax on high-income taxpayers will weaken Medicare, hastening the depletion of its Part A trust fund by about three years.
• $660 billion: Repealing the ACA will be a big deal. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the bill the House of Representatives passed to repeal and replace the ACA "would eliminate ACA taxes on wealthy households and insurance and drug companies and greatly expand tax-sheltering opportunities for high-income people." It added: "These tax cuts (plus several smaller ones) would cost $660 billion over 2017 to 2026."
• $1.55 trillion: The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has noted, "According to our latest estimates, repealing the ACA in its entirety would cost roughly $350 billion through 2027 under conventional scoring and $150 billion using dynamic scoring." Also: "Repealing the ACA's coverage provisions would save $1.55 trillion through 2027, while repealing its tax increases would cost $800 billion, and repealing its Medicare (and related) cuts would cost another $1.10 trillion. Repeal would also lead to a small increase in economic growth, which could produce over $200 billion of additional net savings." Clearly, there are costs and savings realized from a repeal -- though some of the costs are human -- see the next point.
• 23 million: If the ACA is repealed, it has been estimated that about 23 million people will lose health insurance coverage. That will lead to tough or impossible choices for many: Risk financial disaster to pay for healthcare or go without and risk a shorter life. While the ACA has indeed introduced some new costs to the federal budget, it has also ushered in some greater financial efficiencies while covering millions of Americans. Also, according to Kaiser: "Medicare spending would rise primarily as a result of repealing the ACA's reductions to payments to providers and Medicare Advantage plans. An increase in Medicare spending would likely lead to higher premiums, deductibles, and cost sharing for beneficiaries, and would accelerate the projected insolvency date of the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund."
Making the most of Medicare
Despite all that turmoil and uncertainty about what Medicare will look like in the future, it's still with us, and making the most of it can save you money and boost your health.
• $0: That's how much you pay out of pocket for an annual wellness visit with your doctor, through Medicare. It's also how much you pay when you get certain screenings, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, diabetes screenings, and many more.
• 5: Medicare has a five-star rating system for services and facilities such as hospitals, dialysis centers, Medicare Advantage plans, nursing homes, and more. A five-star rating is the best you can get, but as of July, when 3,617 hospitals were rated, only 102 earned all five stars. For 2017, about 49% of Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage were rated with four or five stars -- covering about 68% of enrollees. The rating system for hospitals takes into account measures such as the rate of post-surgical infections and emergency room wait times. Medicare Advantage plans are evaluated on measures such as how well they're keeping their members healthy (with screenings, checkups, and more), how well they're managing members' chronic conditions, and how good their customer service is. You'll find the star ratings of plans available to you by using the Medicare Plan Finder at the Medicare website.
Most of us will probably be enrolled in Medicare at some point in our lives, so it's smart to learn more about it to make the most of it. Making the most of Medicare can save you a lot of money over the course of your life, and it might even extend your life, too.