More than 17.3 million people were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans as of March 2015. Year over year, total Medicare Advantage enrollment increased by more than 1.3 million as managed Medicare continues to be an attractive growth market for health insurance companies. The latest CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) reports indicate 54.3 million are eligible for Medicare in the United States and U.S. territories. Medicare Advantage (MA), with an unpenetrated market of 37 million and growing, is big business for many health plans. UnitedHealth and Humana lead the segment and each leader enrolls more than 3 million MA members. Kaiser Permanente and Aetna also command significant market share with more than 1.2 million MA enrolled.
Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment stands at 17.3 million, which represents an 8% increase year-over-year. Ten companies, each with more than 250,000 members, have a sizeable stake in this segment and collectively they provide coverage for 67% of the market. Per the reference table below, all leading MA companies realized growth from March 2014 to March 2015 except for Anthem and Highmark. The aggregate net gain for the leading companies, year-over-year, was 8.2% and segment growth for all other MA companies was on par.
UnitedHealth retains its position as the top Medicare Advantage organization in the country; with 3.4 million enrolled, UnitedHealth owns 20% of the market. Humana ranks a strong second with 18% share and 3.1 million lives. Kaiser Permanente is positioned as third on the leader board, enrolling 7.5% of the total market or 1.3 million. Aetna trails closely behind Kaiser Permanente owning 7.2% of the market and more than 1.2 million lives.
Each year, Medicare Advantage plans rely on February and March enrollment reports to not only evaluate their standing but also assess which competitors gained and lost members during the last AEP (Annual Election Period). The AEP occurs between October 15 and December 7 each year and is also referred to as the Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans.
This year, Humana experienced the largest gain in terms of membership, adding 369,747 members for a net gain of 13.2%. UnitedHealth's MA enrollment grew by 271,245 for a net gain of 8.5%. Aetna saw a net gain of 13.9%, adding 152,780 members to its MA book in the last year. Per the reference table below, membership gains were fairly substantial for other growth leaders in this segment, ranging from 83,365 for Kaiser Permanente to 32,729 for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.
The majority of people with Medicare Advantage purchased a plan directly from the company and this is referred to as individual or direct purchase enrollment. As of March 2015, about 82% (approximately 14 million) of MA membership was individual. This speaks to why plans invest considerable time to devise market and selling strategies in preparation for the AEP every year.
Only 18% of total MA membership (slightly more than 3 million) originated through an employer group health plan or retirement health benefit. Nonetheless, group membership grew by 6% year-over-year primarily driven by UnitedHealth plan gains. Some companies strategically target group MA business because employers are interested in the cost savings MA plans can offer. Note that 57% of Aetna's MA membership is through group plans. Though many employers are shifting away from providing retirement benefits, larger volumes of people retiring may continue to sustain group Medicare Advantage opportunities over the next few years.
It is important to note that individual and group enrollment counts are slightly lower than total segment enrollment due to different reporting requirements.