With Highlights from ConnectureDRX’s Voice of the Medicare Consumer Survey 2019

On January 1, 2020 we rang in the New Year. It was to be the year of “perfect vision”, where we would finally see the world with total clarity. If only that were true.

In an utterly short amount of time, the impact of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has been everything but clear. In a matter of weeks, our personal and professional lives have been upended.  Seniors, among the highest at risk, face uncertain times and daunting futures more than any other demographic. Any retirement plans seniors may have had in the past have most likely changed.

Ten thousand baby boomers age-into Medicare every day with questions and concerns about getting the right, affordable healthcare coverage. These are concerns that existed well before the crisis began, and today loom even larger.

The Senior in 2019

The traditional view of retirement had already been changing for some time prior to 2020. In 2019, with drastically low levels of unemployment, the trend was towards a much more active retirement, one where work and personal pursuits blended, and retirement was viewed as a highly personalized experience.

The senior in 2019 was geographically mobile, active and becoming more digitally savvy. They were switching from full to part time work, doing different types of work and even starting their own businesses. According to a September 2019 New York Times article on “What Retirement Means Now”, 72% of seniors were continuing to work, not for financial reasons, but for healthy aging reasons. Forty-four percent saw themselves as easing into retirement by working less but not stopping entirely.

Fast forward to the Senior in 2020

In just a few months, we have a whole new picture of today’s senior, one that hasn’t completely formed but is beginning to take shape as a high-risk group in a world in crisis.

The 2020 senior is faced with isolation and crippling loneliness, fear over an uncertain financial future and anxiety over a serious illness where death is a possible outcome. Meeting in person has been replaced by online connection, not only for social and emotional bonding, but also to get the business of everyday living done.

A senior’s ability to connect digitally and their need to understand their Medicare plan options is more important now than ever. They have questions and are reaching out via their phone and searching online for answers. They want to trust in the sources providing information to them.

Trust in a health plan is critical to seniors

ConnectureDRX surveyed nearly 3,000 seniors immediately following AEP 2020, to gain insights into their Medicare shopping and enrollment behaviors. We have seen seniors growing more digitally adept over time, and our survey saw 43% of seniors shopping for Medicare online in 2019, up from 39% in 2017. As agents pivot their businesses from in-person to online meetings, this upward trend is significant as both groups strive to become more digitally comfortable with each other.

We also learned that trust in health plans remains important. Our findings were similar to a Deft Research 2020 Medicare Shopping & Switching Study, where Deft saw that trust in Medicare.gov dropped in 2019. Changes in the Medicare.gov PlanFinder technology led consumers to see there was not enough information on the Medicare.gov web site to make a good decision.

Due to the Medicare.gov challenges, we focused on helping our own customers (health plans, FMOs/brokers and other organizations) communicate to their agents that there was a better option in ConnectureDRX’s PlanCompare. With ConnectureDRX technology, agents and beneficiaries could enter and save medication lists and also see how adding or deleting prescriptions would affect them financially–all without sharing usernames and passwords (something they were not able to do on Medicare.gov).

We also asked Medicare consumers why they stayed with their current Medicare plan versus switching to another. More than 65% said they trust their current health plan and have been happy with them. Only 13% said they thought they had the best Medicare plan after shopping around. A mere 9% said they stayed because their doctors were on their plan.

What’s important when shopping for a Medicare plan

In ranking what is most important when shopping for a plan, the cost of prescription drug coverage has risen in importance.

Forty-seven percent of seniors ranked a low monthly or $0 premium plan as number one in importance on their list, followed by 23% who ranked keeping their current doctors as their top priority. Moving up in the rankings from previous years, 30% of consumers said that getting specific prescriptions covered was their second priority. This ranking is also impacted by the number and type of prescriptions a person takes daily.

The uptick in the importance of prescription drug coverage is not surprising.

According to a November 2019 Consumer Reports article, “The Shocking Rise of Prescription Drug Prices,” “High drug prices are financially toxic for American workers” and many consumers indicated that their medications were not covered even with insurance.

Thirty percent of Americans who take a prescription medication say their out-of-pocket costs for a medication they take regularly has increased in the past year. Of those, 12% said their drug costs went up by $100 or more.

Those who saw increases in out-of-pocket costs were twice as likely NOT to fill a prescription, forgo medical treatments or tests, cut back on groceries or even get a second job.

Prescription drug costs can make $0 premium plans less desirable

Accurate prescription drug costs (i.e. those based on local pharmacy prices and not regional averages) should be included when searching for a best fit Medicare plan. If not, consumers could end up paying more out-of-pocket annually. Zero premium plans can certainly lose their appeal when consumers understand the importance of accurate drug pricing.

In our survey, we asked consumers if they believed they found their best fit Medicare plan.

Forty percent said they have the best fit plan because the premium and other costs were lower (deductible, co-insurance, etc.). Thirty-five percent believe that lower annual out-of-pocket costs paired them with their best fit plan, followed by 30% who said a $0 premium plan was the best fit. Twenty-six percent said the best fit plan is the plan with lowest drug costs.

Educating consumers on how drug prices are calculated and the impact they have on out-of-pocket costs can go a long way towards putting money back in seniors’ pockets.

What seniors say about Medicare information

We surveyed seniors to get their overall impression of the information they see regarding Medicare plan options, and their responses were all over the board.

Twenty-one percent of seniors searched online and said they could easily understand the information available to them. Eighteen percent said they reach out to their health plan provider first for information, simply because they are happy with them. Thirteen percent call their broker or health plan first because they depend on them for clarifying plan options.

Ten percent remain confused by their options after searching online.

Simplification of messaging through plain language, use of universal symbols (iconography) and videos are becoming more important in helping seniors understand the information available to them. It is only in understanding their options can seniors take the right action and make the best decisions for themselves.

Everyday thousands of baby boomers age-in to Medicare. The world has changed, and a senior’s view of retirement is likely to be very different today than it was just a short time ago. As new concerns loom large, old challenges of managing health and healthcare still remain.

Our aim is to provide time tested and proven technology with the right support health plans, FMOs and agents require to digitally connect to seniors. With the right tools our customers can effectively answer insurance questions, alleviate concerns and guide every senior in confidently enrolling in their best fit Medicare plans online every time.

Click here to learn more about ConnectureDRX and PlanCompare ONE for Medicare shopping, quoting, enrollment and retention.