With Highlights from ConnectureDRX’s Voice of the Medicare Consumer Survey 2020

2020 was arguably one of the most difficult years in recent history, derailing hopes, reducing optimism, and changing the daily routines so many people have come to rely upon. It has been especially tough for those 65 and over, who have accounted for 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. History will forever remember this pandemic, showing us just how unpredictable the future can be.

With 2020 behind us, we can see more clearly how the pandemic has forever altered the ways in which we connect physically, socially, and digitally. And, we have also gained insight into how seniors have benefitted dramatically from technology.

The senior in 2020

The 2020 senior experienced a lack of physical interaction with friends and family members, spent more time indoors, and felt the sting of isolation. They were also impacted by the loss of employment and some were forced to retire before they were ready.

In spite of the grave impact the virus has had on seniors, according to a 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation Mental Health Survey, those 65 and over had less anxiety and depression during the pandemic (29% of seniors) than those aged 18-24 (56% of young adults). In fact, the study showed that the symptoms of anxiety and depression decreased as age increased.

Due to physical distancing and self-quarantining practices, seniors became more decidedly digital. The senior in 2020 was reluctant to seek help in person. They were searching for information online and spending on products from online marketplaces.

According to Deft Research, two-thirds of Medicare recipients sought advice on the phone, while just 9% met with doctors or brokers in person. As such, there was a great demand for phone consults during the Medicare enrollment period.

The senior in 2021

The new year brought changes for the senior. The senior in 2021 will continue using telemedicine even after the pandemic is over. They believe prescription drug prices are too high and demand to see prices before they pick up their prescriptions. And based on CMS’s final rule on the subject, they will get transparency. They will eventually have more data, along with better access to tools and technology that will allow them to see drug prices and health plan costs more clearly. They are also concerned about how their health plan treats them and want to hear empathy in the voices of those they are buying from on the other end of the phone.

Compared to 2020, seniors will find it less difficult to get the necessary information to make educated decisions on their health plans.

Many of their fears may also be softened in 2021 with the availability of new Covid19 treatment options and the vaccine. Seniors should feel empowered to look up their prescription medicines online and find lower-cost alternatives they can speak to their prescribers about.

How the pandemic impacted Medicare plan selections

Every year, ConnectureDRX surveys thousands of healthcare and Medicare consumers to better understand their health plan shopping and enrollment behaviors. This past year we also learned how the pandemic affected their choice of Medicare plans. As a result, 62% stayed with the same brand because they trust their health plan and have been happy with them.

Only 15% of consumers switched to another plan because they were not happy with their plan or coverage, whereas in 2019 26% switched plans. Seniors were clearly more comfortable staying put with their plans during a pandemic year, leading us to believe they may be more open to switching plans during this upcoming AEP 2022.

 Seniors trust Medicare

We learned that “trust” is essential for seniors. Most (68%) said that trust is the reason they stayed with their insurance carrier. Also noteworthy is that most seniors trust our government run Medicare system, up 4% in 2020. We also saw a 5% increase in those who trust the information and service they receive from their brokers and agents.

It is comforting to know that in light of a very challenging year, especially for seniors, their ability to trust and depend on our Medicare system has gone up. It may indicate they are receiving the guidance they seek and the coverage they expect from their health plans. The other issue at play is seniors are becoming more adept at using personal technology and using self-service to shop and enroll. With this comes increased confidence in their ability to select the right plans and coverage for their own needs.

Seniors want more supplemental benefits

It is clear from our survey, supplement benefits are more important than ever. We saw a 9% increase in those who switched plans for vision, hearing, silver sneakers, and others. Our survey along with Deft Research findings saw that the top benefit seniors switched plans for was dental, holding the top spot for two years now.

Although paper enrollments are still plentiful, we are seeing these digital engagement trends mirrored with agents who are adopting technology more readily to improve their connection to seniors and boost their business results.

Seniors rely on brokers to understand their plan options

Forty-three percent (43%) of seniors research plans online. They also rely on their brokers to clarify the information they see regarding Medicare. Our survey revealed a whopping 15% increase over the previous year in those who started searching online and then called a broker or agent to help them better understand their plan options.

And what did seniors say about the information they received about Medicare? There was a 4% increase in the number of seniors still confused by the information they see on the web. However, fewer seniors were confused by the materials they read offline via direct mail, newspapers, and others—a 9% decrease from the prior year.

Seniors were also eager in 2020 to do just about anything to make their current plan work. This seems true, especially when a medication is not covered, making them seek workarounds. They search for an alternative drug, ask their doctor for one, make appeals to their insurer, order medications online, and more.

Researching and comparing prescription drug prices

According to a recent study on consumers and drug costs, 74% said their prescription drug costs are increasing or staying at the same high levels as always. And when seniors do not take drugs as prescribed, the effect can be detrimental. 80% of seniors say their condition worsened due to not taking their medications.

According to our survey, 28% of seniors take 2-3 medications, 18% do not take any medications regularly and 10% take 8 or more. Concerned about prescription costs, 53% said they compare the prices of medications and nearly 40% indicated their health plan’s website is their go-to place for comparing prices.

Forty-eight percent (48%) said they would ask their prescriber about a lower-cost alternative to save money and 22% would ask for a medication change due to side effects. Still, 19% remain hesitant and would not ask their provider about alternatives.

What makes a plan a best fit for beneficiaries?

We also asked seniors why the plan they chose is the best fit for their needs. Here is what we found out.

A best fit plan is the one with the:

    1. Lowest annual out-of-pocket costs – 54% indicated the plan with the lowest out-of-pocket costs was the best fit, compared to 40% last year –  a 14% increase
    2. Best supplemental benefit options –  38% chose their best fit plan because it had the best supplemental benefits vs. 29% last year – a 9% jump
    3. Broker guiding them to the plan – 23% chose a plan that their broker guided them to versus only 17% who selected this reason in 2019 – a 6% rise
    4. Plan with the lowest drug costs – 36% indicated that the plan with the lowest drug costs was clearly their best fit plan when only 31% said so the prior year – a 5% increase

Of note is the importance of zero premium dropped 2%. A small decrease, but it shows that consumers may now have a better understanding that there are many factors to consider when choosing a plan. They are learning from experience that zero premium often ends up costing more.

Seniors have learned from what they experienced in 2020. They have become more digitally savvy and want to communicate in the way they are most comfortable with (phone, text, app, email, etc.) and on the device of their choosing. They want the voice on the other end of the phone to be empathetic and trustworthy when answering their questions. They trust Medicare but are demanding to know prices in advance because they want to feel empowered with options based on their individual needs.

Seniors are becoming more digitally connected, less fearful, and hungry for information. They are asking for more because it is their right to do so, and they are clearly not going back to old ways.

Learn more about the tools health plans, FMOs, agencies, and PBMs are using to empower agents and beneficiaries, DatabaseRX, DrugCompare, and PlanCompareONE. Email marketing@connecture.com with any questions.