Feb 19, 2020 - Health

Medicare Advantage enrollment swells

Illustration of senior hands reaching up towards a caduceus.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Roughly 24.4 million seniors and people with disabilities were enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan as of this month, a 9.4% jump from the same time in 2019, according to the latest federal data analyzed by Axios.

Why it matters: Medicare Advantage, which is run by private health insurers, continues to grow at high rates despite concerns over the program's higher spending and evidence that insurers are making people appear sicker than they are.

By the numbers: The 9.4% annual enrollment growth is well above the 6.8% growth rate in 2019, and people flocked to pretty much every insurer selling Medicare Advantage plans this past season — from startups to well-established carriers.

  • UnitedHealth Group boosted its membership by 10% to 6.3 million people, keeping its position as the largest MA company.
  • Humana (4.4 million), CVS Health's Aetna (2.6 million) and Kaiser Permanente (1.7 million) remained among the other large MA plans.

Startups including Devoted Health, Clover Health and Alignment Healthcare still have small MA footprints compared to the traditional insurance carriers, but they recorded sizable enrollment gains for this year.

  • Devoted multiplied its membership by seven times, and is now at 16,000 enrollees.
  • Clover has 54,500 members, a 39% bump from a year ago.
  • Alignment's enrollment spiked 36%, to 61,700 people.

The elephant in the room: The Congressional Budget Office raised new concerns about MA spending in its latest economic outlook.

  • Net Medicare spending this year will be $22 billion higher than CBO originally projected, and "higher spending for Medicare Advantage accounts for most of that difference," CBO said.
  • That higher spending was attributed to higher payment rates and the likelihood that more MA enrollees "will be coded as being in poorer health than the agency previously anticipated," the CBO said.
  • Federal watchdogs have warned about the coding practices of MA plans, and the industry has fought off regulators that want to audit their records more aggressively.

Go deeper: Where Medicare Advantage is most popular

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