Disturbing percentage of Med Supp, Advantage enrollees lack full understanding of plans

A revealing new dataset on Medicare beneficiaries sheds light on just how little many of them understand about the coverage.

MedicareGuide.com surveyed how well U.S. adults 65+ understood their Medicare Supplement and Advantage plans and gauged how much respondents use and trust eight sources of information, including agents and the government, in their buying decisions.

The survey found some significant disparities:

  • 29% of U.S. adults aged 65+ with Medicare do not fully understand Medicare Advantage plans, and 23% do not fully understand Medicare Supplement plans.
  • 82% of respondents who’d enrolled in one or the other type plan said they understood Medicare Supplement “very” or “somewhat well.” That compares to 76% who said they understood Medicare Advantage very or somewhat well.
  • Personal physicians are the most trusted (57%), and telemarketers the least trusted (1%) sources of information on Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Licensed insurance agents are the most-used source of information and the second-most trusted source of information (behind doctors) when applying for Medicare Supplement or Advantage plans.

Given their lack of understanding, many elderly Americans turn to agents for help enrolling in plans, despite the fact that only 20% of Americans 65 and older said they trust agents a great deal.

Asked how much they used eight information sources when they applied for Medicare Supplement or Advantage plans, the greatest number, 28% of respondents, said they used licensed insurance agents a great deal.

The importance of trust in licensed insurance agents becomes clear in another result of the survey: a 52% majority of Americans signed up with Supplement or Advantage plans were enrolled by an agent.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents with Med Supp or MA plans said an agent enrolled them in person. Another 23% said an agent enrolled for them by phone.

A further 29% said they enrolled online themselves; 8% enrolled by mail, and 11% cited other methods.

Eighty-eight percent of Americans who signed up for Medicare Supplement or Advantage plans said they were the primary decision maker in choosing a plan. Another 8% said their spouse was the primary decision maker, while less than 1% answered either an adult child, another family member, or a friend.

Predictably, Medicare Advantage came out on top in terms of ease of enrollment. Asked how easy or difficult the enrollment process was, 59% said Medicare Advantage was easy to enroll in, compared to just 48% who said the same about Medicare Supplement.

Medicare Advantage applications are standardized and about two pages long. Medicare Supplement applications vary by carrier and state, and are virtually all over 10 pages.

MedicareGuide.com, an expert information source owned and operated by HealthCare.com, surveyed over 1,010 U.S. adults aged 65 and up. The survey was conducted by YouGov from February 12-17, 2021.

Click here for full survey results.

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