Kaiser Permanente, Humana and UnitedHealth Group have added the most Medicare Advantage members in the past two months, keeping their tight grip on that increasingly lucrative market. But enrollment across all private Medicare plans has grown at a slower pace than in the past few years.
As of Dec. 1, 17.76 million seniors and disabled people were enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, according to the latest federal data. That's a 6.8% increase from the same time in 2014.
Medicare Advantage policies serve as the private alternative to traditional Medicare, and often include extra perks such as eye care and reduced cost-sharing. The federal government pays health insurers set amounts for each member, although sicker members result in higher payments. Federal law requires at least 85% of the revenue be spent on patient care.
The 6.8% annual boost in Medicare Advantage enrollment lagged behind the 8% to 9% annual growth rate seen over the past five years. Although fewer people are signing up for the private plans, or are staying in traditional Medicare, the full-year picture will become clearer next month. Medicare's annual enrollment period ran from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Next month's data will include December's entire enrollment, including the procrastinators who waited until the end of the enrollment period to sign up.
UnitedHealth, the largest health insurance company in the country by revenue, maintained its lead in the Medicare market with 3.51 million members, according to a Modern Healthcare analysis of CMS data. The Minnetonka, Minn.-based conglomerate added 14,600 Medicare beneficiaries in the past two months, more than any other insurer.
Humana has enrolled 11,500 people into its Medicare Advantage products since October, and Kaiser was close behind, adding 11,400 members. The third-most-popular Advantage insurer was Cigna Corp., which signed up 4,000 people, but Cigna is a much smaller player. Humana had 3.25 million members, as of Dec. 1, while Kaiser had 1.35 million.
Aetna is in the process of acquiring Humana. The combined company would be the largest Medicare Advantage company in the country, although Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini has insisted the deal would not raise anticompetitive concerns because Medicare beneficiaries always have the ability to switch to traditional Medicare.
Aetna added a little less than 1,300 Medicare members in the past two months, well below its competitors. That included a loss of 410 members during the thick of Medicare's November enrollment. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to inquiries as to why Aetna's membership took a dip last month.
Centene Corp., Health Net and Molina Healthcare have lost the most Medicare members since the 2016 enrollment period began. Each insurer lost more than 2,000 members.
There were also 24.27 million people with a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan as of Dec. 1, a 3.1% bump from a year ago, according to CMS data. UnitedHealth, Humana, CVS Health and Express Scripts Holding Co. control 70% of the Part D market.