The CMS on Tuesday said Medicare Advantage average monthly premiums are projected to hit their lowest point in 13 years in 2020. The agency also predicted that enrollment in the plans would continue its upward march as more seniors opt for Advantage over the traditional Medicare program.
Average monthly premiums are expected to decrease 14.4% from $26.87 in 2019 to $23 next year—the lowest premium since 2007, according to the CMS. Seniors enrolling in Advantage plans will have more plan choices, with the average number of plans per county increasing to 39 plans in 2020 from 33 plans this year.
The CMS also projected that enrollment in the plans will hit 24.4 million next year, an increase of 9.9% from 22.2 million currently. Medicare Advantage open enrollment kicks off on Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7 for coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2020.
"President (Donald) Trump has promised American patients a system with affordable, personalized healthcare, a system that puts you in control, provides peace of mind, and treats you like a human being, not a number," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the news announcement. "That is what CMS has been delivering with its improvements to Medicare Advantage: lower costs, more options, and benefits tailored to patients' needs."
The projected increase in enrollment is good news for health insurers, many of which have been investing in the lucrative Medicare Advantage market. Michael Newshel, analyst at investment banking advisory firm Evercore ISI, in a research note on Tuesday characterized the CMS' enrollment projection as bullish, given that some analysts predicted growth would slow down because of the return of the health insurer fee in 2020.
Enrollment has climbed steadily as baby boomers age into Medicare and opt for Advantage plans over the traditional program. Seniors often get more benefits from the Advantage plan, including dental care, eyeglasses and gym memberships. But unlike the traditional program, they must see physicians within the health plan's network.
The federal government has also favored the Medicare Advantage program. The CMS next year will allow plans to reduce cost sharing and tailor benefits for seniors with certain chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and congestive heart failure, that aren't going to cure their conditions but will address social and environmental factors that could affect patient health. Benefits could include home-delivered meals or transportation for non-medical needs.
About 250 plans in 2020 will offer access to non-medical supplemental benefits, reaching about 1.2 million patients, the CMS said.
The agency in 2019 also began allowing plans to pay for supplemental benefits like adult day care services and in-home supports, such as wheelchair ramps and grab bars.