Helping Medicare Beneficiaries Make Informed Choices

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<p>The Medicare Advantage program offers seniors a choice of private health plans as alternatives to traditional fee-for-service Medicare. While these plans can potentially provide additional value, many consumers have had a hard time understanding how these plans differ.<br><br>In the new Commonwealth Fund issue brief, <a href="/publications/issue-briefs/2008/apr/medicare-advantage--options-for-standardizing-benefits-and-information-to-improve-consumer-choice
">Medicare Advantage: Options for Standardizing Benefits and Information to Improve Consumer Choice</a>, Ellen O'Brien and Jack Hoadley report that the problem lies in the high degree of variability and complexity in Medicare Advantage plans--and the lack of good information for making educated choices. Based on discussions with an array of experts, the authors outline three possible remedies: requiring more standardized information and better tools to support beneficiaries' decision-making; implementing a few standardized benefit and cost-sharing regimes to limit the numbers of dimensions along which plans may vary; and requiring that plans put a cap on out-of-pocket costs.<br><br>With these steps, Medicare officials and their community partners would find it far easier to educate beneficiaries about their health plan choices, while strengthening the ability of the market-based Medicare Advantage program to incorporate beneficiary preferences.<br><br>"Greater standardization would help assure that consumers know what they are buying when they enroll," say O'Brien and Hoadley. "It would allow them to make more meaningful price comparisons across competing insurers--something that is virtually impossible in today's Medicare Advantage marketplace."</p>