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American consumers today want to get what they want, where and when they need it – and at a price they can afford. It’s no different for those enrolled in Medicare, especially when it comes to their health care.

People approaching and eligible for Medicare are different than those from generations past. They are more diverse, tech-savvy and feeling healthier. And projections estimate the number of Medicare beneficiaries will rise from 62 million in 2020 to 78 million by 2030.

“Today’s Medicare consumers want flexible and affordable options that meet their personalized needs,” said Steve Warner, senior vice president of Medicare Advantage, UnitedHealthcare. “Their workforce experience made them accustomed to a comprehensive set of benefits that they can use as they see fit – creating expectations for plans that drive both enhanced care management and, ultimately, better outcomes.”

A prime example of this is within Medicare Advantage, the popular public-private partnership designed to evolve to meet the dynamic needs of this population. Covering about 26 million people – around 40% of all Medicare beneficiaries– Medicare Advantage coverage often includes dental, vision, hearing and other perks not available from Original Medicare.

Using insights gleaned through the challenges of the past pandemic year, these plans are accelerating adaptable, people-first health care, building on four key trends.

Driving value and affordability remains a priority

A key tenet of Medicare Advantage remains bundling benefits to help reduce health care costs – creating more value for the overall health care system and for individuals. A UnitedHealth Group report issued this month shows people in Medicare Advantage spent about 40% less than those in traditional fee-for-service Medicare. Overall, Medicare Advantage premiums are the lowest they have been since 2007.

Medicare Advantage also helps people get and stay healthy; they have lower out-of-pocket costs and experience fewer hospital readmissions. Many offer mail-order prescription services, which CMS discovered often leads to lower prices.

Strong collaboration among providers, plan carriers, and policymakers are paying off in other ways for beneficiaries. For example, as part of the Medicare Part D Senior Savings Model, participating plans limit the monthly cost of covered insulin to $35 per prescription. 

Consumers not only accept telehealth, they embrace it

The trend to quickly access care – and in nontraditional settings – is nowhere more prevalent than in telehealth, which took off in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Twenty-five percent of Americans over the age of 50 completed a telehealth visit in early 2020, compared to only 4% of those over 50 a year earlier. And people over 65 used telehealth in 2020 for nearly half of their primary care visits.

Even as consumers have resumed more in-person office visits, telehealth holds promise as a logical option in many circumstances. Research validates consumer readiness to take this digital leap: 21% of patients reported the quality of telehealth visits was even better than in-person; an additional 62% concurred it was just as good.

People want more flexibility and specialized support in how they navigate care

The pandemic illuminated how important it is to keep health care coordination on track –filling the gaps between in-person visits and reinforcing the importance of not delaying needed, in-person care.

Medicare Advantage plans are designed to encourage overall health checks – sometimes from the comfort of home – using the information from screenings, immunization history, and lifestyle counseling to help keep people healthier. The proactive approach is vital, as approximately three in five older adults lack up-to-date preventive care.

For the 60% of Americans living with chronic conditions, the pandemic also incited a renewed urgency in helping people manage specialized care for some of the very underlying health conditions that put them at risk. Especially magnified were challenges around coordinating specialists, managing appointments and ensuring medication adherence. UnitedHealthcare’s Navigate4Me™ program offers a single point of contact to help address these kinds of needs, including navigating safe quarantine or obtaining medication and food when isolated.

“Last year accelerated the demand for plan designs that enable consumers to access care and support in new and innovative ways,” said Warner. “People feel a sense of freedom knowing health care is accessible and convenient to their unique lifestyle and needs.”

Older adults want on-the-go options to stay mentally sharp and physically fit.

People 65 and older are increasingly active – according to one study, the percentage of seniors who did moderate-to-vigorous physical exercise every week rose nearly 40 percent from 1998 to 2013.

Fast-forward to 2020, the year that taught us a valuable lesson in being flexible and creative in how, where and when we could work on body-and-mind wellness. Fighting isolation and potential cognitive decline, older adults took to on-demand workout classes and online brain health assessments, guided yoga and meditation apps as well as gym memberships to regain their sense of community.

With the consumer in the driver’s seat, where to next?

The pandemic taught us the value of flexibility in all aspects of our lives, and no one wants to give that up. Medicare Advantage is designed to accommodate those changing needs and desires.

“For a health plan to truly meet the needs of older adults, it must support them as they navigate complex health needs; give them access to quality and affordable care; and help them stay active physically and mentally,” Warner said. “Doing this well will move the entire health care system toward the triple aim of improving affordability, outcomes and the patient experience.”

Medicare Advantage is continually and increasingly poised to meet this opportunity head on. Doing so will require new partnerships between providers, health plans and policymakers, but continuous improvement – especially if it improves longevity and wellbeing – is always worth a collaborative effort.

That effort will help ensure that Medicare Advantage will continue to do what it does best: meet the changing health needs and priorities of the newest generation of people in Medicare.

Read more about how UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement is paving the path toward redefining next-generation health care:

Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.

Benefits vary by plan. Limitations and exclusions apply.

You will pay $35 or less for a 1-month supply of insulin until you reach the catastrophic stage of your benefit. You will pay 5% of the cost of your insulin or less during the catastrophic stage.