In this episode, we are joined by Chris Hakim, Vice President and General Manager of Medicare at eHealth, to discuss their recent study about Medicare beneficiary’s perceptions and concerns about the future of the program.
Highlights of this episode include:
- Why the cost of prescription drugs is an important issue for Medicare beneficiaries.
- Reasons why Medicare beneficiaries think that the program is in trouble.
- Some trends in today’s healthcare industry that may benefit Medicare beneficiaries.
- Why most of the people surveyed do not support a broad expansion of Medicare.
- And more…
Mike Passanante: Hi, this is Mike Passanante. And welcome back to the Hospital Finance Podcast.
A recent survey by eHealth highlighted perceptions and concerns about Medicare beneficiaries about the future of the program. To explain the results of this survey, I’m joined by Chris Hakim who is Vice President and General Manager of Medicare at eHealth.
Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris: Great, Michael. Thanks for having me.
Mike: Chris, for those who are not familiar with eHealth, can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
Chris: Sure! eHealth, we’ve been around since 1997. We’re a marketplace where individuals and families, small businesses, and Medicare beneficiaries come to us to quote, compare and enroll in individual health insurance policies. We have all kinds of tools for them. We work with over 200 health insurance plans. We have over 10,000 products for beneficiaries and individuals to survey. And then, ultimately, make the right decision for their insurance needs.
Mike: So Chris, as I mentioned in the introduction, you went out and surveyed Medicare beneficiaries. Can you tell us why you initiated survey and who you spoke to specifically?
Chris: Yeah, the reason we did this is, in our business, through phone calls, we touch about 1.7 million people this year online. And our different web properties—Medicare.com, eHealthInsurance—we touched about 8.6 million unique visitors in 2018.
So, what we always do, we regularly survey our customers to really find out about the range of questions they might have, the issues, what’s affecting them, and what their general perception is, especially in the Medicare beneficiary, what are their concerns not only in policy, but also what are their concerns in the coverages and choices they might have when they’re trying to make a decision on the best health insurance for their individual needs.
Mike: So, let’s dive right into the survey results. First, you found that Medicare beneficiaries want controls on drug costs. Can you tell us what you found there?
Chris: Yeah, what we found is, as we talk to our customers, the average Medicare beneficiary is taking over five prescription drugs. And the one thing that we always hear from consumers is their concern on that cost—what are their co-pays going to be, are their drugs going to be covered, how much are they going to have to pay out of pocket. Not only is it a big expense, but it’s also confusing for them to understand what is the right plan for them.
And what we found in the survey result is that, prescription drugs, 83% of the people really had prescription drugs as their top issue—and the concern for the longevity of the program.
So, it really stuck out at us. And we not only saw it in the survey, but we also see it as we are interacting with so many Medicare beneficiaries.
What we also found is that, from our other research that we do, that most beneficiaries, when they are in the optimal prescription drug plan, they can save over $600 from the plan that they’re in.
And so, it just shows that people are confused about prescription drug coverage and that if they do their research, they use all the resources available to them that they could save a tremendous amount of money.
But what we see is that most seniors are not doing that every year, so we’re trying to educate them and get them into the right plan as they go through the decision-making process.
Mike: Chris, let me look back and touched on something that you just mentioned. I thought it was concerning when I read through the study’s results—and that’s Medicare beneficiaries think that the program is in trouble. What do they feel is happening there?
Chris: I think what we’ve seen is that there is a lot of publicity about the funding for Medicare. They see their Medicare Part A and Part B insurance coverage that they have to pay out of pocket going up ever year. They’re worried and concerned that as more and more people are turning 65, will there be enough money in the system in order to carry it on and make sure that they have coverage throughout their lives.
So, really, that is something that weights on them. The older the Medicare beneficiary is, what we found, the more concerned they are. And they’re concerned the Medicare assistance may not be around for their children and so forth as they get into Medicare.
So, insurance costs, out-of-pocket expense, just Medicare coverage, we found, is weighing on people’s minds constantly because of the high cost and the limited amount of income. Over half of the Medicare beneficiaries have an income of under $30,000 a year. So, any change in premium or out-of-pocket cost for them is very, very concerning, and again, something that weights on them heavily.
Mike: And I think that dovetails somewhat with the next question I wanted to ask you because, presumably, Medicare beneficiaries are appreciative of the program and deriving value from it. But most of the people in the survey did not support a broad expansion of Medicare. What did you find there?
Chris: Again, it’s different by the age. But people feel that the expansion of Medicare will ultimately drain the system for the care that they need now. They’re also afraid with the expansion that it possibly could lead to less choice for them and really confine what products and what they can get for themselves as they’re going through the system right now.
So, it is an issue that is very concerning for them when they do hear about the expansion of Medicare not only for the consumer but also the industry as a whole.
Mike: Chris, you’re someone who thinks about Medicare a lot. What are some of the trends that you see in the healthcare industry that you think will benefit Medicare beneficiaries. And conversely, what do you think that the healthcare industry should take away from this survey.
Chris: Yeah. So, any time that we’re looking at our customers, especially in the Medicare space, is that the one thing they always want is more choice. And what we are seeing currently within the Medicare space is that CMS has been really adapting and changing what they’re going to be covering—especially Medicare Advantage Plans—in the marketplace.
And what we’re seeing is, number one, new benefits being able to be added to Medicare Advantage Plans such as supplemental benefits, helping caregivers within home being able to help their parents and to make sure that they’re maintaining their ability to stay in their home instead of having them maybe go to an assisted living facility and things of that nature.
So, we’re going to see a rapid change as we go into 2020 with more and more of these supplementable benefits being added to plans.
What we’re also seeing dramatically obviously is the CVS acquisition of Aetna just coming through over the last couple of weeks and months. And what we’re seeing, especially with that merger and others, is that care is going to start changing and being delivered more in the retail setting. Obviously, with someone like CVS, we’re going to see more and more benefits being performed in a pharmacy setting where there’s different types of clinics in there, where people can get routine care trying to get them healthier before maybe they have to go to an emergency room or a hospital setting.
We’re also seeing more and more things, like I’ve said before, being delivered in the home setting.
So, we are going to continue to see trends of that nature where insurance companies and providers are going to be continuing to change where care is delivered. And the whole idea is to do much more preventative, do things at a less costly setting, and therefore, overall, make the benefits easier to use and lower cost. And the ultimate is to really keep people as healthy as possible as long as they can.
So, we are seeing some very positive trends on how the care is being delivered. And we think it will be a very positive trend for Medicare beneficiaries.
Mike: Chris, if someone wanted to get a copy of this eHealth report, where can they go?
Mike: Chris Hakim, thank you for joining us today on the Hospital Finance Podcast.
Chris: Thank you very much for having me.