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Are Medicare Advantage Plans Lower-Cost Than Traditional Medicare?

January 28, 2016

The costs of providing benefits to enrollees in private Medicare Advantage (MA) plans are slightly less, on average, than what traditional Medicare spends per beneficiary in the same county. However, MA plans that are able to keep their costs comparatively low are concentrated in a fairly small number of U.S. counties. In the 25 counties where the cost differences between MA plans and traditional Medicare are largest, MA plans spent a total of $5.2 billion less than what traditional Medicare would have been expected to spend on the same beneficiaries, with health maintenance organizations (HMOs) accounting for all of that difference. In the rest of the country, MA plans spent $4.8 billion above the expected costs under traditional Medicare. Broad determinations about the relative efficiency of MA plans and traditional Medicare can therefore be misleading, as they fail to take into account local conditions and individual plans' performance.

Competition Among Medicare's Private Health Plans: Does It Really Exist?

August 25, 2015

Competition among private Medicare Advantage (MA) plans is seen by some as leading to lower premiums and expanded benefits. But how much competition exists in MA markets? Using a standard measure of market competition, our analysis finds that 97 percent of markets in U.S. counties are highly concentrated and therefore lacking in significant MA plan competition. Competition is considerably lower in rural counties than in urban ones. Even among the 100 counties with the greatest numbers of Medicare beneficiaries, 81 percent do not have competitive MA markets. Market power is concentrated among three nationwide insurance organizations in nearly two-thirds of those 100 counties.