Customer Satisfaction with Medicare Advantage Health Plans Remain Low

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By Thomas Beaton

– Medicare Advantage (MA) plans are not meeting their customer satisfaction goals, and tend to leave consumers feeling less-than-pleased with the way health plans communicate and the availability of financial information, according to a new JD Power consumer survey.

“Efforts to help beneficiaries better manage and reduce out-of-pocket spending associated with their care and coordinating care between providers are some of the most powerful drivers of satisfaction, yet few plans fully deliver on that capability,” said Valerie Monet, Senior Director of the Insurance Practice at JD Power.

Medicare Advantage satisfaction as a whole dropped slightly from 2017 to 2018, JD Power found. On a 1000-point scale, Medicare Advantage satisfaction scores for all plans fell from 799 to 794. The top three Medicare Advantage health plans in consumer satisfaction were offered by Kaiser Permanente (841 out of 1000), Highmark (807), and Cigna HealthSpring (798).

The JD Power team believes that the rapid growth of Medicare Advantage enrollment has contributed to lower scores. The Medicare Advantage market has grown by 7.5 percent from last year, equating to 1.5 million new beneficiaries.  Health plans may be having trouble keeping up with new consumer demands and changing trends in how beneficiaries wish to interact with their insurance carriers.

Assistance from health plans with managing out-of-pocket costs is a primary driver of customer satisfaction, the team found. However, many health plans are not giving advice or providing tools to help beneficiaries keep their spending low.

Only 54 percent of beneficiaries said their health plan worked with them to limit out-of-pocket spending as much as possible. The team believes focusing on improving engagement in this area can help MA plans increase customer satisfaction.

Care coordination also presents an opportunity for health plans to increase consumer satisfaction and brand loyalty among high-risk beneficiaries. JD Power found that health plans with a large number of high-risk beneficiaries should explore how to best expand care coordination capabilities to improve brand trust.

“Specifically, among [Medicare/Medicaid] dual-eligible members who receive care coordination services, 61 percent say they ‘strongly agree’ that their health plan is a trusted partner; 72 percent say they ‘definitely will’ recommend their health plan; and 77 percent say they ‘definitely will’ renew with their health plan,” JD Power said.

Consumers panned Medicare Advantage plans on communication and outreach, the survey added.  

Health plans are generally not leveraging communication strategies to engage members. On average, beneficiaries only receive one piece of communication from their plan during the year. Infrequent communication and outreach from MA plans can lead to several significant problems and frustrations.

“The combination of ineffective enrollment materials, incorrect provider directories and lack of communication throughout the year can negatively influence members’ understanding of what a plan will cover, what resources are available, incurring charges associated with uncovered services/treatments and visiting out-of-network providers,” JD Power said.

Customer service and customer satisfaction have been critical challenges for the payer industry as a whole, other recent research has confirmed.

A recent Forrester analysis of health plan satisfaction also found that payers generally struggle to provide positive customer experiences, and agreed that communication, or the lack thereof, is a top concern.  

“Only 56 percent of customers feel they can get help when they need it and that employees know how to solve their issues quickly,” Forrester said. “Health insurers should take this into consideration when evaluating and adopting new digital customer service technologies like chatbots or real-time conversational guidance and analytics tools.

Customer service support tools and digital solutions could help payers tailor their member engagement strategies to provide quick and comprehensive customer support, benefits information, and enrollment guidance to beneficiaries.

The Medicare Advantage market is growing at a significant rate and payers may need to invest in additional marketing strategies to effectively engage new consumers and separate themselves from emerging competitors.