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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU, Iowa: Fewer Rural Beneficiaries Enrolled in High-Quality Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas are less likely to be enrolled in the highest-quality Medicare Advantage plans than beneficiaries in urban areas, according to research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

[Photo: Ms. Leah Kemper]

Analysts said the difference was likely due to the lack of availability of highly rated plans in rural areas, as 17.8 percent of rural counties lacked access to those plans, compared to 3.7 percent of urban counties. Another reason may be that people in rural areas prefer less expensive plans.

Faculty portrait for the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. (Photo © Whitney Curtis)
[Photo: Dr. Timothy McBride]

More than 17 million people are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, including 2.2 million rural enrollees.

“Policy makers may need to adjust plan payment and quality rating measures to encourage plans operating in rural areas to achieve similar quality ratings to those in urban areas or expand their service areas in rural markets,” wrote the lead author, Ms. Leah Kemper, of the Brown School.  “Rural Medicare beneficiaries would likely benefit from having a similar menu of plan choices as those available to urban beneficiaries.”

The brief was published in July by the Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis at the Rural Health Policy Research Institute.  Other authors include Dr. Timothy McBride, Professor at the Brown School; Dr. Abigail R. Barker and Lyndsey Wilbers of the Brown School, and Dr. Keith Mueller, Professor at the University of Iowa.