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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU, Iowa: Medicare Advantage Enrollment Increasing in Rural Areas

More rural Americans are signing up for Medicare Advantage despite reductions in payments, according to new research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

[Photo: Dr. Timothy McBride]

Medicare Advantage is the U.S. government-run program that provides health insurance plans to Medicare beneficiaries through private companies.

Researchers found that Rural Medicare Advantage and other prepaid plan enrollment in March 2014 was nearly 1.95 million, an increase of more than 216,000 (11 percent increase) from the previous year.  By October 2014, enrollment had increased to 1.99 million, or 20.4 percent of all rural Medicare beneficiaries.

“This growth has continued even though the Affordable Care Act set in motion reductions in payment designed to reduce overpayments and make payments to Medicare Advantage plans more in line with traditional Medicare payments,” said Dr. Timothy McBride, co-author and professor at the Brown School.

The researchers also note that payments were reduced further when quality-based bonus payments ended at the end of 2014.

“There is no evidence at this time to suggest that these changes will affect rural Medicare beneficiaries,” wrote Ms. Leah Kemper of the Brown School and the lead author of the policy brief.  But the brief added that monitoring of enrollment, as well as beneficiary benefits and cost-sharing should continue.

The brief was published in January by the Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis.  Other authors include Dr. Abigail Barker of the Brown School and Dr. Keith Mueller, professor at the University of Iowa.

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