When it comes to Medicare choices, seniors avoid comparing plans

New research: Healthcare costs most taxing for seniors, yet retirees are more likely to comparison shop for cable and internet than for a Medicare plan

Healthcare costs rank most burdensome among common living expenses for seniors. Yet, few older Americans are taking steps that could help them reduce those costs, reserving their due diligence for other, less critical living expenses, according to a new national survey.

According to “The Cost of Complacency” survey commissioned by WellCare Health Plans, Inc., seniors are more likely to comparison shop for groceries, gas, cable and internet service, and even travel deals, than they are to shop for a Medicare plan. In fact, only one-third (33 percent) of seniors reported they comparison shop for a Medicare plan at all.

Furthermore, despite nearly universal consensus among experts that seniors should review their healthcare coverage every year, the research revealed that, remarkably, only approximately 40 percent review their Medicare plan annually to determine if they are getting the best deal. In fact, seniors are more likely to review their cable and internet plan (44 percent) and their homeowners/automotive insurance (46 percent) each year than their Medicare plan, and nearly as likely to review their cell phone plan (35 percent) as they are their healthcare coverage.

“The biggest risk for seniors is the tendency to look in the rearview mirror when it comes to their health, instead of looking at the road ahead,” said Bart Astor, eldercare expert and author of the Washington Post best-seller “AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life.”

“Many seniors are either coming into Medicare with more health conditions than previous generations, or are likely to experience a change in their health status in the coming year. With most Medicare plans changing from year to year, seniors may be putting their savings at risk by relying on their past rather than planning to protect their future, a decision that could present a prescription for disaster.”

Americans on the cusp of Medicare in their late fifties have more serious health problems than people at the same ages did 10 to 15 years ago, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare accelerate with age, and the growth in spending between younger seniors and older seniors is drastic: the percentage of healthcare spending doubles from age 65 – 69 to age 70-79. And yet, the survey revealed that 63 percent of respondents don’t bother to review their Medicare plan for the best deal because they were satisfied with the plan they were on previously.

“The emergence of a new epidemic among seniors – an epidemic of apathy when it comes to Medicare coverage – could have a significant impact on the financial health of seniors,” said Michael Polen, executive vice president, Medicare and operations, WellCare. “There are numerous benefits beyond just cost, network and formulary that play a critical role in seniors’ care, including rehabilitation services, diagnostic services and care for people experiencing cognitive and neurological decline, all of which are experiencing an increase in demand, but that aren’t necessarily fully covered by traditional Medicare.”

When it comes to priorities, seniors put a premium on cost. Respondents overwhelmingly rank cost, including premiums, copays and deductibles, as the single most important factor when shopping for a plan (77 percent).

However, many seniors confess they ignore reviewing their coverage each year because the process evokes negative emotions. One in five seniors (20 percent) report the process of reviewing their coverage to be a painful, frustrating and confusing; and women are 29 percent more likely than men to view reviewing their coverage to be an awful experience. In fact, one in four respondents report reviewing their Medicare plan was among the top two most unpleasant experiences, in comparison to things ranging from getting a colonoscopy to doing their taxes to renewing their driver’s license.

Despite the difficulties they encounter in reviewing their coverage, most seniors (57 percent) choose to review their plan by themselves rather than seek out help. And, surprisingly, seniors are least likely to involve their adult children or other caregivers in the process.

“There are numerous ancillary services – for example, 24-hour assistance lines and local help centers with trained professionals – that can help seniors through the process, whether they want to work through it themselves, or if they choose to do so with help,” said Astor.

“Regardless of the method, there’s still time, and it’s critical that, in the current environment, seniors take steps to assess the state of traditional Medicare, the changes that have occurred to Medicare Advantage, and be honest with themselves about preparing for their needs.”