At a time more long term and post-acute care providers are either exploring or actually starting their own Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, new research shows that seniors are not likely to switch from one MA plan to another when given the opportunity every open enrollment period.

In a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), “No Itch to Switch: Few Medicare Beneficiaries Switch Plans During the Open Enrollment Period,” researchers said even though MA plans vary greatly from one another and change from year to year in their benefit offerings and structure, the fact is not many beneficiaries change their selection. This also holds true for beneficiaries and stand-alone Part D prescription drugs plans (PDPs), the report said.

The non-movement by consumers also is happening as the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) encourages beneficiaries to shop around for new plans to potentially save money on prescriptions or get new benefits.

“Overall, a small share of MA-PD [MA-Part D] and PDP enrollees without low-income subsidies (8 percent and 10 percent, respectively) voluntarily switched to another plan during the 2016 annual open enrollment period for the 2017 plan year,” KFF said.

Among 9.4 million MA-PD enrollees without low-income subsidies, 7.6 percent (710,000 beneficiaries) voluntarily switched to another MA-PD during the 2016 open enrollment period for 2017, and another 0.9 percent (90,000 beneficiaries) switched from an MA-PD to traditional Medicare (with a PDP).

And, the report said of the 11.7 million PDP enrollees without low-income subsidies, 8.3 percent (980,000 beneficiaries) changed to another PDP and another 1.7 percent (200,000 beneficiaries) switched to an MA-PD during the 2016 open enrollment period for 2017.

Researchers noted that only a small slice of Part D enrollees switch to MA-only plans or traditional Medicare without Part D coverage; they are excluded from this analysis.

“A substantial majority of Medicare private plan enrollees have not voluntarily switched plans in any given year over the time period of this analysis,” the report said. During the open enrollment periods between 2007 and 2016, the share of enrollees without low-income subsidies switching plans on their own for the coming year ranged between 6 and 11 percent for people in MA drug plans, and between 10 and 13 percent among those in stand-alone PDPs.

Of the individuals who did not switch in any given year are Medicare beneficiaries who were enrolled in plans that left the market and were “crosswalked” (that is, automatically enrolled) by their plan sponsor into a new plan the following year.

“This means their plan is different from the previous year, but they did not voluntarily choose a new plan,” report authors said.

For the 2017 plan year (corresponding to the 2016 open enrollment period), this comprised roughly 8 percent of MA-PD enrollees and 3 percent of PDP enrollees. Another small share of enrollees involuntarily switched MA-PDs (3 percent) or PDPs (less than 1 percent) because their plan exited the market for 2017 and they were not automatically crosswalked into a new plan.

In discussing what all of this means, the report said it is important to note that there are indeed a lot of options for most Medicare beneficiaries to weigh with an average of 28 MA plans and the same number of 28 stand-alone Part D plans available to beneficiaries in 2020.

“Relatively low rates of plan switching during the open enrollment period could indicate that beneficiaries are generally satisfied with their current plan and therefore have little motivation to compare and switch plans, or they may be actively choosing to remain in their plan after comparing other available options,” the report said.

Conversely, authors said low switching rates could also mean that many beneficiaries find the shopping around for a new plan process too daunting, are possibly not aware of the open enrollment season, or have limited confidence in their ability to choose a better plan.

Find the report at