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Earlier this week, I had the privilege of making some opening remarks during the Fierce Health Payer Virtual Series, “Medicare Advantage’s Evolution: A look at the latest in supplemental benefits, high-tech solutions, and star ratings.” I preceded a fireside chat featuring Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma who spoke on where the Medicare Advantage digital experience is today and where it’s headed in the future. It’s clear that MA is growing in beneficiaries and coverage–and there’s an emphasis on improving transparency and customer experience.

Delivering the right digital solutions

There’s been a long-standing myth in our industry that seniors are not tech savvy, which has created a discrepancy between the digital experiences health plans provide for younger members and those in senior products. But the era of the flip phone has come to an end, and many in the 65+ crowd want self-serve, online access to the information they need from their health plans. They want an insurance portal with all the bells and whistles they enjoyed with commercial insurance.

In a study we completed earlier this year, 44% of Medicare Advantage respondents reported using online transparency tools in the previous year. More dramatically, 79% said the tools help them make more informed decisions about their health care. We are seeing commercial plans make great strides in the online customer experience–specifically delivering a provider directory loaded with all the information members need to choose the right doctor and offering personalized cost estimates that help them plan for the financial impacts of care. Additional functionality such as online appointment scheduling and virtual care guides via chat are also growing in availability. MA plans are a bit behind in these experiences.

The impacts of COVID-19

During the Fierce session, Administrator Verma talked about telehealth and CMS’ flexibility during the pandemic to make virtual care more accessible for MA beneficiaries. It remains to be seen if the heightened levels of usage continue once COVID eases. I predict that usage will certainly drop once more people are not afraid to visit the doctor’s office, but that getting folks to try it for the first time means we will see significantly higher “normal” levels of virtual care.

Overall, we are seeing an accelerated demand by MA beneficiaries for digital tools that support their health care journeys because of COVID-19. In a COVID-specific consumer study we completed recently, we asked if beneficiaries were more likely to use the following digital tools:

  • 50% are more likely to use telehealth or virtual care services
  • 45% are more likely to use online appointment scheduling
  • 38% are more likely to use online chat
  • 31% are more likely to use online cost estimates

One area of conversation we are having with many of our plan clients is around strategies for making sure that virtual care options are easily found and directly accessible through their existing online provider directories. We are focusing on several promising enhancements:

  1. Improving and elevating virtual care for the expanded types of care now routinely delivered via telehealth
  2. Working with our plans’ preferred telehealth providers to access virtual care more directly in the directory
  3. Integrating telehealth services into our cost transparency experience

If you’re interested in seeing the recording from the Fierce Health Payer event, you can view it here.

Get to know HealthSparq for Medicare Plans

You can deliver rich online experiences to your Medicare beneficiaries. HealthSparq has numerous platform capabilities available to meet your business needs while increasing member satisfaction and Star ratings in the process. Learn more here.