Guest Post by Jan Dubauskas
Seniors are technologically savvy and engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors are connecting with their health care and are thoughtfully considering which Medicare plans are right for their needs. In a recent survey of Medicare eligible seniors from Healthinsurance.com, respondents revealed, among other things, that they are concerned with the costs of health care and are avid readers of internet research.
In fact, seniors are far more tech savvy than we may have expected. An incredible 78 percent of the survey’s seniors research their Medicare options online where they can find information on all of their top priorities, such as: Are my doctors in the insurance company’s network? What are the costs for prescriptions, copays? What is the monthly premium? And does the plan offer dental, vision, hearing, or fitness benefits? Researching online gives seniors the ability to thoughtfully research Medicare options, at their own pace, and find the right plan to fit their budget and needs.
While an overwhelming number of seniors research their Medicare options online, we might expect that the same amount of seniors buy their plan online as well. However, it is interesting to note that only 44 percent of respondents actually purchase a plan online. Instead, seniors still favor the opportunity to work with an agent to make their final purchasing decisions, so much so that 56 percent either purchased a Medicare plan in-person with their agent or over the telephone.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused seniors to carefully consider their in-person social interactions with family and friends as well as their exposure to crowds; and this is impacting their medical care. Many seniors have deferred medical treatment to avoid catching the virus at the doctor’s office. To maintain social distancing and stay healthy, six in ten seniors have only left their homes to go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy during the pandemic. And more than half of seniors have put off a dental appointment due to the pandemic.
Fortunately, for seniors who had been avoiding the doctor’s office, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently expanded telemedicine services to cover those with Medicare. By expanding telemedicine services, CMS gave seniors greater access to telemedicine to help them continue to receive the routine care that they need, at a price they can afford, from the comfort and safety of their homes.
In an compelling twist, seniors are making use of CMS’s Medicare expansion of telemedicine. During the pandemic, 44 percent of the survey’s seniors have taken advantage of the opportunity to speak with their provider over the telephone or via video for routine matters. Considering that only 10 percent of seniors used telemedicine before the coronavirus pandemic, an incredible 340 percent increase in telemedicine use among seniors is an example of how seniors have adapted to the circumstances and embraced technology to help take care of their health care needs.
As the health care debate continues in Washington, D.C., seniors are concerned about rising health care costs. Two-thirds of the survey’s seniors are worried about out-of-pocket medical costs, in spite of the cost limitations of their Medicare plans. And more than just out-of-pocket costs, 35 percent of the survey respondents are worried about contracting COVID-19 because they may be hit with a surprise medical bill.
Seniors are users of prescription medications and have an acute awareness of the prices for prescriptions. Although Medicare covers many prescriptions, 89 percent of the survey’s respondents believe that prescription drug costs are too high, and one-third of respondents spend more than $50 per month on prescription drugs. In response to concerns with rising prescription costs, President Trump recently introduced four Executive Orders that, if enacted, would reduce kickbacks, allow for importation of drugs, and importantly for seniors, would ensure pricing parity with similarly situated countries for our Medicare Part B prescriptions.
One of the benefits of a Medicare plan is that the costs of health care providers who accept Medicare are limited to Medicare’s schedule and have a limit on billing to seniors. In spite of these plan provisions, six in ten seniors are concerned about unexpected medical bills so much so that 36 percent of seniors have put off seeing a doctor because of cost. However, as far as future costs are concerned, only 50 percent of respondents say they have money set aside for their family to use for their future health needs.
Generally, seniors are pleased with their Medicare plans, so much so that 51 percent of respondents believe that the age to be eligible for Medicare should be lowered to 60. And of those who have a Medicare Advantage plan, more than two-thirds are happy with their plan.
Seniors are becoming more tech savvy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors are using technology to research Medicare plans and conduct telemedicine visits. And although seniors are social distancing, they are technologically connected and thoughtfully engaged with their health care.
Jan Dubauskas is a health care expert, enthusiastic insurance pro, attorney and mom serving as Vice President of healthinsurance.com.