Supplemental Benefits Guide for in Your Medicare Advantage Plans

Last update on Jan, 27, 2021

Growing list of supplemental benefits

More Americans than ever are enrolling in Medicare Advantage plans, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. At the same time (and it’s no mere coincidence), health insurers continue to expand the supplemental benefits in their Medicare Advantage plans.

Consider these statistics from CMS and the Kaiser Family Foundation:

  • A record-setting estimated 26 million Americans were expected to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for 2021, up from approximately 24 million in 2020.
  • For the 2021 plan year, 3,550 Medicare Advantage plans are available to Medicare beneficiaries — an increase of 402 plans over 2020.
  • The average beneficiary can choose from 33 plans in 2021 (up from 28 in 2020) offered by an average of eight insurers (an increase of one over 2020).
  • Nearly all (98%) of Medicare Advantage plan members have access to a variety of supplemental benefits.

Navigating supplemental benefits

Obviously, the Medicare Advantage marketplace is thriving — and becoming more crowded than ever. Naturally, this leads to the question: How can health insurers maintain or increase the competitive edge of their Medicare Advantage plans? Also, how can they improve the overall health of their members and reduce the cost of medical care?

Certainly, supplemental benefits play a key role in differentiating one plan from another. However, it’s important to understand that the impact — whether it’s the ability to attract and retain members, or improving overall member health — varies significantly among all the supplemental benefit possibilities in play today.

Questions for evaluating benefits:

Following are three crucial questions to ask when considering the choice of supplemental benefits for your 2022 plan year and beyond:

  1. How pervasive is the need for the benefit? 
  2. What is the direct, tangible value of the benefit?
  3. Does the benefit deliver ancillary value, especially improved overall member health?

For a growing number of health insurers, the answers to these questions point to a hearing benefit. Here’s why:

Extensive need for hearing benefits

Nearly 40 million Americans, including one of three people age 65 and older, experience some degree of hearing loss. Sensorineural (nerve-related) hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss, and the most common treatment is wearing hearing aids. Clearly, a sizable segment of the Medicare population could benefit from hearing aids and hearing health care services. Yet three of four older adults with hearing loss do not seek help that’s readily available.

Direct, tangible value for members

One of the biggest barriers to hearing aid adoption is cost. On average, consumers pay approximately $4,700 for a pair of hearing aids, plus potentially hundreds of dollars more for batteries and professional services. As technology constantly advances, the cost of hearing aids continues to rise. The right hearing benefit can substantially reduce the retail price of high-quality hearing aids from leading brands, potentially saving members thousands of dollars.

Ancillary value for whole body health

A hearing benefit creates value beyond the obvious (enabling better hearing). Extensive research has linked untreated hearing loss with an increased risk of costly, life-altering health conditions, including depression, dementia and injury-causing falls. A Johns Hopkins study determined that, over a decade, health insurers paid out an extra $20,403 for older adults who had untreated hearing loss versus members with no hearing loss. The same study revealed that people with untreated hearing loss experienced approximately 50% more hospital stays and had a 44% higher risk for readmission within 30 days. The inescapable conclusion: Good overall health depends on good hearing health.

Selecting a hearing benefit and partner

Just as the value of supplemental benefits can vary from one to the next, all hearing benefits are not created equal. The same holds true for hearing health care partners. 

Questions to ask when evaluating potential partners include:

  • What are the quality standards for the hearing health care provider network? Is there a strong commitment to ongoing provider education, standardized clinical protocols, medical necessity reviews, utilization management, mandatory credentialing and recredentialing, and compliance with CMS provider location requirements?
  • Does the hearing aid formulary offer a sufficient number of options to meet the hearing and lifestyle needs of each member?
  • Are providers reimbursed uniformly across all products, without regard to the technology level?
  • Are hearing aid prices clearly stated and available to everyone?
  • Are essential items, such as follow-up care, product warranty and batteries or chargers included in the hearing aid prices?
  • Do they possess deep member engagement expertise, including diverse experience working with different Medicare Advantage populations?
  • Do measurement and quality improvement initiatives include nationally recognized tools that encompass not just member experience and satisfaction, but overall health?
  • Are they independently owned and operated vs. owned by a hearing aid manufacturer?

Hearing benefit guidance

For detailed guidance with selecting the right hearing benefit and partner, Amplifon Hearing Health Care recently published a white paper, “The Mighty Hearing Benefit,” which you can download. In addition, we invite you to contact us to learn why a hearing benefit in partnership with Amplifon is a sound choice in today’s Medicare Advantage marketplace.

A senior woman wearing a hearing aid on her left ear looking at something on her smartphone
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