Medicare HMO Benefits Erode Even As Premiums Rise

Medicare HMO premiums are rising while the benefits they offer are eroding, according to a new study by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

The researchers found that average monthly premiums for enrollees in Medicare HMOs (called Medicare+Choice plans) rose from $23 in 2001 to $32 in 2001 to the current level of $37. While the increase is lower than that of employer-sponsored plans, many plans are opting to limit benefits like prescription drug coverage rather than continue the high premium increases.

For example, in 2002, more than one-quarter of plans offered brand name drug coverage with a copayment of between $10 and $20. This year, only 7.4 percent of Medicare HMO plans offer such coverage.

The trend to reduce benefits has some advocates for Medicare beneficiaries worried, the Miami Herald reports. "Medicare HMO patients are really disadvantaged and hurt by this [trend]. It''s not like they have clout to change it or lots of other options," said Barbara Cooper, senior program officer for Medicare''s Future at the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that sponsored the Mathematica study.

To read a news release on the report or to download it in PDF format, click here.

To read the full article in the Miami Herald, click here. (Article may be only temporarily available.)