Enrollment for Medicare drug benefit concentrated in a few companies | VailDaily.com

Enrollment for Medicare drug benefit concentrated in a few companies

WASHINGTON – UnitedHealth Group and Humana are the biggest winners among insurers offering the new Medicare drug benefit, according to enrollment numbers released Friday.While about 90 companies are administering more than 3,000 private plans around the country, enrollment is heavily concentrated in just a handful of companies, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.UnitedHealth, which has a joint marketing relationship with AARP, was a clear No. 1. It obtained 27 percent of the enrollment in stand-alone drug plans, or 3.8 million enrollees. It also led among the Medicare Advantage offerings with 20 percent of the market share, or 1.2 million enrollees. The Medicare Advantage offerings operate like an HMO in which consumers get comprehensive health care coverage, rather than just prescription drug coverage.Humana Inc. was the only other insurer capturing a double-digit share of the market in stand-alone drug plans. About 2.4 million beneficiaries enrolled in Humana plans, or 18 percent of total enrollment so far.Humana was also third in the Medicare Advantage offerings, with about 800,000 enrollees, or 13 percent.Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a consulting firm, said the companies with the largest enrollment numbers early on will have a big marketing advantage going into the second year.Mendelson said the partnership with AARP was a huge boost for UnitedHealth.”Their offering is pretty mainstream, honestly, but they come in with very solid name recognition both from AARP and from their local managed care presence,” Mendelson said. “They are the largest managed care company in the country.”Mendelson said Humana Inc. distinguished itself by offering low premiums. In some regions, those premiums were as low as $1.87 a month, attracting beneficiaries who had low drug costs.”Humana came in with a very innovative set of offerings,” Mendelson said.He said companies garnering a small market share are not necessarily facing a losing proposition in the months ahead.”Plans that don’t attract significant market share are unlikely to persist for that long. They’ll likely become merged or divested,” Mendelson said. “The exception is if a plan is regionally focused. In those cases, you can make offerings profitable without attracting huge market share.”Among the companies offering stand-alone drug plans, Wellpoint Inc. came in a distant third with more than 1 million enrollees and about a 7 percent market share. It was followed by Member Health Inc., with 924,100 enrollees, and WellCare Health Plans Inc., with 849,700 enrollees.Among the companies offering prescription drug coverage through Medicare Advantage, Kaiser Permanente had the second-largest enrollment, 821,500, or 14 percent.UnitedHealth Group officials said the insurer had several national offerings, one affiliated with AARP. The large majority of enrollees went with the version the AARP helped sponsor, but officials said they didn’t have specific numbers.”We’re just going to focus on the things we’ve been focusing on from the start,” said Dominick Washington, spokesman for UnitedHealth Group. “And that is to create prescription drug plans that are affordable, simple in design and offer high quality that consumers deserve.”Overall, the agency that oversees Medicare said that about 14 million people have stand-alone coverage, while about 6 million are in Medicare Advantage plans. Most of those in the Medicare Advantage plans had enrolled prior to Jan. 1, so they already had insurance coverage for their medicine.The Bush administration has also been including in its enrollment numbers those beneficiaries who continue to get coverage through their employers. Those employers get a tax credit. Also, it includes beneficiaries enrolled in the military health program, TRICARE, as well as participants in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. By including those three groups, the administration says more than 30 million elderly and disabled Americans now have prescription drug coverage.Overall, about 43 million beneficiaries are eligible to get prescription drug coverage through a private plan. The federal government subsidizes those plans.Most beneficiaries who enroll will save money with the coverage, but not all. Also, the savings depend upon the plan selected, as well as the consumer’s income and medicine needs. The deadline for enrolling is May 15.”If a senior has not signed up, I urge you to take a look at the Medicare prescription drug program, particularly if you’re low-income senior,” Bush said at a press conference Friday. “It’s an enormous benefit and it’s a necessary benefit.”–On the Net:Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/Vail, Colorado

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