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Medicare Advantage Plan Switching: Exception or Norm?

This analysis focuses on enrollees in Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans (MA-PDs) who switched plans when they had the option of remaining in the same plan (voluntary switchers) rather than Medicare Advantage enrollees who had no choice but to switch because their plan exited the market (involuntary switchers) or beneficiaries who switched from Medicare Advantage to traditional Medicare. The brief uses claims data from a 5 percent sample of Medicare beneficiaries from the Master Beneficiary Summary Files of CMS’s Chronic Conditions Data Warehouse for 2007 through 2014, the latest year of data available. The data was used in conjunction with the Medicare Advantage landscape file, Medicare Advantage crosswalk file, and Medicare Advantage enrollment file for each year. Some plans that were in the claims data and the Medicare Advantage landscape file were not in the Medicare Advantage crosswalk file, thus it could not be determined for a small share of Medicare Advantage enrollees (1-2 percent, depending on the year) whether they switched plans voluntarily or were forced to switch plans because their plan withdrew from the market (involuntary switching). The analysis excluded 4.96 million Medicare Advantage enrollees in 2013 because they were in plans that are not available for general enrollment (employer group waiver plans, Special Needs Plans, and demonstrations), in plans that are structured differently from Medicare Advantage plans (cost plans), or in plans that did not offer prescription drug coverage and are not marketed for general enrollment.

Gretchen Jacobson and Tricia Neuman are with the Kaiser Family Foundation. Anthony Damico is an independent consultant.

The authors appreciate the helpful review and comments that Marsha Gold provided on this paper.

Issue Brief

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.