This is my first week as CEO at eHealth — a new company, a new role, but not a new space. I’ve spent my entire career in healthcare, enough time to develop the knowledge to lead a company, and enough experience to stop and listen when consumers tell us what works, and what doesn’t.
Science has delivered awe-inspiring breakthroughs in medicine, but America’s healthcare system — and Medicare enrollment in particular — has been slow to embrace the digital innovation that connects us to the needs of our consumers. To address the gap, eHealth conducts a bi-annual signature research report and survey, Health Insurance Trends, which we share with partners, consumers, journalists and, importantly, policy makers.
At the start of the 2021 Annual Enrollment Period, eHealth surveyed 6,400 Americans and got input from several insurance carriers. The data provides a roadmap for both a deeper understanding of our customers, and how we can continue to innovate to provide a stellar experience for them. It tells us a majority think that private enterprise does a better job of healthcare technology and innovation than government, and that the #1 place seniors go to learn about Medicare options is online.
But the data also exposes contradictions — places where individual needs clash with deeply held political beliefs.
What Americans want – and don’t want – from government
Americans are distrustful of government, but they want better benefits and help managing costs. Only 16% of Medicare beneficiaries want to see a government takeover of US healthcare. Most want to see Medicare continue to be run as a cooperative effort between government and private insurers.
However, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents want Congress to take action on prescription drug costs. Among Medicare beneficiaries, 83% of respondents want the government to negotiate directly with companies to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
More than 90% of Medicare beneficiaries want dental, vision, and hearing benefits added to traditional Medicare. However, many are price-sensitive and only 50% would support expansion if it added to their costs.
A majority support COVID vaccinations and boosters… up to a point
It’s no surprise that feedback on vaccinations reflects deep divisions, but our data reveals contradictions among groups and individual respondents.
On boosters, 64% are willing to get the extra shot, but support declines to 55% if COVID vaccinations become a yearly or twice-yearly recommendation.
Opinion diverges sharply on mandates — only 53% support vaccine mandates on private-sector employees, and 53% believe healthcare workers should not be able to refuse care to the unvaccinated. Among Democratic voters, 76% feel that businesses should be able to refuse service to the unvaccinated, but only 49% of Black Americans agree.
Some racial and ethnic groups feel insurance options do not serve their needs
We asked if health insurance options address the needs of specific racial and ethnic communities. Only 41% of Hispanic respondents, 45% of Asians and 46% of Blacks said yes. By comparison, 58% of white respondents felt their health plan options addressed their needs.
We found that 50% of all respondents reported a surprise medical bill in the past 12 months. Minorities and women were more likely to have had a surprise medical bill than whites and men.
The eHealth survey also collected feedback from insurers
Only 12% of insurance company respondents said they plan to raise premiums as a direct result of the pandemic.
A few (38%) plan to or have already reduced their voluntarily-expanded COVID coverage. However, increased pay-outs for COVID-related member medical care have been modest.
The pandemic and vaccine mandates have put a strain on infrastructure and 38% of insurers told us they’re concerned about staffing shortages in their medical provider networks.
Playing the health care prophet is challenging, but based on experience and eHealth’s survey results, I’ll offer a few cautious predictions:
This year’s proposed Medicare expansion may not pass in Congress, but the issue isn’t going away. A powerful voting block has made its sentiment crystal clear: Seniors want drug prices down and benefits up — particularly for dental, hearing and vision. Policymakers need to take careful measure of the expectations and cost-sensitivity of this issue.
Insurance companies will increase investments in understanding and meeting the needs of a diverse population. Carriers have made good progress but need to listen carefully and develop policies that address the unique needs of historically underserved populations.
Today’s Tik-Tok generation is tomorrow’s online Medicare enrollee. As eHealth has learned over the past 20 years, the number of connected consumers will continue to grow. Online educational and enrollment resources for Medicare beneficiaries — long considered the last frontier of the digital revolution — have quickly become indispensable for seniors to learn about healthcare options and find the plans they need for their unique needs.