NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Medicare+Choice Is Popular With Minorities, Bluecross-Blueshield Reports

May 2, 2002

To supplement Medicare coverage, many seniors who do not have employer provided retiree health benefits buy supplemental insurance (called Medigap), and low-income seniors may qualify for Medicaid. Another option is Medicare+Choice, a program under which seniors join a managed health care plan that receives a per person fee from Medicare. These privately operated plans provide additional coverage, such as prescription drug benefits. However, some insurers have dropped out of the Medicare+Choice program due to rising costs.

Who enrolls in Medicare+Choice? What would those beneficiaries do if the program went away? A Blue Cross Blue Shield Association study found that the program is popular among blacks, Hispanics and low-income seniors.

  • The five million beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare+Choice represent 38.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who do not have supplemental coverage through Medicaid or a private employer -- and that is more than the 37.7 percent who purchase Medigap or the 23.8 percent who rely solely on Medicare.
  • Among beneficiaries with incomes of $10,000 to $20,000 a year who are not covered by Medicaid or employer insurance, nearly 78 percent in southern California, 67 percent in Philadelphia, and 51 percent in Florida enroll in Medicare+Choice.
  • Nationally, 40.3 percent of African-Americans and 51.6 percent of Hispanics are enrolled in Medicare+Choice.
  • If Medicare+Choice were not available, 1.5 million enrollees (30.3 percent) would choose to go without supplemental coverage, raising the total number with Medicare-only coverage by 30 percent.

Furthermore, three out of five African-American beneficiaries in counties that have Medicare+Choice plans would go without supplemental coverage. And 900,000 (18 percent) would seek Medicaid coverage, increasing the ranks of Medicaid beneficiaries in those counties by one-third.

The remaining Medicare+ Choice enrollees -- 2.6 million (52 percent) -- would buy relatively more expensive Medigap policies.

Source: White House Bulletin, "Study Finds Demise Of Medicare+Choice Would Hit Minorities Hard," Bulletin News Network, April 30, 2002; Kenneth E. Thorpe, Adam Atherly and Kelly Howell, "Medicare+Choice: Who Enrolls? A Study Commissioned by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association," Emory University, April 25, 2002.


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