As in any other industry, healthcare experts and pundits follow trends from year to year to make predictions about the future. Factors they consider include changes in government regulations, innovation and new inventions, changing social ideals, population trends, and more. In this post, we look at five healthcare trends in 2019 that directly impact Medicare beneficiaries.
1. Medicare Advantage Enrollment Continues Expanding
In 2018, Medicare Advantage enrollment topped 20 million. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), enrollment in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans has grown every year since 2005. In fact, enrollment more than doubled in the past 10 years. Experts expect MA enrollment to double again by 2025.
So, why is this happening? There are a few reasons. One is the fact that the baby boomer generation’s median age is nearly 65. As a result, for the first time in our history, Americans over the age of 65 will soon outnumber those under age 18. Sheer numbers alone make it more likely MA plan enrollment will keep expanding.
The second big contributing factor is the more robust benefits being offered by most Medicare Advantage plans. Beneficiaries flock to plans offering coverage for dental, vision, hearing, prescriptions, and more. There’s also the fact that younger beneficiaries are more familiar – and therefore more comfortable – with private healthcare plans than previous generations were.
Insurers are taking notice, with many offering more and more benefits to entice Medicare recipients. And they definitely aren’t losing out on the deal if their record high stock returns are any indication. As long as those returns keep growing, expect MA enrollment growth to continue as well.
2. The Growth of Value-Based Care
With a charge led by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the advancement of value-based care is making its way through Congress. Introduced in July of 2018, the bill is known as the RUSH Act (Reducing Unnecessary Senior Hospitalizations).
In a value-based system, providers are incentivized to do what’s best for the patient. You’d expect this to already be the case, and we aren’t saying that doctors don’t act in their patients’ best interests. However, the current system pays according to the number of procedures performed, which led to countless reports of unnecessary tests and diagnostics. Experts expect value-based healthcare to improve care results, reduce hospitalizations, and lower costs by billions of dollars.
Although healthcare has traditionally been a partisan issue, pundits believe value-based care has what it takes to earn bipartisan support. One reason is that the 2018 elections saw the greatest voter turnout for a midterm election in over 100 years. And the number one concern according to those voters was healthcare. Combine these statistics and you see why industry experts expect politicians to make value-based care happen.
3. The Hospital Drought Continues
For years, rural America has experienced severe provider shortages, including hospitals closing at an alarming rate. Today, millions of Americans live more than 30 miles from the closest hospital. Even worse, nearly a quarter of rural hospitals are at risk, with some states at risk of losing nearly half of their rural hospitals.
The outlook is bleak. More and more hospitals are now part of enormous conglomerates. Their number one concern is the bottom line. If a hospital isn’t profitable, it has to go. Unfortunately, the farther patients are from a hospital, the lower their survival rates are. As of yet, there is no solution to the hospital desert. When it comes to the provider shortage, however, digital healthcare and telemedicine may be the key.
4. Digital Healthcare and Telemedicine
Healthcare technology has exploded in recent years. And much of it enhances and improves telemedicine (remote doctor visits).
For example, wearable health technology collects data such as blood sugar, heart rate, or blood pressure, sending it to your physician. He or she then uses that data to monitor your condition. That means that, even if you live an hour or more from the nearest doctor, you can still receive regular care from the privacy of your own home. Telemedicine isn’t reserved for those living in rural areas, either. Those who have mobility issues can also take advantage of the technology.
Experts expect 2019 to see the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare as well. Potential applications include diagnostic imaging, analytics regarding risk for a variety of conditions, and innovations in drug therapies.
5. Greater Patient Engagement
Closely related to both telemedicine and value-based healthcare, experts expect patient engagement to increase in 2019. This is due in great part to technology, as health-related apps make it easier for patients to monitor their personal health. At the same time, providers and insurers are expected to increase health literacy initiatives and engagement programs.
This has already been happening for a few years now, with many insurers offering incentives to beneficiaries who make healthy lifestyle changes. With evidence that these programs get results, i.e. the patients have better outcomes, expect these programs to expand in 2019.
How Medicare Solutions Can Help
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