They say variety is the spice of life but the average Medicare beneficiary must choose between 18 private Medicare Advantage plans and 35 stand-alone Part D drug plan options. The point of all those options is to make it possible to make choices that will allow you to have the best coverage for your situation. That should be a good thing, but as Barry Schwartz argues in a Ted Talk called the Paradox of choice, too many choices affect us by causing paralysis.
That’s precisely what a recent Kaiser Family Foundation briefing and panel discussion looked at. They wanted to know whether the excess of options mean that many people end up being “sticky” that is they don’t switch plans even when switching has obvious benefits. Rather than consumers using their influence to force plan providers to create better plans at better prices as was first intended, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s research found that nearly half of consumers (41 percent) find the plethora of options too confusing and nearly 20 percent weren’t even willing to choose.
At the briefing, Schwartz offered that people didn’t just have problems choosing when they were inundated with too many choices, they make sub-optimal choices. In other words, the more choices people had the more likely they were to make poor choices and the less likely they would be satisfied with their choices. “The trick,” he said, “is to find the sweet spot.” That is, find the spot in which the architecture of choice is such that when people are “paralyzed” because of the number of options, they automatically get the best option.
Well, no one in Medicare has created that architecture yet. This means that it continues to be up to the individual to sift through their options, so I’ve rounded up some suggestions about how to make choices, here and here. But, I have some suggestions of my own and here they are:
Medicare choices don’t have to be made until October at the earliest. So right now, when there isn’t any pressure and you’re not worried about the holidays or whatever else you worry about in October through December, begin writing down what you like and don’t like about your current plan. If you aren’t on a plan, write down what you need in a plan. Currently, there’s no information to compare it to. The plans available now may not be available when Medicare enrollment comes around. For sure, the prices will not be. Even some of the companies will not be. That means that right now, you cannot make a wrong decision so there is no pressure. Without any pressure to decide you can look at whether your medications have changed or whether your new plan will need to cover new symptoms, illnesses, or problems. Write down the things you have to have, the things you want to have and the things that don’t make a bit of difference to you because you’ll never use them.
Why am I pushing beginning a decision process now when you can’t even make a decision that matters for several months? One day, I was at a networking meeting for providers. The people there represented government agencies, senior housing specialists and the like. Across the board, people had seen seniors choose plans that didn’t work for them because they were too expensive, didn’t cover the right medications or other medical needs, or forced them to go to providers that were too far away and therefore reduced the likelihood that they would visit that provider except in cases of dire emergency. I suspect when a year comes around we’ll experience the same problem for those people choosing health insurance through their state’s marketplace. So what do you do when you have to eat an elephant? You eat it a bit at a time. That’s what I’m recommending. Cut up this elephant to bite size pieces. Then when Oct. 15 comes around, you’ll know what you need in a plan to stay your healthiest—physically, mentally and financially.