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Highlights

Nearly 11 million Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage (MA), Medicare's private health insurance option. Benefits vary by MA plan and may include coverage for services not available in traditional Medicare. To ensure MA plan benefit package designs do not discriminate against beneficiaries in poor health with high expected health care costs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reviews and approves all benefit packages yearly. GAO examined (1) MA plan benefit packages by average health status of plans' enrolled beneficiaries, (2) distribution and characteristics of MA plans by average beneficiary health status, and (3) CMS's process for ensuring that benefit packages do not discriminate with respect to health status. Using 2008 data on beneficiaries' expected health care costs, the most recent data available, GAO sorted 2,899 plans enrolling 7.5 million beneficiaries into three groups: good health (below-average expected costs), average health, and poor health (above-average expected costs). GAO then analyzed MA plan benefit packages by health group and reviewed CMS documentation and interviewed agency officials on CMS's benefit package review process. GAO did not determine whether plans structured benefit packages in response to enrolled beneficiaries' health status or beneficiaries in particular health groups chose plans because of the benefits.

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