broaden the number and range of alternative health plans offered.

For most Medicare beneficiaries the range of options and the responsibility for choosing among those options are likely to be significantly greater than those currently available to a large percentage of the working population. Unlike private employers, which have the power to limit the number and types of plans offered, current Medicare practice and proposed reforms would allow any plan that meets specified conditions of participation to sell coverage to Medicare beneficiaries.

Although the committee was cautioned that a large number of choices may increase the confusion for Medicare beneficiaries, it may also increase the ability of Medicare beneficiaries to find a plan that they like, for example, a plan that includes their chosen doctor, that offers valued additional coverage, or that provides convenient access to services. The fear of not being able to continue to see a chosen caregiver has been shown to be a major reason why elderly individuals are reluctant to move into managed care arrangements. Competition among a larger number of health plans will likely produce more innovation on the part of health plans to find ways to be more responsive to the wants and needs of beneficiaries.

The committee also was concerned that limiting the numbers of plans, beyond requiring them to meet benchmark2 conditions of participation, would raise policy and political issues, given the size of the Medicare program and the proportion of total U.S. health care revenues that it represents. Setting limits would have a vast impact on competitors and the market as a whole.

Subrecommendations

The committee recommends that all Medicare choices that meet the benchmark conditions of participation be offered to beneficiaries. Conditions of participation should be carefully constructed to bear the burden of assuring informed choice by beneficiaries and accountability by health plans for access to

2  

Benchmark is defined as a floor, with the expectation that participating plans would exceed this level.



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