Viewpoint: Questioning Medicare Advantage ‘affinity plans’

View of a medical examination room, with a patient bed and medical equipment

April 4, 2024 – Over the past decade, Medicare Advantage (MA)—the private alternative for Medicare beneficiaries—has grown substantially. More recently, new MA plans have emerged that are marketed to people based on their cultural background, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and veteran status. A March 20 JAMA Viewpoint article gives this growing category of plans a name—Medicare Advantage “affinity plans”—and argues that these plans come with dangers for patients.

Co-authors included Adam Beckman of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Andrew Ryan of Brown University School of Public Health, and Jose Figueroa, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The article noted that the affinity plans aggressively advertise to specific segments of the population, such as Asian American, Latinx, or LGBTQ+ individuals. These plans do have the potential to improve care experiences, the authors noted, for instance by tailoring resources, staff, and benefits to better meet patient needs, according to a thread from Beckman on X (formerly Twitter).

But Beckman emphasized that these affinity plans raise concerns. He noted that “experience shows people can be attracted to sign up for Medicare Advantage plans that aggressively market themselves as addressing a special need—even when the purported benefits don’t exist.” For example, some previous MA plans that were marketed as offering better coordination between Medicare and Medicaid benefits did not actually do so, according to a July 2023 study co-authored by Figueroa and colleagues.

In the JAMA Viewpoint article, the authors recommended several steps for policymakers, including that they closely monitor the quality of care and performance of MA affinity plans.

Read the JAMA Viewpoint article: The Rise and Risks of Medicare Advantage “Affinity Plans”