A new study released by Better Medicare Alliance (BMA), a leading research and advocacy organization supporting Medicare Advantage, finds that MA beneficiaries have lower incomes, speak English as a second language, are more likely to rent their home, and are reliant on public transit. The findings, BMA said, show MA’s value to underserved populations.

The new research prepared for BMA by ATI Advisory examines the role of social determinants of health in the Medicare and MA populations. ATI used the 2017 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey to examine the prevalence of social risk factors and demographic characteristics within the Medicare population. Most analyses were limited to Medicare beneficiaries with income below 200 percent Federal Poverty Level (FPL). According to the study, this allowed researchers to mitigate the effect of lower income levels generally in the MA program from artificially inflating differences between MA and traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

“Social determinants of health have been shown to impact as much as 50 percent of an individual’s health outcomes. This data brief finds that Medicare Advantage beneficiaries face higher social risks and real challenges to managing their health. These vulnerable seniors draw unique benefit from Medicare Advantage’s cost savings and cost protections, care coordination, extra benefits, and improved health outcomes,” said Allyson Y. Schwartz, president and CEO of the BMA, in an announcement about the study.

Here are seven findings from the report:

  • More than half of MA beneficiaries living below the poverty line are from a racial/ethnic minority, compared with 42 percent in traditional Medicare. This higher percentage continues for beneficiaries in the next income bracket (100-199 percent FPL) with 31 percent minority representation in MA as compared to 20 percent in traditional Medicare.
  • Nineteen percent of all MA beneficiaries completed less than a high school degree, compared with 13.5 percent of traditional Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Twenty-eight percent of MA beneficiaries living below the poverty line speak a language other than English in the home, compared to 24 percent in traditional Medicare.
  • Eighteen percent of MA beneficiaries living below the poverty line speak little to no English, compared to 17 percent in traditional Medicare.
  • More than half (52 percent) of the lowest income MA beneficiaries rent their home, as compared to 46 percent of traditional Medicare beneficiaries. Only six percent of all Medicare beneficiaries in the highest income bracket rent their home.
  • Nearly half of the lowest-income Medicare beneficiaries are food insecure. Among Medicare beneficiaries below the poverty line, 48 percent in MA and 44 percent in traditional Medicare report not having enough money for food.
  • Ten percent of MA beneficiaries below the poverty line use public transportation, as compared to eight percent in traditional Medicare.