The final results from the 2017 Annual Election Period (AEP) indicate strong growth in Medicare Advantage, in which more than 19.5 million seniors are now enrolled, and imply the MA program is growing at a slightly faster pace than it has in recent years.

The data posted in mid-February by CMS reflect enrollment as of Jan. 6 and provide a more complete picture of what happened during the AEP, since there’s usually a substantial lag in when CMS records some signups from these open-enrollment periods. According to the February report, MA plans added more than 150,000 members between Dec. 10, 2016, and Jan. 6, 2017, on top of the nearly 785,000 lives added from Nov. 12 through Dec. 9 (MAN 1/26/17, p. 3) for a total of 19,593,401 enrollees in Medicare “Prepaid” contracts. The AEP ran from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2016.

Put another way, the February data show sequential growth of 0.8%, compared with 1.5% sequential growth in February 2016, observed Barclays Managed Care securities analyst Joshua Raskin in a Feb. 17 research note. For the two-month period, however, enrollment grew by 5%, compared with increases of 2.5% in 2016, 3.9% in 2015 and 5.1% in 2014, he wrote.

UnitedHealth Group held its spot as the leading MA and Prescription Drug Plan sponsor with 4.6 million and 5.4 million enrollees in those respective products and saw a 17% increase in MA membership during the two-month period, compared to an increase of 10% in last year’s AEP (see table, below). In a Feb. 21 research note from Stifel Co., securities analyst Thomas Carroll observed that UnitedHealth has added roughly 672,000 MA lives since the start of the AEP, doubling its growth in the 2016 season. The figures suggest that UnitedHealth likely benefited from ongoing uncertainty around the acquisition of major MA/Prescription Drug Plan operator Humana Inc. by Aetna Inc. Humana added only about 85,000 MA lives, for about 3% growth in the two-month period.

Aetna, meanwhile, surpassed Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. as the third-largest MA plan with a market share of about 7.5%, pointed out Raskin. Including growth in its Coventry Health Care subsidiary, Aetna gained about 73,000 MA lives between December and February.

Medicare Advantage Enrollment Change by Sponsor, Dec. 2016 – Feb. 2017

Local and Regional Medicare Advantage (MA) Plans

Company

HMO

PFFS

PPO

MMP

Other

Total

% Change

UnitedHealth

241,260

(6,879)

434,669

2,896

671,946

17%

Humana

(10,371)

(22,440)

117,298

830

85,317

3%

Coventry

52,799

10,209

63,008

16%

Horizon-BCBS

2,079

59,173

61,252

263%

WellPoint

30,123

(1,794)

4,970

33,299

6%

Aetna

(62,866)

72,856

417

10,407

1%

Triple-S

7,786

2,223

10,009

9%

Kaiser

8,083

1,318

9,401

1%

WellCare

8,716

(128)

8,588

3%

Universal American

6,119

(4,138)

6,115

8,096

7%

Aveta

6,157

6,157

3%

Centene

1,960

2,586

4,546

14%

Molina

(2,106)

5,572

3,466

4%

HealthNet

(9,361)

(1,988)

(28)

(11,377)

-4%

EmblemHealth

(7,683)

(6,392)

(8)

(14,083)

-8%

CIGNA

(53,713)

(3,455)

(425)

(57,593)

-11%

BCBS-NP

4,898

(651)

20,258

(236)

31,397

55,666

2%

Other

13,484

(2,727)

(7,534)

5,558

(21,540)

(12,759)

0%

Total

237,364

(36,835)

701,638

22,012

11,167

935,346

5.0%

Note: PFFS=Private fee-for-service; MMP=Medicare-Medicaid plans (not MA).

SOURCE: Mark Kelly, Stifel Co. based on Stifel estimates and CMS data from Nov. 11, 2016, to Jan. 6, 2017 (Dec. 2016-Feb. 2017 reports).