Seema Verma hedshot

An exploding number of Medicare Advantage plans are working with home care providers to provide non-medical services ranging from therapeutic massage to grocery store transportation, according to benefit and cost-sharing information published late last week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The open enrollment season starting next month will allow participants to choose from 730 plans providing supplemental benefits, such as adult day health services, caregiver support, massage and home-based palliative care.

Another 920 plans will offer benefits for people living with chronic conditions so that they can better manage their disease. Those types of support include anything from meal delivery to pest control services.

About 500 plans will target participants with diagnoses such as diabetes and congestive heart failure, offering lower copayments and new benefits such as meals and transportation.

CMS said that Medicare Advantage enrollment is expected to increase to 26.9 million beneficiaries next year, a 44% jump since 2017. Average premiums also are expected to be the lowest in 14 years as insurers compete for sign-ups.

In a statement, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said “more supplemental benefits represent the welcome fruit of … creative, patient-oriented policies.”

In announcing the approval of additional benefits last year, CMS said it was aiming to address social determinants of health for older adults while also spurring greater competition. Supplemental benefits include items and services not covered by Medicare Parts A and B, if those compensate for physical impairments, diminish the effect of injuries or reduce hospital visits.

Although CMS has continued to roll out additional offerings, some researchers have questioned how much consumers actually benefit. 

The Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy researchers found that in 2019, the first year with expanded benefits, no plan offered more than one of the following expanded services: adult day health, palliative care, non-opioid pain management or in-home support.

The proportion of plans offering just one was 11% in 2019, and it was estimated to drop to 7% in 2020, when the number of plans began taking off.

The researchers noted, however, that this year, some plans began offering multiple top-shelf benefits.

Overall, CMS says that consumers will have 76.6% more Medicare Advantage choices than in 2017, with more than 4,800 plans open for 2021 enrollment.

This article originally appeared on McKnight's Senior Living