Published Sep. 16, 2020


While seniors still have some room for improvement, they are overall pretty savvy shoppers when it comes to their Medicare coverage. 

Such was the key takeaway from our 2020 Medicare Shoppers Survey, which polled 891 Medicare beneficiaries about their Medicare plan shopping experiences and habits. 

Health care expenses remain a primary concern for Americans 65 and over. Seniors in America have withdrawn an estimated $22 billion from long-term savings to pay for health care, and the seniors in our study ranked health care as their third-most burdensome living expense, ahead of costs like housing, transportation and even food.

So it goes without saying that making smart shopping decisions is paramount for Medicare beneficiaries. While many Medicare beneficiaries seem to be smart shoppers, we found a large number of seniors are still putting themselves at potential financial risk by not comparing plans to find the right coverage for their needs and budget.

Are Seniors Making Informed Health Insurance Decisions?

Many Seniors Don't Review Their Medicare Coverage Annually

There are many different combinations of Medicare parts and plans, and beneficiaries have an opportunity every year to enroll in, switch or drop certain types of Medicare plans.

Medicare costs, plan selection and covered benefits can change every year, and seniors are encouraged to review their coverage annually to verify they are enrolled in the best policies for their needs.

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Graphic showing percentage of Medicare beneficiaries who review various expenses each year

We found, however, that roughly one out of every three beneficiaries, which represents as many as 20 million seniors nationwide, do not review their coverage every year to ensure they are getting the most bang for their buck. 

Seniors Are More Likely to Compare Prices for Auto Insurance Than Medicare Plans

More than 3 in 10 seniors aren’t likely to comparison shop for Medicare plans to save money, even though they could be missing out on thousands of dollars in potential savings.

Slightly more seniors report comparison shopping for auto insurance to save money than comparing Medicare plan options.

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Graphic showing percentage of Medicare beneficiaries who comparison shop for various services

Seniors report being about just as likely to compare Medicare plan prices as they are to compare costs for food and groceries, and they’re only marginally more likely to comparison shop Medicare plan costs than they are to do the same for travel expenses.

How Difficult Is the Medicare Shopping Experience?

Seniors Would Rather Visit a Doctor Than Review Their Medicare Plan

Seniors would rather visit a dentist than the DMV. In another display of preferring pain over inconvenience, most Medicare beneficiaries say they’d rather visit a doctor than review their Medicare coverage. 

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Graphic showing how unpleasant Medicare beneficiaries find various processes

On average, in fact, beneficiaries find reviewing their Medicare plan coverage to be roughly as painful as doing their taxes or buying a car. 

1 out of 4 seniors find it difficult to shop for a plan

Shopping for Medicare plan coverage may often involve exploring private Medicare plan options, such as Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C), Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans, each of which are sold by private insurance companies.

We found one out of four seniors, or roughly 15 million Medicare beneficiaries, say it’s difficult to compare these Medicare plan options.

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Graphic showing percentage of Medicare beneficiaries who find it difficult to shop for a Medicare plan

Nearly half of seniors find it easy to shop for a Medicare plan. 

How Has COVID-19 Impacted Medicare Beneficiaries Shopping for Coverage?

Priorities Changed for 3 Out of 4 Medicare Beneficiaries

Seniors are doing a commendable job of keeping a pulse on the coronavirus pandemic and are making health insurance decisions accordingly.

75% of respondents said that COVID-19 has impacted their desired features when comparing Medicare plan options.

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Graphic showing percentage of Medicare beneficiaries who say COVID-19 has affected their Medicare choices

The most important of those features? Doctor and hospital network participation, which close to half of seniors say is the most important aspect to consider when comparing plan options. 

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Graphic showing what factors Medicare beneficiaries say are most important in buying a plan

Only 7% of seniors cite $0 monthly premiums as the most important factor they consider when comparing Medicare plans. This suggests seniors are prioritizing quality and convenience of care ahead of concerns over costs like monthly premiums and deductibles.

What Are Seniors’ Insurance Shopping Habits in 2020?

Seniors Are More Likely to Consult a Friend About Medicare

Seniors are wisely consulting the opinions and recommendations of others as part of their shopping experience.

Most seniors report turning to their friends for advice about Medicare insurance plans, which was more than those who consult with medical professionals and more than twice the number of seniors who say they consult insurance providers when compare plans.

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Graphic showing the various sources of assistance Medicare beneficiaries consult when comparing plans

The friends that Medicare beneficiaries consult about their coverage may likely be enrolled in a particular Medicare plan themselves. Insurance providers and medical professionals may typically have more information about a broader range of available Medicare plans.

Seniors Largely Trust the Government for Medicare Information

There are many resources available when learning about and shopping for Medicare insurance. But the information source seniors rely on the most is, which is the official government website for Medicare run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Seniors use twice as often as any other Medicare resource. 

Only 20% of seniors have called 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), which is the official telephone number for Medicare. 

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Graphic showing how many Medicare beneficiaries use available resources

The Medicare Plan Finder tool was found to be an often-used resource by Medicare beneficiaries. This is a free online tool that allows shoppers to explore Medicare plan options available in their area. 

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Graphic showing percentage of Medicare beneficiaries who have used the Medicare Plan Finder

More than four out of five seniors have used the Medicare Plan Finder. Nearly nine out of 10 find it to be helpful despite reported glitches and incorrect information that caused issues for some beneficiaries using the tool in 2019.

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Graphic showing percentage of Medicare beneficiaries who say the Medicare Plan Finder is helpful

The Presidential Election Won’t Have a Meaningful Impact on Medicare Coverage Decisions for Most Beneficiaries

Health care is often top of mind at election time. But only one out of eight seniors say the presidential election outcome between President Donald Trump and Senator Joe Biden will have a major impact on their Medicare coverage decisions.

In fact, the percentage of seniors who feel the outcome will have a slight, moderate, major or no impact at all on their health insurance decisions was remarkably consistent, no matter which candidate wins. 


Most seniors are generally smart shoppers when it comes to Medicare. They trust the advice of friends and family, and most beneficiaries rely on official government resources for information and plan comparisons. Many seniors say they are adjusting their Medicare benefit decisions according to the current pandemic. 

However, millions of seniors still do not review their coverage annually and find it difficult to shop for a Medicare plan. While a minority of the seniors we surveyed, they still comprise of a large number of seniors.

It’s vital that these Medicare beneficiaries learn more about the various coverage options available to them and how to pick the right plan for their needs and budget. If not, these vulnerable seniors could potentially face high surprise medical costs in the coming year.


This survey was conducted September 7-10, 2020, using an audience pool of 891 respondents.

Participants were filtered based on Medicare enrollment status, survey completion time and failure to follow written instructions within the survey.

Margin of error: +/- 4% (95% confidence interval)

This survey relies on self-reported data.

Fair Use Statement

Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.

Research and reports

Our research reports analyze a number of issues important to seniors, from health perceptions, medical communication, health habits and more.