Despite Medicare Advantage insurers’ enthusiasm for increased flexibility in allowable supplemental benefits and a slew of recent plan press releases touting goodies such as pest control and “Papa Pals” for the 2020 plan year, uptake of more “resource intensive” benefits geared toward seriously ill seniors remains relatively modest, according to a new report from the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy.

The December report, “Improving Serious Illness Care in Medicare Advantage: New Regulatory Flexibility for Supplemental Benefits,” showed that a total of 507 standard MA plans in 2019 offered one of five types of benefits addressing serious illness, accounting for roughly 11% of the approximately 4,500 standard MA plans in 2019, AIS Health reported. By contrast, 377 in 2020 offered at least one of the five benefits highlighted in the report, while no plans in 2019 offered more than one of these benefits. But that drop was mainly driven by one major carrier abandoning its caregiver support benefit for 2020. Meanwhile, about 175 plans offered at least two of these types of these benefits, according to Robert Saunders, research director and one of the report’s authors.

Despite the decrease in caregiver support, which had the greatest initial uptake of the five benefit categories in 2019, researchers saw meaningful increases for 2020 in benefits such as adult day care and palliative care that “more directly address the needs of members with serious illness.”

The study also linked the PBP data to MA enrollment figures by plan and by county to assess the geographic impacts of the policy changes. For 2020, many parts of the country do not have any plans offering new supplemental benefits, and those aimed at serious care were likely to be offered in urban counties, said the report.

Barring any major disruption, 2021 will likely be the year of growth for new flexible benefits, as it takes plans a couple years to price, test and stand up ones that will have a lasting impact, adds Saunders.