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Many health insurers are shunning the Affordable Care Act public exchange program this fall but flocking to that program’s older sibling, the Medicare Advantage program.

Medicare Advantage plan business is so attractive that insurers “invested in this segment have been preparing to diligently market their products in anticipation of rolling more members,” according to Mark Farrah Associates.

The total number of distinct Medicare Advantage plans has increased to 2,619 this year, from 2,311 last year, and the number of plans available with no out-of-pocket premium bills for the enrollees has increased to 1,053, from 896, according to Mark Farrah analysts.

(Related: UnitedHealth Dominates Medicare Advantage Growth Chart)

The number of Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans, or plans designed to serve people with chronic health problems, increased to 640, from 589.

The Medicare Advantage program has also shown steady enrollment growth. In September, Medicare Advantage plan enrollment stood at about 20 million, up 7 million from the total recorded a year earlier.

Mark Farrah analysts have published data on the program here.

The annual election period for the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug programs for 2018 started Oct. 15 and is set to end Dec. 7.

The Medicare Advantage program gives private insurers a chance to use Medicare Part A hospitalization money and Medicare Part B physician and outpatient services program money to provide an alternative to traditional Medicare coverage.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, uses a bidding process to spur insurers to hold total program costs down and increase plan quality ratings.

Insurers often complain that CMS efforts to squeeze more out of them will eventually push issuers away from the Medicare Advantage program, but, this year, the program appears to be much appealing to insurers than the commercial individual major medical market does.

The individual major medical open enrollment period for 2018 starts Nov. 1, and insurers still have major open questions about how those products will work in 2018.

—-Read New Medicare Product List Stuns Analysts on ThinkAdvisor.

— Connect with ThinkAdvisor’s Life/Health channel on Facebook and Twitter.

The carrier says some people got the wrong idea from the Aetna deal talks.

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