Health Plan Weekly

Preventable Hospitalizations Are More Common Among Black Medicaid Enrollees

Black Medicaid enrollees were more likely to be hospitalized for preventable reasons than white enrollees, regardless of whether they were enrolled in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, according to an Urban Institute study.

Using data from CMS, the analysis studied preventable hospitalization rates across 21 states and among Medicaid enrollees ages 19 to 64 for the three most common types of preventable conditions: asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and heart failure. For all three conditions, preventable hospitalization rates were significantly higher for people enrolled in Medicaid through the SSI program — meaning they have a qualifying disability — compared with those who enrolled through other pathways.


After Last Year’s Shock, CMS Predicts Modest MA Pay Increase for 2025

Industry analysts reacted with a shrug on Jan. 31 when CMS released the much-anticipated 2025 Advance Notice of Medicare Advantage and Part D payment changes, which said that health plans can expect to receive a 3.7% average increase in risk-adjusted revenue next year.

The 3.7% figure factors in a 2.45% revenue decline related to fee-for-service normalization and a major risk adjustment model revision that CMS is phasing in over three years, as well as an effective growth rate of 2.44% and a Star Ratings bonus impact of -0.15%. CMS estimated the revenue change from the combination of those proposed policies is -0.16%. After also factoring in an average risk score increase of 3.86%, CMS arrived at its net expected revenue change of 3.7%.


Payers Face ‘Ever-Increasing Likelihood’ of ERISA Fiduciary Lawsuits

As plan beneficiaries and lawyers gain access to newly released price transparency data, health plans and plan sponsors must take proactive steps to limit their legal risk of violating health plan fiduciary standards under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), according to experts from the law firm Faegre Drinker. Experienced plaintiffs' attorneys are actively looking for cases that could establish a cottage legal industry around ERISA plan fiduciary suits, the experts say.

“There is an ever-increasing likelihood that some action or omission by health plan fiduciaries will be scrutinized either by the Department of Labor, or in a class action lawsuit brought by plaintiffs lawyers representing plan participants,” said Kendra Roberson, partner at Faegre Drinker, during a Jan. 25 presentation on ERISA health plan fiduciary legal risk. “These lawsuits would be similar to those that have been brought against retirement plan fiduciaries challenging 401(k) and 403(b) plan fees and costs.”


News Briefs: CMS Sends Initial Offers in Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Program

CMS on Feb. 1 sent initial price offers to the manufacturers of the 10 medications that were selected for the Medicare drug price negotiation program, which goes into effect in 2026. The agency announced the 10 medications in August 2023 and said they accounted for about 20% of total Part D gross covered prescription drug costs from June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023. The drug companies have 30 days to respond by either accepting the offer or providing a counteroffer. The negotiation period ends on Aug. 1. The drug price negotiation program was implemented as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

In 2023, 79 health care companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to Gibbins Advisors, a health care restructuring advisory firm. That was up from 46 filings in 2022 and the highest number of Chapter 11 filings in the past five years; the next-highest was 51 in 2019. Gibbins noted that most of the filings involved pharmaceutical and senior care companies. The firm added that 12 hospitals filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2023, which compares to 11 total between 2020 and 2022. Gibbins analyzes bankruptcies for debtors with at least $10 million in liabilities.


Experts Say Timing Is Right for Cigna to Get Out of Medicare Market

Capping off months of rumors that such a deal was brewing, The Cigna Group on Jan. 31 said it has agreed to sell its Medicare business to Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC). Industry observers say that given the near-term headwinds Medicare Advantage is facing, it’s wise for Cigna to leave a market in which it struggled to compete and focus on more promising growth opportunities.

The $3.7 billion purchase will transfer nearly 600,000 Medicare Advantage members, more than 450,000 Medicare Supplement lives and 2.5 million Medicare Part D lives from Cigna to HCSC, the companies said. The Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee will also acquire Cigna’s CareAllies business, which offers “management services to support value-based care arrangements” and works with providers to form accountable care organizations and independent physician associations.


Humana’s Slashed Earnings Outlook Stuns Analysts

Although a recent Humana Inc. regulatory filing had already prepared the market for a lackluster fourth-quarter earnings report, Wall Street analysts appeared to be shellshocked on Jan. 25, when the Medicare Advantage-focused insurer detailed just how much of a financial hit it expects to take from an unanticipated care utilization surge.

“Worst case scenario plays out,” Justin Lake of Wolfe Research wrote in a note to investors published shortly after Humana released its financial results — which included a newly revised 2024 adjusted earnings per share (EPS) outlook of “approximately $16.”


National Health Care Spending Growth Returned to Pre-COVID Levels in 2022

Total U.S. health care spending increased by 4.1% in 2022, hitting $4.5 trillion, according to CMS. The growth rate appeared to return to the average annual rate of the 2010s, while the share of the gross domestic product (GDP) devoted to health care (17.3%) also fell to pre-pandemic levels.

The rise in overall health care expenditures reflected faster growth in spending for administration costs, retail prescription drugs and long-term services from 2021 to 2022, which was offset by a decline in federal public health spending, according to an analysis by KFF. As the pandemic entered its third year, public health spending dropped by $33 billion compared to 2020.


News Briefs: CMS Appeals to Public for More Medicare Advantage Data

The Biden administration on Jan. 25 released a Request for Information to seek feedback about the best way to enhance Medicare Advantage data capabilities and increase public transparency. In a press release, HHS pointedly noted that “transparency is especially important now that MA has grown to over 50% of Medicare enrollment, and the government is expected to pay MA health insurance companies over $7 trillion over the next decade.” To that end, the agency said it’s seeking data-related input on aspects of the MA program including access to care, prior authorization, provider directories and networks, supplemental benefits, marketing; care quality and outcomes, value-based care arrangements and equity, and “healthy competition in the market, including the effects of vertical integration and how that affects payment.”


UnitedHealth Aims to Take ‘Guess Work’ Out of Assessing Health, Well-Being Offerings

Numerous companies have developed health and well-being apps and programs, making it difficult sometimes for companies to assess them and choose which ones to offer their employees. With this problem in mind, UnitedHealthcare recently rolled out UHC Hub, a platform that helps self-insured employers select and purchase health and well-being programs.

The vendors participating in the UHC Hub include Teladoc Health, a leading telehealth company; Noom, a subscription-based app for weight management and healthier living; and Cleo, a company that offers support for parents and caregiving.


Final Rule Could Reduce Improper Prior Authorization Denials in Medicaid

A rule recently finalized by CMS may address widespread problems with Medicaid prior authorization identified in an HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, industry experts say. However, they suggest that to truly solve the problem of improper coverage denials, states and Congress must limit managed care organizations’ leeway in such matters.

The CMS Interoperability and Prior Authorization Final Rule, released on Jan. 17 and scheduled for publication in the Feb. 8 Federal Register, should help providers and patients better understand why a given request was rejected, experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT. The rule requires MCOs to share precise, specific reasons for denials and make those decisions faster. Most provisions in the final rule also apply to Medicare Advantage organizations, state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program fee-for-service programs, and Affordable Care Act plans sold on the federally facilitated exchanges. Additionally, the regulation includes interoperability and data transparency provisions.