Radar on Medicare Advantage

As MAOs Consider Benefit Cuts, Risk-Bearing Providers Should Take Heed

As Medicare Advantage and Part D sponsors prepare their bids for 2025 amid revenue challenges, benefit cuts and other changes that plans are contemplating to maintain margins will undoubtedly trickle down to Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and other entities that take risk in MA. As a result, risk-bearing providers should be asking tough questions of their plan partners and conducting internal analyses to understand where their revenue stands to be impacted, according to value-based care experts.

From the transition to v28 — the new version of the Part C CMS-Hierarchical Condition Categories (HCC) model that will make it harder for plans and providers to apply more codes for risk adjustment — to increased inpatient utilization, a -0.16% drop in MA plans’ base pay and other changes, risk-bearing providers are bracing for a “perfect storm” of events in MA that will require preparation, said Zach Davis, a Wakely actuary who helps ACOs manage insurance risk, during a LinkedIn Live session recorded on April 24.

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News Briefs: OIG Chief Says Agents Are ‘Struggling to Keep Up’ With Medicare, Medicaid Fraud

Testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, HHS Inspector General Christi Grimm identified Medicare Advantage risk adjustment and durable medical equipment as two areas at risk for fraud and improper payments. The current MA payment structure, which adjusts payments based on the relative health of beneficiaries, “creates an incentive for managed care plans to make patients appear sicker simply to claim payments to which they are not entitled,” she told representatives during the April 16 hearing. She noted that OIG identified MA overpayments across 33 audits totaling more than $500 million, an amount that “is likely just the tip of an iceberg.” She said these issues raise questions about the accuracy of the data and whether patients are receiving needed treatment. In addition, OIG’s work looking at Medicaid managed care demonstrates that “states need better, more useful data that would ensure states are not paying for deceased enrollees or paying for an enrollee who has moved to another state,” she said. OIG is “struggling to keep up” with the pace of the growing health care industry and is “declining 300 to 400 viable fraud cases per year because we don’t have the agents to work them,” she added.

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SFHP Leverages Local Connections, In-House Capabilities to Launch D-SNP

To prepare for new integrated care requirements for dual eligible Californians, San Francisco Health Plan (SFHP) and other Medi-Cal plans are in throes of setting up a Medicare Advantage Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan (D-SNP) in their service area, if they haven’t done so already. During the 15th Annual Medicare Market Innovations Forum, held April 8-9 in Orlando, Florida, SFHP’s Diane Sargent discussed the daunting task of building a D-SNP and the tremendous potential to improve care delivery for up to 47,000 dual eligible beneficiaries in the plan’s service area.

As part of the California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (CalAIM) initiative, the state’s Dept. of Health Care Services (DHCS) is implementing new policies to promote integrated care for duals that build on the Coordinated Care Initiative (CCI), the state’s financial alignment demonstration with CMS that included Medicare Medi-Cal Plans (MMPs) serving duals. Under the first phase of CalAIM, which kicked off in January 2023, DHCS launched D-SNPs in the seven CCI counites. Under an exclusively aligned enrollment (EAE) model, duals access their Medicare and Medi-Cal coverage via the same managed care plan. Managed care plans in non-CCI counties that wish to continue serving dual eligibles must launch EAE D-SNPs no later than Jan. 1, 2026.

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JNJ, BMS’s IRA Loss Is First Time Court Rejects Industry’s First Amendment, Takings Claims

Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos. and Bristol Myers Squibb Co. failed to convince a district court judge that the Inflation Reduction Act’s drug price negotiation program violates the drug industry’s First Amendment rights, the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment or the Unconstitutional Conditions Doctrine, per a summary judgement issued in favor of the government 29 April.

The opinion from Judge Zahid Quaraishi of the United States District Court in the District of New Jersey, adds to the list of industry’s legal arguments that have failed to successfully challenge the law. BMS already has appealed the judgement.

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ACHP: Final Rule Checks ‘Untethered’ Agent, Broker Fees Impacting Competition

After pushing for new limits on broker compensation and other changes to ensure seniors are guided to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans that best meet their needs, the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) on April 4 celebrated a victory with the release of CMS’s final rule making policy and technical changes for the 2025 plan year. ACHP, which represents provider-aligned, not-for-profit health plans, had spelled out its hopes for these policies in its broader “MA for Tomorrow” framework and provided Senate testimony on the impact of excessive “add-on” broker fees paid by larger plans. After CMS issued its final rule containing new marketing-related policies, AIS Health, a division of MMIT, spoke with ACHP’s executive vice president of public policy, Dan Jones, to learn more about the group’s position.

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News Briefs: UnitedHealth Reaffirms Full-Year Earnings Guidance Despite Cyberattack Impact

Although the cyberattack on its Change Healthcare subsidiary cost the company about $870 million, or 74 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2024, UnitedHealth Group on April 16 reaffirmed its full-year adjusted earnings per share (EPS) guidance of $27.50 to $28.00. Reporting financial results for the quarter ending March 31, the company said its Medicare Advantage business saw heightened outpatient care utilization that was consistent with what it experienced in the first half of 2023 and planned for in 2024. Winter seasonal activity that included vaccinations, higher incidents of respiratory illness and related physician office visits have subsided, management said. “If other MCOs had the same experience, it would be most positive” for Humana, “given its guidance for persistent, elevated utilization and investors’ likely preference for a 50%+ EPS recovery story (HUM) over slightly better revenue/EPS growth,” wrote Jefferies analysts on April 17. Revenue for the UnitedHealthcare segment grew 7% from the prior-year quarter to $75.4 billion, reflecting enrollment growth in its commercial and senior segments that was offset by expected declines in Medicaid due to ongoing eligibility redeterminations. UnitedHealthcare highlighted major managed Medicaid wins in Michigan, Texas and Virginia but expressed disappointment in the recent Florida selections.

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How Does MA Plan Design Impact Enrollment, Equity?

Medicare Advantage plan design — particularly the cost of premiums — has a major influence on who chooses to enroll. The variance in that enrollment mix can have a big impact on outcomes and utilization, according to a new white paper from Inovalon and Harvard Medical School. Using Inovalon’s Medical Outcomes Research for Effectiveness and Economics Registry dataset, which tracks demographic and outcomes information for about 30% of the MA population at any given time, researchers found that socioeconomically disadvantaged populations were more attracted to MA, especially zero-premium products.

“Our research challenges the misconception that Medicare Advantage is a monolith, revealing significant differences in plan designs and features and how those variables affect enrollment and outcomes,” Boris Vabson, Ph.D., a health economist at Harvard Medical School and co-lead researcher on the project, said in an April 8 statement released alongside the research.

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Finalized Broker Pay Cap Appears to Exclude FMOs, But Impact Remains Unclear

Building on a sweeping set of marketing-related provisions that went into effect this year, CMS’s recently finalized 2025 Medicare Advantage and Part D rule put new restraints on agent and broker compensation, among other things. The provisions advance the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to shield consumers from misleading marketing, but with more of a focus on activities performed by independent agents and brokers rather than the broader third-party marketing organization (TPMO) industry that was targeted in previous rulemaking. Industry experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that the finalized provisions are still open to interpretation when it comes to the role of one type of TPMO — field marketing organizations (FMO) — which often conduct lead generating and advertising on behalf of plans.

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With Less Funding, MAOs Seek Creative Tradeoffs to Preserve Benefits

As Medicare Advantage insurers face revenue headwinds driven by changes to risk adjustment, Star Ratings and benchmark rates, one overarching question at recent conferences and webinars has been, how will MA plans do more with less? Medicare beneficiaries in recent years have flocked to MA largely because of rich benefit offerings they can’t get in fee-for-service Medicare, and they have grown accustomed to items like comprehensive dental, flex cards and fitness benefits. But as the June 3 bid deadline approaches, insurers are considering what benefits they may have to tweak and how they’ll market those benefits to consumers for 2025.

During an April 3 webinar cohosted by Deft Research and Rebellis Group, Deft Vice President of Client Services Rob Lourenço said the market is already showing signs of revenue changes trickling down to the consumer. In its latest Medicare Shopping and Switching Study, Deft observed a slight “pullback in certain benefits” and at a high level saw more removals of benefits than additions this year. Comparing plans that were offered in both 2023 and 2024, Deft saw that routine eye exam coverage remained stable, while 4% of plans removed eyewear coverage and 1% added the benefit, resulting in a net decline of -3% for eyewear access.

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‘LTSS-Like’ Supplemental Benefits Aim to Fill a Gap, but Enrollment Remains Low

Millions of seniors report needing long-term services and supports that can assist with daily activities and disease management, but many don’t qualify for Medicaid, the primary source of LTSS coverage. Medicare Advantage plans have stepped up to fill in the gap with “LTSS-like” supplemental benefits, which range from select Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill such as home modifications and service dog support, to Expanded Primarily Health-Related Benefits, including adult day services, in-home support services and caregiver support.

New research from ATI Advisory explores who has access to and ultimately enrolls in MA plans that offer LTSS-like supplemental benefits. The analysis of CMS data found that 82% of Medicare-only beneficiaries (i.e. those who are not dually eligible for Medicaid) have access to at least one plan that offers at least one LTSS-like benefit. Despite the wide availability of LTSS-like plans — particularly in high-population urban areas — just 9% of beneficiaries are enrolled in them, representing about 2 million people.

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