Radar on Medicare Advantage

News Briefs: SCAN Group, CareOregon Abandon Combo Amid Regulatory Scrutiny

More than a year after unveiling their intent to form HealthRight Group, SCAN Group and CareOregon have abandoned their plans to combine. According to news reports, the parties called off their proposed combination on Feb. 13 after the Oregon Health Authority twice delayed offering a recommendation on whether to approve the deal, which would have created a $6.8 billion Medicaid and Medicare Advantage insurer. “SCAN and CareOregon share a commitment to preserving and protecting nonprofit, locally based healthcare and that has always been our goal in combining under the HealthRight Group,” said SCAN, the parent company of not-for-profit Medicare Advantage insurer SCAN Health Plan. “Our intent in coming together was to support Oregon’s healthcare system and the people that CareOregon serves. However, despite our efforts, there are still questions about our combination. As a result, SCAN Group and CareOregon have mutually agreed to withdraw our applications with the Oregon regulatory agencies and to terminate our affiliation agreement.” SCAN and CareOregon, which serves Medicare and Medicaid enrollees in Oregon, in December 2022 told AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that the partners aimed to be a “formidable not-for-profit partner” in the government program space.

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© 2024 MMIT

Is Medicare Part D Red Tape Worsening Outcomes for Low-Income Seniors?

Seniors who experienced fluctuations in eligibility for Medicare Part D’s low-income subsidy (LIS) spent more money on prescription drugs and filled fewer prescriptions overall, according to new research published in JAMA Health Forum. While researchers said questions remain about whether these temporary losses can impact medication adherence and health outcomes — particularly among non-white seniors — policymakers should consider streamlining LIS eligibility systems to reduce administrative barriers.

In 2023, 13.4 million Part D beneficiaries received full or partial LIS benefits. The program provides assistance with paying premiums and deductibles, and it reduces any post-deductible cost sharing for beneficiaries. The majority of LIS beneficiaries are “deemed,” meaning they are automatically enrolled in the program based on dual eligibility with Medicaid and/or enrollment in a Medicare Savings Program (MSP). (This also includes non-duals who receive Supplemental Security Income.) But 17% of LIS beneficiaries are “nondeemed,” meaning they are not enrolled in Medicaid or an MSP and must apply for LIS themselves. All LIS beneficiaries undergo annual redeterminations, but the process for deemed beneficiaries is automatic, leaving the nondeemed population to face potential administrative challenges and unnecessary coverage loss.

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MA Industry Braces for Part C Rate Cut, Part D Benefit Shakeup

As CMS proceeds with its planned phase-in of changes to the CMS-Hierarchical Condition Categories (HCC) risk adjustment model starting this year, the agency on Jan. 31 projected that Medicare Advantage plans next year can expect to receive an average increase of 3.70% in risk adjusted revenue. After picking apart the various factors that go into that assumption, however, the industry is bracing for an effective rate reduction, along with significant changes to the Part D benefit that incited proposed updates to the RxHCC risk adjustment model used to calculate direct subsidy payments to Part D plans.

CMS this time last year projected an all-in rate increase of 1.03%, which included an effective growth rate of 2.09% and expected revenue declines of -3.12% — stemming from changes to the CMS-HCC risk model and fee-for-service (FFS) normalization — and -1.24% due to changes in Star Ratings from the prior year. The agency also estimated an underlying MA risk score trend of 3.30%. Subsequent studies suggested that the removal of thousands of diagnosis codes, renumbering of several HCCs, and other technical changes would reduce plans’ risk scores by anywhere from 2% to 14%. In the final rate notice, CMS revised its all-in rate increase projection to 3.32% after deciding to phase in the risk model changes over a three-year period.

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© 2024 MMIT

MA Plans, Vendors Avoid ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Approach to Digital Engagement

As Medicare members become increasingly comfortable with using technology to manage their care at home, tech-enabled vendors continue to flood the Medicare Advantage space to offer solutions aimed at everything from fall prevention and functional mobility to specific conditions like Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Speaking at the 7th Annual Medicare Advantage Leadership Innovations forum, held Jan. 30 and 31 in Scottsdale, Arizona, vendors and MA plans shared the nuanced and personalized approaches they’ve taken to engage seniors with digital solutions.

“I think one of the challenges with [seniors and] technology is trying to really navigate tension between high tech and high touch. And I think that’s one of the things that you need to really figure out with your members early on: What are their preferences and needs? What resources do they have available?” said Joel Salinas, M.D., chief medical officer with Isaac Health, who spoke on a member engagement panel moderated by AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

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‘Sleeper Issue:’ How Part B Drugs May Be Impacted by Medicare Part D Redesign

Physician-administered drugs could catch some windfall due to the Inflation Reduction Act’s Medicare Part D redesign.

Much time and energy has been focused on thinking about how drug pricing, rebating and Part D plan design may shift due to changes set to finish taking effect in 2025, including new caps on enrollee out-of-pocket spend and more liability falling on plans rather than taxpayers.

But a “sleeper issue here is what all of this is going to mean for Medicare Part B drugs,” said Avalere’s Kesley Lang on a January webinar on the health policy outlook for the new year.

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© 2024 MMIT

Reporters’ Notebook: Medicare Advantage Leadership Innovations Conference by the Numbers

“Subpar” Medicare Advantage provider networks are costing the Medicare Advantage industry approximately $23 billion a year, according to Quest Analytics. That was just one of the staggering statistics shared at the 7th Annual Medicare Advantage Leadership Innovations forum, held Jan. 30 and 31 in Scottsdale, Arizona. As speakers discussed common industry themes of health equity, member engagement and quality improvement, the following percentages and dollar amounts helped to illustrate the impact of addressing (or failing to address) these and other health care issues. Click the quote icons below to see what presenters had to say about each one.

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© 2024 MMIT

HCSC’s Planned Purchase of Cigna’s MA Assets Will Boost Fast-Growing Segment

After reportedly vying with Elevance Health, Inc. for the purchase of The Cigna Group’s Medicare Advantage business, Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) will buy Cigna’s MA, Medicare Supplemental, Medicare Part D and CareAllies assets for a total transaction value of $3.7 billion. HCSC has been aggressively growing its MA business through service area expansions; the addition of Cigna’s MA lives would boost its current share of the segment from 0.62% to 2.40%, according to AIS’s Directory of Health Plans.

In a press release unveiling the deal, the Chicago-based insurer said the acquisition will accelerate its growth in “an important market segment” and “bring many opportunities to HCSC and its members — including a wider range of product offerings, robust clinical programs and a larger geographic reach.” HCSC is customer-owned, meaning policyholders and not stockholders are the owners, and it is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Its Blues plans currently enroll 204,638 members across five states: Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

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© 2024 MMIT

MA Experts Point to Member Experience, Provider Contracting as Worthy Investments

For our annual series of outlook stories on the year ahead in Medicare Advantage, AIS Health, a division of MMIT, asked multiple experts what they view as MA organizations’ “keys to success” in 2024 and what critical investments will help them unlock their goals. Responses ranged from using artificial intelligence and other digital tools to improve the member experience to strategically striking value-based agreements with providers.

“If health plans don’t do a good job of educating or empowering the members with information, then the member effort increases, which frequently leads to member churn,” observes Srikanth Lakshminarayanan, senior vice president of the Center of Excellence for Healthcare Engagement Services at Sagility, a tech-enabled business process firm that supports payers and providers. “With MA membership increasing literally day by day, it’s important for health plans to make a conscious effort at doing a good job on member onboarding and retention. People who come out of their commercial plan into a Medicare plan need handholding of a different kind. They often need to know how Medicare works, what’s the supplemental spend, etc.”

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What Was in MedPAC’s Controversial MA Status Report?

Tensions were unusually high at a Jan. 12 meeting of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which is preparing its annual March report to Congress on the state of Medicare Advantage, among other things. While the routine discussion of the commission’s January status report hit several familiar notes — MA is becoming increasingly popular in an industry plagued by consolidation, excessive coding is driving up program costs, and quality bonus payments don’t reflect high quality care — one commissioner called out the group’s perceived lack of neutrality as the industry prepared for CMS’s 2025 Advance Notice.

MedPAC projects that in 2024, the government will pay $88 billion more than it would pay if MA members were instead beneficiaries of fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare, continuing a trend that has proliferated in recent years. These overpayments, MedPAC analysts outlined for the commission, are driven by MA plans’ enrollment of a largely healthy risk pool, which is then subject to “coding intensity” (i.e., the higher coding patterns due to financial incentives that don’t exist in FFS Medicare).

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As MAOs Post 4Q Financials, Elevated MLRs Pressure 2024 Outlook

As the first round of fourth-quarter and full-year 2023 financial results were reported by publicly traded insurers in January, modest enrollment growth during the recently concluded Annual Election Period (AEP) and continued utilization pressures were prominent Medicare Advantage themes during earnings calls. Although analysts were particularly concerned with results posted by Humana Inc., which notably moved up its earnings release date, some maintained that the MA-focused insurer remains poised for long-term growth in the sector.

Humana Inc. on Jan. 25 introduced 2024 adjusted earnings per share (EPS) guidance of “approximately $16” — compared with the Wall Street consensus of $29.14. But that was after a regulatory filing indicated that inpatient utilization was higher than expected in the fourth quarter of 2023, primarily during November and December, “as well as a further increase in non-inpatient trends, predominantly in the categories of physician, outpatient surgeries, and supplemental benefits, which emerged with the November and December paid claims data.” Humana’s stock plummeted after the disclosure, and the impact reverberated throughout the managed care sector, denting the share values of competitors including CVS Health Corp. and Elevance Health, Inc.

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© 2024 MMIT