Annual Election Period/AEP

In ‘Early Innings’ of Major Retail Collabs, UnitedHealth-Walmart Make Medicare Play

With a focus on Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, UnitedHealth Group and Walmart Inc. have struck a 10-year “wide-ranging collaboration” with value-based care elements that could ultimately extend into Medicaid and commercial plans. In addition to launching a co-branded MA plan, the partnership will connect Walmart Health clinicians with Optum’s analytics and decision support tools for value-based care delivery, and it represents the latest example of a major retailer seeking out a partner to grow its health care business.

Walmart already has a Medicare Part D partnership with Humana Inc. and in October 2020 introduced a co-branded MA offering with Clover Health. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant at the time also launched an insurance brokerage called Walmart Insurance Services. According to walmartinsurance.com, it sells plans from Anthem (Elevance Health), Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Centene Corp.’s WellCare. The site does not, however, list Clover Health, and a spokesperson for Walmart confirms that the collaboration ended in 2021.

News Briefs: HHS Predicts 15M Will Lose Coverage Once Medicaid/CHIP Redeterminations Resume

HHS is currently projecting that 17.4% of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollees — or about 15 million people — will move out of those programs when the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends. States have been barred from conducting eligibility redeterminations for Medicaid and CHIP during the PHE, as a condition of receiving enhanced federal funding, but those eligibility checks will resume whenever the PHE ends. Of those expected to lose Medicaid/CHIP coverage, almost one third are expected to qualify for premium tax credits to help defray the cost of Affordable Care Act marketplace plans, and among those people, more than 60% can access a zero-premium plan.

Teasing 2023 Expansions, Regional MA Insurers Eye Competitive Texas Market

As Medicare Advantage insurers gear up to compete for enrollment during the 2023 Annual Election Period (AEP) that begins on Oct. 15, a handful of companies have already unveiled service area expansions that are pending CMS approval. Several of them named new territories in Texas, where some 4 million Medicare beneficiaries reside.

According to AIS's Directory of Health Plans (DHP), more than half of Medicare beneficiaries in Texas are enrolled in an MA plan. UnitedHealthcare has the biggest market share in the state, with 48.9% of enrollees, followed by Humana Inc., with 16.8%. And UnitedHealthcare has reportedly purchased the seventh-largest Texas MA plan, KelseyCare Advantage, which is operated by KS Plan Administrators and affiliated with medical group Kelsey-Seybold.

News Briefs: Individual Medicare Advantage Enrollment Surpasses 24.7 million, Up 9% Year Over Year

Individual Medicare Advantage enrollment this month surpassed 24.7 million lives, reflecting 9.3% membership growth since last August, according to a Barclays analysis of CMS’s latest monthly enrollment report. The publicly traded MCOs saw year-over-year individual MA membership grow by 10.5%, with Centene Corp. and CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna delivering double-digit enrollment gains, according to the analysis. Cigna Corp., however, underperformed with a year-over-year membership decline of 5.5%, observed Barclays. CMS’s August data release reflects enrollments accepted through July 8.

Highmark Wholecare has partnered with Posit Science to incorporate “brain fitness” into a program aimed at reducing vulnerable members’ risk of falling and improving balance. Highmark Wholecare, formerly Gateway Health, will offer BrainHQ exercises and services to approximately 7,000 qualifying members who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and identified as a high risk for falls. BrainHQ’s evidence-based brain fitness program is available via web or mobile phone and is supported by more than 200 peer-reviewed studies, according to an Aug. 15 press release from the partners.

Humana, Elevance Realign Business Segments, Anticipate Strong 2023 AEP

After seeing improved medical cost trends and, in some cases, lower administrative costs, select insurers serving the Medicare Advantage space recently lifted their earnings projections for the full year. Conference calls to discuss second-quarter 2022 earnings were full of questions about pricing and changes related to their MA products as the 2023 Annual Election Period (AEP) approaches, but executives were more focused on touting efforts to serve members holistically, including through rebranding strategies as companies attempt to align their various business segments.

Expanded Footprints, Enhanced Benefits Aided Plans’ OEP Gains

Medicare Advantage enrollment reached nearly 28.8 million as of May, reflecting an overall increase of about 1% during the three-month Open Enrollment Period (OEP) that ended on March 31, according to the latest update to AIS’s Directory of Health Plans (DHP). That’s compared with growth of 5.3% from October 2021 to February, reflecting results from the Annual Election Period (AEP) that ran from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Beneficiaries who enrolled in an MA plan during the AEP have a one-time opportunity to change their coverage selection during the OEP, and insurers that made above-average membership gains during both periods attributed their successes to product enhancements, geographic expansions and strong distribution partnerships.

Plan Finder Update Leaves Out Detail on Supplemental Benefits

As CMS continues to seek ways to improve its consumer-facing tools for comparing Medicare coverage options, the agency last month unveiled a series of tweaks to the Medicare.gov website and Medicare Plan Finder (MPF). The MPF in 2019 underwent a major makeover that reportedly cost the Trump administration $11 million but critics say fell short of fixing many of the issues highlighted in a July 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office. CMS has continued to make updates based on consumer feedback, but some industry experts suggest more detail around the supplemental benefits offered by Medicare Advantage plans would be useful.

“CMS is making Medicare.gov easier to use and more helpful for people seeking to understand their Medicare coverage, which is an essential part of staying healthy,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a May 18 press release. “We are committed to listening to the people we serve as we design and deliver new, personalized online resources and expanded customer support options for people with Medicare coverage and those who support them.”

Segmented, Personalized Outreach Drives MAO Retention Efforts

Medicare consumers are facing an overwhelming variety of resources and plan choices and are showing signs of increased movement during the Open Enrollment Period (OEP). As a result, effective member engagement during the OEP and throughout the year is becoming increasingly important and can be achieved through using data to segment membership and deliver targeted, personalized messaging to ensure that a member is in the right plan from the start, industry experts advised during the 13th Annual Medicare Market Innovations Forum, hosted by Strategic Solutions Network, LLC (SSN).

After the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) that typically runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, the three-month Medicare OEP starts on Jan. 1 and allows beneficiaries who selected a Medicare Advantage plan to make a onetime coverage change. This year was the fourth OEP since it was reinstated by the Trump administration after a hiatus, and seniors’ utilization of the renewed opportunity is growing.

PHE Extension, Medicare AEP Boost ’22 Earnings Projections

Better-than-expected first-quarter 2022 earnings aided by Medicare open enrollment successes and the extension of the public health emergency (PHE) drove several insurers at press time to raise their earnings guidance for the year. Some, however, approached their projections with caution as variant-driven surges in the COVID-19 pandemic continue to create uncertainty around utilization.

Reporting first-quarter earnings on April 27, Humana Inc. said its results from the latest Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) were slightly better than projected and it is making progress on a $1 billion value creation plan unveiled last quarter that will allow the company to further enhance its Medicare offerings. For the AEP that ended Dec. 7, improvements were “driven by higher sales and improved voluntary termination rates,” explained President and CEO Bruce Broussard during an April 27 conference call to discuss recent quarterly earnings. Broussard also provided a detailed update on Humana’s efforts to improve the sales experience through its various distribution channels.

Average ACA Benchmark Plan Premium Continues to Drop in 2022

The national average premium for the second-lowest-cost silver plan, or benchmark plan, sold through the Affordable Care Act exchanges is $438 per month in 2022, a 1.8% drop compared to 2021, according to an Urban Institute analysis. Average benchmark premiums, by state, ranged from $309 in New Hampshire to $766 in West Virginia. The premium variation was associated with the type and number of insurers participating in a region. The presence of a Medicaid insurer led to lower benchmark premiums. In 2021, the benchmark premium in a rating region with only one insurer was $189.5 higher per month than in regions with five or more insurers.

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