Annual Election Period/AEP

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.


UnitedHealth Delivers Strong 1Q, Touts MA, Value-Based Growth

Despite variations in care utilization due to COVID-19 that drove up medical costs early in the quarter, UnitedHealth Group reported a strong start to 2022, with financial results exceeding analysts’ expectations driven by outperformance in both the UnitedHealthcare and Optum Health segments. As the company anticipates continued growth in value-based care initiatives and Medicare Advantage enrollment throughout the year, it raised its full-year adjusted earnings-per-share (EPS) outlook by 90 cents to a range of $21.20 to $21.70.

For the three months ending on March 31, the company recorded overall revenues of $80.1 billion, representing a year-over-year increase of 14.2% that reflected double-digit growth at both Optum and UnitedHealthcare. The UnitedHealthcare segment reported $62.6 billion in revenues, up 13.6% from $55.1 billion a year ago, and operating earnings of $3.8 billion, compared with $4.1 billion last year, reflecting the effects of “pandemic-disrupted care patterns,” the company explained in its earnings press release. Revenue for the Medicare & Retirement segment was $29.1 billion, up from nearly $25.5 billion in the first quarter of 2021.


With AEP Switching Low, MAOs Must Monitor Member Experience

Medicare beneficiaries have more plan choices than ever before, in addition to a dizzying array of supplemental benefits and increased PPO options, but plan switching has stalled, according to a new study from Deft Research. That leaves Medicare Advantage plans to consider whether low switching is largely due to members feeling satisfied with their current coverage or overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information being presented to them, observed industry experts during a recent webinar hosted by Rebellis Group LLC. As a result, members’ experience during the Annual Election Period may warrant a closer look as plans think about their strategy for the next AEP.

In its 2022 Medicare Shopping and Switching Study, Deft observed an overall switching rate of 11% during the most recent AEP. That’s compared with 12% seen in 2021 and 23% in 2015, reported George Dippel, executive vice president with Deft, during the March 10 webinar, “With more choices than ever, how will your Medicare Advantage plan stand out in 2023?” The annual survey featured responses from 3,389 Medicare enrollees, including 1,846 seniors who were enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021 and 1,183 seniors with Medicare Supplemental (MedSupp) coverage. The remaining 360 respondents had Original Medicare only (OMO).


Geographic Expansions Assisted 2022 AEP Winners’ Major Gains

Medicare Advantage membership has grown by 8.5% since February 2021 to top 28.6 million lives, according to AIS Health’s analysis of data that included enrollment during the 2022 Annual Election Period (AEP). While nearly two-thirds of all new enrollees selected a plan from market leaders UnitedHealthcare, Humana Inc. or CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna, several regional insurers performed well above average, driven largely by service area expansions, provider pacts and benefit enhancements. (Per AIS’s research methodology, the following figures do not include lives enrolled in CMS’s Financial Alignment Initiative demonstration plans serving about 451,000 Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibles or participants in Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.)


Medicare Advantage Enrollment Tops 28 Million in 2022 Annual Election Period

Approximately 2.2 million people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan from February 2021 to February 2022, bringing the total MA population to 28.6 million medical lives. That’s an 8.5% year-over-year increase, according to AIS Health’s analysis of data that included enrollment from the 2022 Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), down from 9.9% growth during the prior-year period. Nearly two-thirds (64.3%) of all new enrollees selected a plan from UnitedHealthcare, Humana Inc. or CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna, while Centene Corp.’s major market expansion paid off, garnering more than 30% enrollment growth for the insurer. Meanwhile, Florida Blue parent GuideWell Mutual Holding Corp.’s completed acquisition of Triple-S Management Corp., one of the largest MA insurers in Puerto Rico, allowed it to crack the top 10 for the first time. Anthem, Inc. also completed a Puerto Rico MA deal with its July 2021 acquisition of MMM Holdings from InnovaCare Health. On the state level, four states saw MA growth of more than 20% (vs. 10 last year), including Delaware and Vermont, which have historically low penetration rates.


News Briefs: America’s Physician Groups and Others Are Urging CMS Not to Cancel GPDC Model

America’s Physician Groups (APG) and other stakeholders at press time were urging the Biden administration not to cancel the Global and Professional Direct Contracting (GPDC) model. The model, in which provider groups and other entities share risk and receive capitated payments for serving fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare beneficiaries, formally launched in April 2021 and has drawn interest from Medicare Advantage organizations. Although CMS put a pause on new applicants for the 2022 performance year, progressive lawmakers have asked the administration to stop it out of concern that private entities are seeking to funnel FFS enrollees into managed care without their knowing. In a sign-on letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, APG and other groups suggested that instead of canceling the model, the administration should limit participation to provider-led entities and “place additional guardrails and add more beneficiary protections.”


Humana Seeks to Calm Investors With EPS Outlook, $1B Value Plan

As publicly traded Medicare Advantage insurers begin to report fourth-quarter and full-year 2021 earnings, Humana Inc.’s recent disclosure of lower-than-expected individual MA growth for 2022 has raised questions among the investment community around the use of external sales channels and their impact on membership churn. But reports by UnitedHealth Group and Anthem, Inc. in late January seemed to assure investors that Humana’s experience was not reflective of an overall trend, while executives during Humana’s Feb. 2 earnings call vowed that the MA-focused insurer is making every effort to ensure its external partners appropriately convey what members are buying and confirmed its long-term growth outlook.


News Briefs: New Research Shows Rise in Telehealth Use Among Medicare Enrollees| Dec. 16, 2021

New statistics showing a rise in telehealth usage among Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic make a strong case for permanently expanding telehealth coverage for Medicare patients. A new report from the HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) found that the number of FFS beneficiary telehealth visits rose from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to nearly 52.7 million in 2020, with the largest increase seen in behavioral health specialist visits. Black and rural beneficiaries demonstrated lower use of telehealth compared with white and urban beneficiaries, respectively. The report did not include results for Medicare Advantage members, since plans had discretion to offer telehealth prior to the pandemic, noted ASPE. Meanwhile, a new Medicare Telemedicine Data Snapshot from CMS showed that the number of Medicare beneficiaries (including MA enrollees) using telemedicine services between March 1, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021, increased over 30 times the number of users from the prior year (March 2019 to February 2020). Dual eligibles had higher use of telehealth than those with just Medicare. “These latest numbers prove that when given the resources and opportunity to use telemedicine, many of these patients will opt to use the technology,” wrote Connected Nation, which seeks to fill broadband and digital technology gaps through partnerships across all sectors. “We would argue that among the critical needs is to expand not only access to broadband but also working to ensure it is affordable and that others understand both how to access the technology and how it can benefit them.”