Benefit Design

CVS, Humana, Elevance Hint at ’25 Benefit Reductions on 1Q Earnings Calls

As Medicare Advantage insurers contemplate 2025 bids in an unfavorable funding environment, select firms that reported first-quarter 2024 earnings at press time indicated their preference for margin recovery versus growth and the likelihood of service area/benefit reductions next year.

For the quarter ending March 31, 2024, CVS Health Corp. on May 1 reported consolidated revenues of $88.4 billion, reflecting year-over-year revenue growth of 3.7% that would have been larger if not for a decline in the Health Services segment. Meanwhile, first quarter adjusted earnings per share (EPS) dropped from $2.20 a year ago to $1.31, which the company attributed to utilization pressure in the Health Care Benefits segment’s MA business. That segment’s medical loss ratio (MLR) was 90.4%, compared with 84.6% in the prior-year quarter, while higher-than-expected medical costs of approximately $900 million — primarily driven by MA — were due to seasonal factors or items specific to the quarter, the company clarified.

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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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Employer Group Fires First Shot in Fight Over Mental Health Parity Regs

The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), a benefits trade group for large employers, launched an ad campaign attacking the Biden administration’s mental health parity policies — a notable escalation in plan sponsors’ intensifying opposition to the administration’s approach to mental health care access, which could ultimately lead to litigation.

In a press release, ERIC said it hopes to influence upcoming mental health parity regulation, noting that “departments of President Biden’s administration, including the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and the Treasury are finalizing proposed rule changes regarding mental health and substance use disorder parity.” The expected rule would be a finalized version of a regulation released in September 2023, which calls for much stricter network adequacy standards than were required in previous parity rulemaking.

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Expiring Policies Threaten Progress on Opioid Use Disorder Med Uptake

States and the federal government have taken steps in recent years to increase access to medications to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), such as allowing prescribing via telehealth and easing other restrictions for providers. However, some of those policies are set to expire in the coming months and more needs to be done to ensure patients receive the much-needed treatments, health policy experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

A KFF analysis found a 24% increase from 2019 to 2022 in the dispensing of buprenorphine, one of three FDA-approved medications for OUD. A separate KFF report published last month showed that 63% of Medicaid enrollees with an OUD diagnosis received medication treatment in 2020.

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Rumored Regs Could Help Payers, PBMs Streamline Digital Therapeutic Coverage

Notable changes to the way breakthrough medical devices are covered by Medicare and other payers could be coming soon, with CMS poised to make some therapeutics eligible for Medicare coverage, and some stakeholders pushing for new legislation to expand digital therapeutic coverage. In the meantime, commercial health plans and PBMs are grappling with how best to cover prescription digital therapeutics (PDTs).

Health plans and PBMs have varying approaches to digital therapeutic reimbursement. Some plans may place one digital therapeutic in the medical benefit, while others may cover PDTs as part of a pharmacy benefit. That’s because PDTs occupy a unique space in the health benefits landscape: They aren’t pharmaceuticals, but they share many characteristics of a maintenance medication in practice.

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CVS-Driven Biosimilar Boom Stokes Excitement, Frustration at AMCP Conference

Since CVS Health Corp. dropped the blockbuster drug Humira (adalimumab) from its national commercial template formularies on April 1, the number of prescriptions written for Humira biosimilars has jumped from just 5% to 36%, according to a recent equity analyst report.

Speakers at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) conference in New Orleans said the development is encouraging and could change the game for future biosimilars — including those in the pipeline for another immunosuppressive drug, Stelara (ustekinumab). But clinicians speaking at the conference also said that the transition to biosimilars has not always gone smoothly for patients.

For example, rheumatologist Mark Box, M.D., said the potential cost savings associated with switching patients to biosimilars compared to the administrative burden on providers “often does not balance.”

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Medicare-Negotiated Drugs May Not Get Favorable Coverage In Part D: Will CMS Intervene?

Drugs in the Medicare price negotiation process will be at a disadvantage in Part D plans because their lack of manufacturer rebates and discounts will mean lower profits for plans and more pressure on premiums relative to competitors.

The realization is more dreary news for products that end up in the crosshairs of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) pricing process, even though the law requires Part D plans to cover negotiated drugs. There is no requirement that plans put those products on a preferred formulary tier, nor are there limits on utilization management tools like prior authorization or step therapy that plans can impose.

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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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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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