Compliance

Hospitals Charged Private Health Plans 2.5 Times Medicare Rates in 2022

Employers and private insurers, on average, paid 254% of what Medicare did for the same inpatient and outpatient services at the same facilities in 2022, according to a new RAND Corp. study.

The report examined data from more than 4,000 hospitals across all U.S. states except Maryland and found that average relative prices paid by private insurers increased from 241% of Medicare rates in 2020 to 254% in 2022, which was largely driven by growth in inpatient relative prices.

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© 2024 MMIT

DOJ Probe of UnitedHealth Could Spawn Optum Spinoffs, SEC Review of Stock Sales

A group of lawmakers is urging federal regulators to investigate UnitedHealth executives’ sale of company stock right after learning that the health care firm was the target of a Dept. of Justice (DOJ) investigation concerning its provider-acquisition spree. As for the investigation itself, one antitrust lawyer says it could take years before the DOJ files a case — but if it does, regulators could try to force the health care giant to spin off all or part of its Optum division.

Meanwhile, the DOJ’s antitrust division on May 9 announced a new Task Force on Health Care Monopolies and Collusion, which it said will “guide the division’s enforcement strategy and policy approach in health care, including by facilitating policy advocacy, investigations and, where warranted, civil and criminal enforcement in health care markets.” Some of the competition concerns the task force will examine include “issues regarding payer-provider consolidation” and “serial acquisitions.”

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Insurers Urged to ‘Look Carefully’ at AI Tools in Wake of New Rule

On April 26, the Biden administration released a final rule which, in addition to strengthening the Affordable Care Act’s antidiscrimination protections, attempts to address rising concern about health insurers’ use of artificial intelligence, algorithms and other tools to make care and coverage decisions.

Managed care experts say that the new regulation — titled Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities — likely won’t catch insurers off guard given the scrutiny they are already receiving about their use of AI. However, “they’re going to have to look carefully at their use of any kind of automated tools,” predicts Harvey Rochman, a litigation partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP. “There’ll be a large focus on the kinds of automated tools that plans can use in various aspects of their work, from claims to utilization management.”

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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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News Briefs: Kaiser Reports Data Breach Affecting 1.34M

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. is notifying millions of current and former customers that their information may have been shared with third parties included Google, Microsoft and the social medial platform X. Kaiser reported the breach to the HHS Office for Civil Rights on April 12, according to an OCR filing, which stated that the number of individuals affected was 1.34 million. In a statement to the news outlet TechCrunch, Kaiser said that “certain online technologies, previously installed on its websites and mobile applications, may have transmitted personal information to third-party vendors.” Compromised data includes member names and IP addresses, as well as information about how members “interacted with and navigated through the [Kaiser Permanente] website and mobile applications, and search terms used in the health encyclopedia,” according to the article.

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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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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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Execs: To Reduce Disparities, Insurers Must Constantly Target AI Bias

As artificial intelligence software proliferates in the health care sector, a good deal of attention has focused on the ways that AI could make existing health disparities worse. Experts say that AI also has the potential to mitigate or reverse health disparities — so long as health care organizations, and insurers in particular, proactively and continuously counter biases in their current and future software platforms.

“We’re at this inflection point where we have new tools. We have new technology that actually may have that opportunity to address health inequality in a way we haven’t been able to before. But we’re at this inflection point where that same tool can actually amplify that bias, amplify the inequality that already exists,” said Maia Hightower, M.D., during a March 26 panel organized by the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Foundation.

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As ‘Focused Audits’ Get Underway, Plans May Struggle to Meet UM Conditions

Thanks to a final rule published just one year ago, Medicare Advantage plans as of Jan. 1 were expected to meet new constraints when it comes to applying their utilization management (UM) policies, including prior authorization. CMS has said it aims to assess UM-related performance of plans serving 88% of beneficiaries this year, and it intends to accomplish this through both routine program audits and “focused audits.” According to compliance experts, the volume of audit activity since CMS began sending engagement letters in late February suggests the agency is eager to meet its goal, but it may not like what it finds.

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GAO Urges CMS to Collect Better Data on Appeals, Grievances in Managed Medicaid

Comprehensive information about appeals of coverage denials by Medicaid managed care organizations is not available, and state and federal officials are far from setting a common, national data standard, according to a March report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report reiterates some of the same conclusions made by another federal watchdog, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), in a July 2023 report about Medicaid MCOs’ prior authorization denials, and experts say they do not expect data reporting to improve in the short term.

Medicaid MCOs are facing increasing regulatory pressure over prior authorization and other utilization management (UM) practices, particularly at the state level. Federal lawmakers have yet to approach Medicaid UM reforms with the same bipartisan zeal that they have brought to revamping Medicare Advantage practices. But the new GAO report, which was prepared at the request of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) is an indication that powerful Democratic members of Congress are taking interest in reforming UM in managed Medicaid.

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© 2024 MMIT