Fee-for-service Medicare

With Final RADV Rule Out, MAOs Are Advised to Clean Up Risk Adjustment Practices

Medicare Advantage organizations may not have gotten the outcome they were hoping for in CMS’s recently finalized Risk Adjustment Data Validation rule, but industry experts say they weren’t surprised by the position CMS ultimately took after years of pressure to close out RADV audits and recover identified overpayments. And while one aspect of the rule could expose it to litigation and further delay CMS’s attempts to collect overpayments from MAOs, experts say plans still would be wise to sharpen their risk adjustment practices in order to limit their audit exposure.

Issued on Jan. 30, the final rule (88 Fed. Reg. 6643, Feb. 1, 2023) pertains to contract-level audits that CMS began conducting more than a decade ago to verify the accuracy of payments made to MA organizations and recover improper payments. The agency in 2012 said it planned to adopt a “fee-for-service adjuster” to account for any impact from unaudited diagnosis codes in FFS data that are used to calibrate the MA risk adjustment model. But in a November 2018 proposed rule (83 Fed. Reg. 54982, Nov. 1, 2018), CMS said its plans to recoup improper payments would not involve an FFS adjuster and that it may apply an extrapolation methodology when finalizing audits dating back to payment year 2011. The RADV provisions of the 2018 proposed rule received pushback from insurers and were never finalized by the Trump administration.

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Diabetes Patients Fare Better With Medicare Advantage, Study Suggests

New research conducted by Avalere on behalf of the Better Medicare Alliance (BMA) suggests Medicare Advantage plans aid in earlier detection of type 2 diabetes and that seniors diagnosed with type 2 diabetes generally fare better than similar patients in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare. Specifically, lower medical spending and rates of inpatient hospitalizations/emergency department visits observed by researchers may be particularly compelling for policymakers as they consider the overall value of the MA program.

With MA serving more seniors than ever before — having just reached a milestone of enrolling more than 30 million Medicare-eligible beneficiaries — and one-third of seniors estimated to have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, it is important to look at how these patients’ care differs in MA vs. traditional Medicare, asserted Matt Kazan, managing director with Avalere, during a Jan. 12 webinar hosted by BMA. In many cases, there are “major differences,” he noted.

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New Findings Show Strength of MA in Detecting, Treating Type 2 Diabetes

New research conducted by Avalere on behalf of the Better Medicare Alliance (BMA) suggests Medicare Advantage plans aid in earlier detection of type 2 diabetes and that seniors diagnosed with type 2 diabetes generally fare better than similar patients in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare. Specifically, lower medical spending and rates of inpatient hospitalizations/emergency department visits observed by researchers may be particularly compelling for policymakers as they consider the overall value of the MA program.

With MA serving more seniors than ever before — having just reached a milestone of enrolling more than 30 million Medicare-eligible beneficiaries — and one-third of seniors estimated to have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, it is important to look at how these patients’ care differs in MA vs. traditional Medicare, asserted Matt Kazan, managing director with Avalere, during a Jan. 12 webinar hosted by BMA. In many cases, there are “major differences,” he noted.

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For Now, New Alzheimer’s Treatment Is Subject to Limited Medicare Coverage

Marking the second approval of an Alzheimer’s disease treatment aimed at slowing cognitive decline by reducing amyloid plaque buildup on the brain, the FDA on Jan. 6 granted accelerated approval to Biogen and Eisai, Co., Ltd.’s Leqembi (lecanemab-irmb). For now, the drug remains subject to the restrictive National Coverage Determination that Medicare initially gave its predecessor, Aduhelm (aducanumab-avwa), and similar Alzheimer’s treatments last year, but CMS could consider broader coverage if the drug receives traditional FDA approval.

The drug is indicated for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in people with mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia. Patients must have confirmed presence of amyloid beta pathology before starting treatment. The FDA gave the humanized immunoglobulin gamma 1 monoclonal antibody fast track, priority review and breakthrough therapy designations. Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai developed the drug and will co-market it with its U.S. partner Biogen, which launched Aduhelm in 2021 and had to halve its price from $56,000 a year to $28,000. Eisai estimates the cost of Leqembi will be $26,500 per year, though the actual price could vary by patient.

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News Briefs: CMS Innovation Center Report Recognizes Potential for ‘Upcoding’ in Models

A new report from the CMS Innovation Center identified redesigning financial benchmarks and risk adjustment to improve model test effectiveness as a priority going forward. In its annual report to Congress, the Innovation Center noted that “[m]any financial benchmarks and risk adjustment methodologies have created opportunities for potential gaming and upcoding among participants — and have therefore reduced savings for Medicare.” The Innovation Center largely tests models serving fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries and has relied on risk adjustment as a critical component of its models, including all accountable care organization (ACO) based models. The agency added that it has launched “an examination of its benchmarking and risk adjustment approaches to provide incentives to encourage participation, especially among providers caring for underserved beneficiaries and ACOs with varying levels of experience, as well as ensure payment accuracy.” The report also highlighted health equity as an ongoing focus and observed ways to improve communications with potential hospice benefit enrollees, referring to one component of the ongoing Medicare Advantage Value-Based Insurance Design model, to ensure that hospice and palliative care are accessible to all beneficiaries.

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Looking to Trim Rising Costs, More Employers Consider MA for Retirees’ Medical Benefits

Of the approximately 30.2 million seniors currently enrolled in Medicare Advantage, more than 5.2 million receive their coverage through an employer-sponsored group MA plan, according to the latest CMS enrollment data. That’s roughly the same proportion of MA enrollees in group plans as last year, when AIS Health reported on the rising popularity of Employer Group Waiver Plans (EGWPs, also commonly referred to as group Medicare). Meanwhile, those offerings are growing as the share of employers sponsoring retiree medical benefits is on the decline, according to recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which raised questions about the lack of transparency around these plans and the potential cost implications to the overall Medicare program. But industry experts argue that MA offers value to retirees that they can’t get through traditional, fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare.

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News Briefs: CMS Issues Sweeping MA, Part D Rule Cracking Down on Marketing, Utilization Management

In a sweeping proposed rule issued Dec. 14, CMS addresses a variety of hot-button aspects of the Medicare Advantage and Part D programs, including Medicare marketing, prior authorization and overpayments. The 957-page proposed rule, scheduled for publication in the Dec. 27 Federal Register, seeks to protect MA and Part D enrollees from misleading marketing by banning the use of advertisements that “do not mention a specific plan name as well as ads that use words and imagery, such as the Medicare name or logo, that may confuse beneficiaries in a way that is misleading, confusing, or misrepresents the plan,” according to a fact sheet. It also proposes to adopt the False Claims Act definition of “knowing” and “knowingly” regarding when an MA or Part D sponsor identifies an overpayment, thereby removing the “reasonable diligence” standard. In addition, CMS proposes new requirements to ensure continuity of care, such as requiring that an approved prior authorization remain in place for a beneficiary’s full course of treatment and that all MA plans annually review their utilization management policies to maintain consistency with traditional Medicare’s coverage guidelines. Moreover, the rule proposes the creation of a health equity index in the Star Ratings program that would encourage plans to improve care for enrollees with certain social risk factors, starting with measurement data from 2024. In a statement on the proposed rule, Better Medicare Alliance President and CEO Mary Beth Donahue called it a “thoughtful, comprehensive proposed rule” and said BMA “appreciates the agency’s engagement with stakeholders across the health care spectrum ahead of the rulemaking process.” CMS on Aug. 1 published a request for information seeking input on how to address various aspects of the MA program; it received nearly 4,000 comments.

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KHN Report Underscores Looming Issue of Extrapolation, FFS Errors in RADV Audits

After settling a three-year Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, Kaiser Health News (KHN) last month finally made public the results of multiple CMS audits of Medicare Advantage plans — which showed the federal government intends to collect an estimated $12 million for overpayments identified over a three-year period. KHN said it filed the lawsuit against CMS in September 2019, after the agency failed to respond to a FOIA request for the audits pertaining to care delivered between 2011 and 2013.

Those years represent the latest Risk Adjustment Data Validation (RADV) audits to be completed, referring to contract-level audits conducted by CMS to verify the accuracy of payments made to MA organizations and recover improper payments. Industry experts say the results obtained by KHN may not be representative of insurer practices today, and that they highlight the overarching question of whether the audit methodology that CMS may soon finalize aligns with the current payment and bidding system that’s in place for MA.

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OIG Audits Add to Debate Over Extrapolation in Recovering MA Overpayments

As the Medicare Advantage industry draws attention for millions of net overpayments identified in a recent Kaiser Health News report on audits conducted by CMS, the HHS Office of Inspector General in two new reports seeks to recover estimated MA overpayments for inaccurate diagnosis codes. Separate from the contract-level Risk Adjustment Data Validation (RADV) audits used by CMS to verify the accuracy of MA organizations’ risk adjusted payments, the OIG audits may further support the notion that MA plans are overpaid. They also exemplify insurers’ fierce opposition to the use of sampling to approximate a plan’s true payment error rate.

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News Briefs: For 2023, UnitedHealth Group Expects Its Overall Medicare Advantage Enrollment to Jump 9%

UnitedHealth Group at its annual Investor Day projected strong Medicare Advantage membership growth of 9% next year, overall revenues in the range of $357 billion to $360 billion and earnings per share between $24.40 and $24.90. Along with financial projections shared on Nov. 29, the company said it expects to serve a total of 7.1 million MA members by the end of 2022, and estimated that figure will grow by another 600,000 to 650,000 next year. That year-over-year growth of 9% reflects a “blended projection across Individual MA and Group MA books,” wrote Barclays Steve Valiquette in a research note. “As such, we expect that Individual MA growth is likely higher than the blended 9% (likely in the low-double-digit range) which remains slightly above market growth.” He also noted that UnitedHealth’s projected medical loss ratio of 82.6% (give or take 50 basis points) was “slightly more conservative than expected” but not surprising given that the company said its MLR guidance reflects an expectation of a slightly elevated flu season in early 2023.

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