Fee-for-service Medicare

News Briefs: Lawmakers Urge CMS to Rethink 8.5% Medicare Advantage Plan Rate Increase

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressive lawmakers wrote CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure asking the agency to reconsider recently finalized policies that would lead to an average revenue increase of 8.5% for Medicare Advantage plans next year. Citing the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s March 2022 Report to the Congress, lawmakers wrote that MA plans last year were paid 4% more per enrollee than fee-for-service Medicare, even though the program was designed to generate savings by paying insurers rates set at 95% of those used by FFS Medicare. “To preserve Medicare and its Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, we urge CMS to mitigate the announced payment increases for Medicare Advantage plans so they are on par with payments to fee-for-service Traditional Medicare and take additional steps to address overpayments and increase transparency in the Medicare Advantage program,” they wrote on April 20.

MAOs Anticipate All-In Pay Increase of 8.5%, Await Final Rule

Perhaps the biggest headline from the largely uneventful 2023 final rate notice for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans is that they will, on average, receive a slightly higher-than-anticipated pay bump next year. Also, risk scores will not be reduced by any more than the statutory minimum adjustment of 5.9%. However, MAOs are still waiting on the final version of an MA and Part D rule containing some provisions that could impact 2023 bids, and sources at press time suggested its release was imminent.

With the April 4 release of the 2023 Rate Announcement, CMS finalized most aspects of its rate proposal for next year but increased the effective growth rate from 4.75% to 4.88%, bringing the expected average change in revenue to 8.50% — one of the highest updates in recent history. CMS maintained an estimated risk score coding trend of 3.5% and a fee-for-service normalization factor — which is used to offset the trend in risk scores and keep the FFS risk score at the same average level over time — of -0.81%. CMS also said it would continue to apply an across-the-board adjustment of 5.9% to offset the effects of higher levels of coding intensity in MA relative to FFS Medicare. That coding intensity adjustment generated much discussion in comment letters on the Advance Notice.

Amid Legal Disputes, Anthem’s NYC Contract Faces Second Delay

Anthem, Inc.’s pending contract to serve retired New York City workers and their dependents — which would have nearly doubled the insurer’s Medicare Advantage Employer Group Waiver Plan (EGWP) enrollment — is in peril. Just days before its planned start, the city’s comptroller refused to register the proposed contract and turned it back to Mayor Eric Adams (D) for a revised cost estimate, putting the already delayed transition to a retiree MA plan on hold.

“Due to the legal and budgetary uncertainties that remain while litigation over the City’s contract with Anthem Insurance Companies continues, the Comptroller’s office does not have sufficient information to register the proposed Medicare Advantage Plan contract at this time,” New York City Comptroller Brad Lander explained in a March 30 statement posted to the comptroller’s website. Subsequently, the city’s Office of Labor Relations posted that the transition to the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan would not be implemented as of April 1 as planned and that all retirees “will remain in their current plans until further notice.”

Stakeholders Seek Ways to Accelerate Risk Sharing in MA

Although Medicare Advantage is outpacing other payer types in the move from volume to value, there are still ways the program could hasten the shift to value-based care, experts agreed during a recent panel of the AHIP 2022 National Conference on Health Policy and Government Programs. These range from the increased use of Z-codes to document social determinants of health to the adoption of a Star Ratings measure that would influence more risk sharing between MA organizations and their providers.

According to the Health Care Payment & Learning Action Network survey, which is conducted in partnership with AHIP and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 58% of MA payments to providers in 2020 were through an Alternative Payment Model (APM) such as the Shared Savings Program or an episodic/bundled care payment model, and 29.3% of such payments were for a risk-bearing arrangement. That’s compared with nearly 43% of payments through APMs in Traditional Medicare and roughly 35% in both commercial and Medicaid plans.

Medicare Advantage’s Two-Sided Risk Model Associated With Reduced Acute Care Use

Value-based payment models can significantly lower acute care usage among Medicare beneficiaries, suggested a study of nearly 500,000 Medicare Advantage members published last month in JAMA Network Open. The study, which analyzed data collected between December 2017 and January 2019, was led and reviewed by the Humana Healthcare Research Human Subject Protection Office. (Humana is the second-largest MA insurer in the U.S). MA beneficiaries participating in two-sided risk models had lower rates of hospitalizations, observation stays and emergency department visits compared with fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare enrollees. This effect was particularly striking in avoidable acute care use — the two-sided risk model was associated with a 15.6% reduction in avoidable hospitalizations. Researchers noted a lack of significant differences between FFS and upside-only risk models, which “suggests that downside financial risk may play a key role in effective value-based payment arrangements.”

CMMI Director Shares Vision for More Physician Accountability

Aligning with the Biden administration’s goal of improving health equity, the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) last year unveiled a “strategy refresh” that included health equity as a key objective in testing models of care for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Another strategic goal was to increase the number of beneficiaries in a care relationship where the provider is accountable for quality and total cost of care, with the objective of having all Medicare beneficiaries aligned with accountable entities by 2030.

Addressing a few recent changes to existing models, CMMI Director Elizabeth Fowler, Ph.D., said the agency’s goal in redesigning the Global and Professional Direct Contracting (GPDC) Model was to reorient it toward provider participants and respond to feedback from stakeholders. The model had been criticized for furthering the privatization of Medicare and allowing for-profit entities to manage fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare beneficiaries without their full knowledge and consent.

Part D Out-of-Pocket Cap: Limited Impact, Low Cost

A small share of Medicare Part D beneficiaries without access to the low-income subsidy (LIS) program would benefit from the introduction of a $2,000 out-of-pocket (OOP) spending cap for prescription drugs, a provision that is included in the Build Back Better Act, according to a recent Urban Institute analysis. In 2019, a $2,000 cap could have saved approximately 866,000 non-LIS Part D enrollees about $900 each, on average. There are 32.8 million total non-LIS enrollees in the Part D program. The cap would carry a small price tag, increasing total Part D expenditures by $782 million in 2019 and the premium across all Medicare beneficiaries by $4.35 annually. The study concluded that capping out-of-pocket costs for certain Part D beneficiaries would enhance the program without significantly raising costs.

What Would Be the Impact of Capping Private Plan Rates?

About half of non-maternity inpatient hospital admissions among large-group employer-sponsored plans were paid above 150% of Medicare rates, according to a recent analysis by Kaiser Family Foundation. To address high health care costs, some states have considered capping prices paid by private insurers at a multiple of Medicare rates. By analyzing in-network payment rates for inpatient hospital admissions, the study found that a cap set at 150% of Medicare rates could affect 36% of in-network spending in the large group market, while a cap at 300% could affect 13%. The study concluded that capping prices paid by employer-sponsored plans could be disruptive but could also make health care more affordable — “tradeoffs that warrant careful attention.”

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MA Stakeholders Take Issue With Bevy of Risk-Related Proposals

From payment related to the growing number of Medicare Advantage enrollees with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) to the proposed exclusion of 2020 data from risk score assumptions, several commenters responding to the 2023 preliminary rate notice questioned various factors that will be used to determine MA plan reimbursement next year. And while AHIP and other MA stakeholders voiced strong support for CMS keeping the coding intensity adjustment at the statutory minimum for 2023, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) took the opportunity to reiterate its contention that MA organizations are overpaid and that the adjustment does not adequately account for the differences in coding between MAOs and fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare.

In the 2023 Advance Notice for MA and Part D plans, CMS said it intended to continue to apply an across-the-board adjustment of 5.9% — the statutory minimum — to offset the effects on MA risk scores of higher levels of coding intensity in MA relative to FFS. AHIP, in its March 4 letter to CMS, said it strongly supports retaining that overall risk score reduction but asked for more detail around CMS’s proposal to exclude 2020 data in its annual “FFS normalization” adjustment, its assumption that 2023 FFS risk scores would return to pre-pandemic trends, how it will incorporate 2021 utilization data into the normalization factor for 2024, and how CMS arrived at the MA risk score trend of 3.5% for 2023.

MedPAC Urges CMS to Take Action on Coding Intensity Overpayments

CMS’s coding intensity adjustment, which is used to account for the estimated difference between risk scores that hypothetical beneficiaries would receive if enrolled in Medicare Advantage vs. fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare, has led to more than $91 billion in payments to MA plans between 2007 and 2022, asserted a March 3 letter from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. The agency in its 2023 Advance Notice proposed to use the statutory minimum adjustment of 5.9%, which MedPAC estimated will lead to an inflated $16.2 billion in payments — and that’s on the conservative end, the commission noted. MedPAC first raised this issue in 2016, when it urged CMS to consider a new model that would use two years of FFS and MA diagnostic data, exclude diagnoses documented only on health risk assessments from either MA or FFS, and then apply an adjustment that fully accounts for the remaining coding differences. The commission in its March letter reiterated its support for this approach.