Medicaid Managed Care

Under Pressure? Insurers Hustle to Prove Medicaid Biz Isn’t Struggling

Although UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty caused a brief health insurer stock selloff with his remarks about a Medicaid “disturbance,” both his company and other managed care powerhouses have since been busy trying to reassure jittery investors.

The trouble started on May 29, when Witty was answering questions from analyst Lance Wilkes during the Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference. Witty pointed out that “there’s probably going to be some disturbance around” syncing Medicaid managed care payment rates with the heightened costs associated with covering Medicaid enrollees, now that millions of people have been dropped from the rolls during the “unwinding” process.

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One Year Into ‘Unwinding,’ 20M People Have Lost Medicaid

More than 20 million people lost their Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage as of April 11, 2024, according to data released by states and CMS on the Medicaid eligibility redetermination process. Medicaid enrollment peaked at 94.5 million in April 2023, when states were permitted to resume disenrolling people from Medicaid who no longer qualify after a multiyear pause during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

States have reported Medicaid renewal outcomes for two-thirds of Medicaid/CHIP enrollees, as of April 2024, according to KFF’s Medicaid Enrollment and Unwinding Tracker. Overall, about one-third of enrollees with a completed renewal lost their Medicaid coverage, and 69% of those coverage losses were due to procedural reasons — meaning individuals didn’t return their renewal form within a specific time frame or the state was unable to reach them. Disenrollment rates varied significantly across states, ranging from 57% in Utah to 12% in Maine.

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News Briefs: Habitat Health Launches PACE Program in California With Kaiser Permanente

With support from Kaiser Permanente and investment firm Town Hall Ventures, Habitat Health has established a new Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) provider. Offering comprehensive care to adults who wish to live independently in their homes and communities, Habitat Health will serve aging and low-income adults in California in partnership with Kaiser and eventually expand to other states with local care partners. Habitat Health plans to begin serving PACE-eligible individuals in Los Angeles and Sacramento in 2025 and will serve as payer for all participants’ Medicare and Medicaid services. The new PACE provider will “benefit from Kaiser Permanente’s expertise in creating efficient systems and developing innovative technology to integrate complex care, and from Town Hall Ventures’ experience building successful care delivery companies that support underserved communities,” stated a March 27 press release from all three entities. Town Hall Ventures, whose leadership includes former CMS Acting Administrator and White House adviser Andy Slavitt, was founded in 2018 and has invested in or participated in the launch of 35 health care companies, including Cityblock Health, Landmark Health, Signify Health and VillageMD.

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State Policy Choices Play Big Role in Medicaid Disenrollment Rates

At least 13.3 million people lost their Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage and another 24.9 million had their coverage renewed as of December 2023, according to the KFF Medicaid enrollment and unwinding tracker. Starting April 1, 2023, states were permitted to resume disenrolling people from Medicaid who were no longer eligible or failed to complete the redetermination process after a multiyear pause during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The disenrollment rate so far has ranged from 62% in Texas to 10% in Maine. Overall, 71% of coverage losses were due to procedural reasons, when individuals didn’t complete their renewal process within a specific time frame or the state was unable to reach them. Over 90% of disenrolled people had their Medicaid coverage terminated for procedural reasons in New Mexico (95%), Utah (94%) and Nevada (91%).

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News Briefs: Almost 5.5M Sign Up for Marketplace Plans

Nearly 5.5 million people have selected health plans since the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period began on Nov. 1, CMS said in its latest marketplace enrollment update. That total captures signups on HealthCare.gov through Dec. 3 and through Nov. 26 for the state-based marketplaces, and it represents an 18% increase compared to the same time period last year. So far 22% of total plan selections have been from individuals who are new to the marketplaces, while 78% are returning customers, CMS said. The open enrollment period lasts through Jan. 15 for HealthCare.gov states and most state-based marketplaces.

Blue Shield of California — which lost its bid to continue to serve California’s Medicaid managed care program — plans to lay off 373 employees by Jan. 25, Modern Healthcare reported. The decision from California’s Dept. of Health Care Services came in August after the state held its first competitive bidding process for Medi-Cal contracts. Blue Shield was not chosen — prompting the insurer to later sue the state — while Elevance Health’s Anthem Blue Cross Partnership Plan, Centene Corp.’s Health Net and Molina Health Care were selected to participate in varying service areas across 21 counties. The layoffs represent a small portion of Blue Shield’s total workforce of 7,800, Modern Healthcare noted, and the cuts are mostly concentrated at the insurer’s Sacramento-area offices.

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New Prior Authorization Reforms May Not Be Problematic for Health Plans

In a rule proposed on Dec. 6, CMS seeks to impose new requirements on federally funded health plans surrounding their prior authorization processes and data interoperability. While that might normally induce private payers to push back, the health insurance sector’s main trade group has already endorsed the regulation, which CMS issued to replace a previously proposed rule that appears to have generated more industry pushback. Health care industry observers, meanwhile, tell AIS Health that the new requirements could be a win for consumers, providers, and payers alike.

“I think it’s good for the business,” says Katherine Hempstead, Ph.D., a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It’s good immediately for consumers and providers, and it’s good in the long run for plans. It’s going to be better for everyone.”

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News Briefs: Growing Share of Large Firms Choose Medicare Advantage for Retiree Health Benefits

Among the large companies that offer health benefits to Medicare-age retirees, 50% provided those benefits through a contract with a Medicare Advantage plan in 2022, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. That’s almost double the share of firms — 26% — that did so in 2017. The analysis also noted that about 44% of large employers offering MA coverage to their retirees give them no choice but to receive their benefits through such a plan, and the most common reason the employers elected to contract with an MA plan was cost. Such decisions have not always been well-received: Retired New York City workers are currently locked in a legal battle with Democratic Mayor Eric Adams’ administration over the city’s move to enroll nearly 250,000 retirees into an MA plan managed by Anthem, Inc. in partnership with EmblemHealth.

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News Briefs: Many Medicaid MCOS Have Health Equity Strategies

More than half of Medicaid managed care organizations have health equity strategies for some of their members, while four in 10 have health equity plans for their entire membership, according to a survey from the Institute for Medicaid Innovation (IMI). The survey found that 48% of MCOs have pursued health equity accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), with 33% “planning to pursue” the accreditation. And 14% have no plans to do so, while 5% didn’t respond. Meanwhile, 86% of MCOs have “programs/policies for health plan internal staff” that are meant to address structural racism or promote racial equity, and 48% have policies for members that do the same. Outside of racial equity concerns, other notable findings from the survey include widespread problems with care coordination and telehealth delivery: 71% of responding MCOs said “access to information from previous providers [is] a key barrier to care coordination,” while 67% said “their information technology systems were a barrier to setting up effective telehealth delivery services.”

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Pandemic-Transformed Medicaid Faces Looming Eligibility Challenge

At some point in the next year, it’s likely that Medicaid eligibility redeterminations will resume — a process that will be kicked off when the Biden administration declares an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). Medicaid has hit record-high enrollment this year, meaning states and managed care organizations will have to contact more people than they ever have before in a short period of time; meanwhile, MCOs will also have to deal with looming cuts to reimbursement and rising provider rates.

Margins for MCOs seem likely to shrink. Provider rate increases are coming soon, though it’s likely that they will vary in timing and scope depending on market and contract cycles. However, the pricing effects of workforce shortages and inflation will impact every plan and provider, sources previously told AIS Health.

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Centene Posts Solid 3Q Results Despite Wall Street Concerns

Centene Corp. managed to beat Wall Street’s earnings expectations in the third quarter of 2022 while also reporting lower-than-expected Medicare Advantage Star Ratings and MCO contract struggles in California and Florida, two of the Medicaid-focused carrier’s largest states by enrollment. Reviews from Wall Street analysts were mixed, with financiers praising Centene’s continued efforts to spin off its PBM business but raising concerns over the contract disputes and the looming resumption of Medicaid eligibility redeterminations.

The insurer reported $1.30 in adjusted earnings per share (EPS), beating the Wall Street consensus projection of $1.24. Membership grew by 322,400 to over 26.7 million total members during the quarter, raising the year’s cumulative enrollment growth to nearly 950,000 members. Executives project an end-of-year EPS of $5.65 to $5.75, slightly up from a previous projection of $5.60 to $5.75. Centene’s medical loss ratio was 88.3%, and its total revenues reached $35.9 billion in the quarter, up 11% compared with the third quarter of 2021.

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