Medical Costs

Humana Anticipates Strong EPS Growth in 2023, Cites Individual MA Enrollment Increase

During its fourth-quarter and full-year 2022 earnings call on Feb. 1, Humana Inc. said that it will have strong adjusted earnings per share (EPS) growth and see a significant increase in its individual Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment this year.

Humana projects its adjusted EPS in 2023 will be at least $28, which “is slightly favorable to prior statements” and is 10.9% higher than its $25.24 adjusted EPS for 2022, Jefferies analyst David Windley wrote in a note to clients on Feb. 1.

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Study Could Help Policymakers Set Fair Reimbursement Rate for Ground Ambulances

Ground ambulance services are exempt from the federal ban on balance billing, also known as surprise billing, and a new study published in the journal Health Affairs found that privately owned ambulances are more likely to balance bill than their public sector counterparts. The study’s findings will doubtless be considered by a new federal panel convened to recommend solutions to the complexities of ground ambulance balance billing, which could shape potential legislation to fix the problem in the current Congress — legislation that could find the federal government setting rates for ambulance reimbursement.

A key reason that ground ambulance services were not included in the No Surprises Act (NSA) — the 2020 law that bans medical balance billing — is the ownership structure of ambulance services. About 60% of ground ambulance providers are funded by local governments as part of their fire departments or as a quasi-utility, according to Loren Adler, a coauthor of the study and an economist and associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy. That arrangement is somewhat unique in the U.S. health care system.

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News Briefs: Public Health Emergency Is Slated to End in May

The COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) will end on May 11, the Biden administration said. Emergency authorities flowing from the PHE have required insurers to make certain COVID-19 testing and treatment available to plan members at no additional cost; expanded access to telehealth in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP; increased funding to states for Medicaid; and barred states from disenrolling Medicaid members. In December, Congress authorized states to begin disenrolling Medicaid members starting in April, with enhanced funding declining and zeroing out on a set schedule starting then. The Biden administration’s announcement comes as Republicans, newly in control of the House of Representatives, have introduced bills that would end the PHE much sooner. The May 11 end date “align[s] with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE,” according to a White House statement.

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Medicare Enrollees May Still Face Affordability Issues After Part D Benefit Redesign

About 800,000 Medicare beneficiaries in 2024 and 200,000 in 2025 could see their out-of-pocket (OOP) medication costs exceed 10% of their annual income, even with the Part D drug benefit reforms passed via the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), according to an Avalere analysis.

The IRA will establish a beneficiary OOP cap at the catastrophic threshold, which is estimated to be $3,233 in 2024. Avalere estimated that 1.5 million Part D enrollees without low-income subsidies (LIS) are projected to reach OOP drug spending levels above the catastrophic threshold in 2024. Among them, about 18% of beneficiaries will reach the catastrophic phase in the first three months. Greater shares of beneficiaries who are younger than 65 years old or who are Hispanic will face affordability challenges compared to the average non-LIS enrollees. The analysis also suggested that non-LIS enrollees taking asthma drugs, blood thinners, immunology therapies, cancer treatments and HIV drugs are more likely to reach the OOP cap in 2024.

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Elevance Sees Double-Digit Percentage EPS Growth for Fifth Consecutive Year

Elevance Health, Inc. on Jan. 25 reported adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $29.07 in 2022, representing a 12% increase from 2021. Gail Boudreaux, the company’s president and CEO, told analysts on a conference call that it was the fifth consecutive year in which Elevance’s adjusted EPS had hit or exceeded its 12% to 15% annual target increase. That came as the insurer, which was known as Anthem, Inc. until last year, ended the year with more than 47.5 million medical members, up nearly 2.2 million from the end of 2021.

David Windley, a Jefferies analyst, wrote in a note to investors on Jan. 25 that Elevance’s fourth quarter “was solid (maybe not exceptional),” citing the company’s 89.4% medical loss ratio (MLR) and adjusted EPS of $5.23, which beat the Wall Street consensus estimate of 90.1% and $5.19, respectively. Windley noted that Elevance “still has a long way to go” with improving its full-year 5.4% operating margin, although he noted the 3.4% fourth-quarter operating margin was a 10 basis-point improvement from the fourth quarter of 2021.

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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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Medicare Enrollees May Still Face Affordability Issues After Part D Benefit Redesign

About 800,000 Medicare beneficiaries in 2024 and 200,000 in 2025 could see their out-of-pocket (OOP) medication costs exceed 10% of their annual income, even with the Part D drug benefit reforms passed via the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), according to an Avalere analysis.

The IRA will establish a beneficiary OOP cap at the catastrophic threshold, which is estimated to be $3,233 in 2024. Avalere estimated that 1.5 million Part D enrollees without low-income subsidies (LIS) are projected to reach OOP drug spending levels above the catastrophic threshold in 2024. Among them, about 18% of beneficiaries will reach the catastrophic phase in the first three months. Greater shares of beneficiaries who are younger than 65 years old or who are Hispanic will face affordability challenges compared to the average non-LIS enrollees. The analysis also suggested that non-LIS enrollees taking asthma drugs, blood thinners, immunology therapies, cancer treatments and HIV drugs are more likely to reach the OOP cap in 2024.

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ICER Report Aims to Nudge Payers Toward Fairer Drug Coverage Policies

In a new analysis that assesses whether major formularies provide “fair access” to select prescription drugs, payers achieved high scores in most categories. But industry observers as well as the organization behind the report, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), say that conclusion may not be the most important takeaway.

ICER — which is best known for its assessments of prescription drugs’ cost-effectiveness — says in a press release that “one of the most notable results of this effort is the change in coverage policies made by five payers for 11 drugs following receipt of draft results of the assessment.”

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News Briefs: Medicare Advantage Enrollment Hits 30M, but Isn’t Done Rising

Medicare Advantage now enrolls more than 30.6 million individuals, including more than 25 million in individual MA plans, according to the latest monthly enrollment data from CMS. Industry trade group AHIP called the information “cause to celebrate,” noting that “just 10 years ago, the program had 13 million enrollees.” Enrollment in the private Medicare plans is likely to rise more in the short term, however, as the 30.6 million figure reflects only those signups accepted through Dec. 2, 2022, and thus does not capture the full outcome of the Annual Election Period that ran from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, Citi analyst Jason Cassorla pointed out in a Jan. 17 research note.

The percentage of Americans who said they or a family member put off medical treatment due to cost rose to 38% in 2022, representing a 12-percentage-point increase compared to 2021. That’s according to a new Gallup poll, which noted that the percentage of Americans reporting deferring care due to cost was at its highest level since Gallup began its survey in 2001. That finding comes after inflation reached the highest point in 40 years in 2022, and in the wake of “two consecutive 26% readings during the COVID-19 pandemic that were the lowest since 2004.” Gallup also added that “lower-income adults, younger adults and women in the U.S. have consistently been more likely than their counterparts to say they or a family member have delayed care for a serious medical condition.”

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Report Offers Ways to Fix ‘Hot Mess’ of Health Plan Price Transparency Data

Although health plans have started to comply with a federal transparency rule that requires them to publicly post reams of information about provider payments, “multiple problems have rendered the published data largely inaccessible and unusable,” according to a new report.

The report, produced by Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms (CHIR), is the product of a recent collaboration between a slew of prominent health policy and economics researchers who were convened by CHIR Director Sabrina Corlette. The idea was to develop recommendations that would make the “Transparency in Coverage” regulation more effective in its quest to shine a light on health care cost information.

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