Medicare Advantage

Aetna Is Star of the Show in CVS First-Quarter Financial Results

CVS Health Corp. posted robust financial results in the first quarter of this year, with revenues increasing by 11.2% to $76.8 billion. Wall Street praised the firm — particularly its Aetna health insurance division — for delivering strong results, and predicted the Caremark PBM would overcome disappointing results for the first quarter.

The integrated health care company’s quarterly adjusted operating income was $4.48 billion, increasing nearly 7% year-over-year from the first quarter of 2021.

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CMS Finalizes MA Rule Provisions, Delays Pharmacy DIR Change

Just a month shy of the bid deadline for the 2023 plan year, CMS on April 29 finalized most provisions of a sweeping Medicare Advantage and Part D rule that was proposed in January. Those provisions included restoring detailed medical loss ratio (MLR) reporting requirements, requiring MA Special Needs Plans to incorporate certain questions on social risk factors into health risk assessments, and finalizing a pathway to allow for star ratings to reflect a Dual Eligible SNP’s local performance. But one Part D provision regarding pharmacy direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) was notably delayed, allowing plans, pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers time to renegotiate pharmacy pacts.

“Generally speaking, the rule wasn’t surprising. CMS largely did what they proposed. I think the major concession that plans and PBMs were concerned about was the start date of the pharmacy DIR change, and they had that addressed. But by and large this rule was consistent with CMS’s goals of raising the bar for what it means to be a SNP and for reducing costs at point of sale for seniors” starting in 2024, says Tom Kornfield, senior consultant with Avalere.

OIG Report on Prior Authorization Denials Puts Pressure on CMS

As Medicare Advantage insurers face increasing scrutiny from lawmakers over coding practices and a pending pay boost of 8.5% next year, a new HHS Office of Inspector General report on rates of prior authorization and payment denials in MA doesn’t do much to help their case. Although it was based on just a weeklong sample of denial cases, the report adds to a growing body of evidence that the prior authorization process in MA is ripe for improvement and in need of either more guidance from CMS and/or stronger oversight.

Receiving widespread coverage at press time, starting with a New York Times article summarizing it as “saying that insurers deny tens of thousands of authorization requests annually,” OIG on April 28 released a report titled, “Some Medicare Advantage Organization Denials of Prior Authorization Requests Raise Concerns About Beneficiary Access to Medically Necessary Care.” The report immediately drew praise from providers, such as the American Medical Association (AMA), which issued a statement agreeing with federal investigators’ recommendations on reining in inappropriate denials. But AMA argued that more needs to be done, such as passing a bipartisan bill that aims to establish new electronic prior authorization (PA) requirements on MA insurers.

PHE Extension, Medicare AEP Boost ’22 Earnings Projections

Better-than-expected first-quarter 2022 earnings aided by Medicare open enrollment successes and the extension of the public health emergency (PHE) drove several insurers at press time to raise their earnings guidance for the year. Some, however, approached their projections with caution as variant-driven surges in the COVID-19 pandemic continue to create uncertainty around utilization.

Reporting first-quarter earnings on April 27, Humana Inc. said its results from the latest Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) were slightly better than projected and it is making progress on a $1 billion value creation plan unveiled last quarter that will allow the company to further enhance its Medicare offerings. For the AEP that ended Dec. 7, improvements were “driven by higher sales and improved voluntary termination rates,” explained President and CEO Bruce Broussard during an April 27 conference call to discuss recent quarterly earnings. Broussard also provided a detailed update on Humana’s efforts to improve the sales experience through its various distribution channels.

Biosimilars Stand to Cut Costs for Medicare Part D and Beneficiaries, If Uptake Improves

New biologic drugs cost Medicare Part D and its beneficiaries almost $12 billion in 2019, but increased biosimilar uptake could cut spending significantly in coming years, according to a March report from HHS’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Specifically, the OIG report pointed to upcoming launches of Humira (in 2023) and Enbrel (in 2029) biosimilars as potential catalysts for change. The two biologics alone accounted for nearly half of 2019’s Part D spending. Studying 2019 Part D plan formularies, OIG found that biosimilar uptake for four select drug classes was limited due to lack of coverage, and formularies that did cover biosimilars did not encourage their use over the original reference products despite their lower cost. OIG advised CMS to encourage payers to place biosimilars on formulary, which the agency agreed with. As of the second quarter of 2022, most Medicare beneficiaries still have better access to the biologics OIG studied over their biosimilars, with the exception of Teva Pharmaceuticals’ Granix, a biosimilar to Amgen’s Neupogen, and Pfizer’s Retacrit, a biosimilar to Amgen’s Epogen and Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit. Granix holds covered or better status for 51% of Medicare beneficiaries, according to data from MMIT Analytics (MMIT is the parent company of AIS Health). Retacrit, meanwhile, holds 66% covered or better status.

News Briefs: New CMS Report Finds Non-White Medicare Advantage Enrollees Continue to Receive Worse Care

A new report looking at disparities in care for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries by race, ethnicity and sex found that non-white MA enrollees generally received worse care in 2020 than their white counterparts. Racial and ethnic differences were more glaring for clinical care measures than for patient experience measures, with scores for Black MA enrollees falling below the national average for 14 out of 36 clinical care measures, according to the April report, which was prepared by The RAND Corp. for the CMS Office of Minority Health. Researchers relied on Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) data collected from March to May 2021 and the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set reflecting care received from January to December 2020. White enrollees reported care that was in line with the national average on all patient experience measures from the CAHPS survey, while their scores were similar to the national average on 31 clinical care measures and above average on five measures. Scores for American Indian and Alaska Native MA enrollees were also below the national average on 14 clinical care measures, and scores for Hispanic MA beneficiaries were worse than average on 11 such measures.

Favorable Pharmacy Results Power Humana’s Solid Earnings

Humana Inc.’s financial performance in the first quarter of this year received mostly positive reviews from Wall Street. Revenue growth from the health insurer’s mail-order pharmacy business alongside modest care utilization allowed the firm’s executives to raise their end-of-year earnings guidance.

The firm took in $23.9 billion in total revenue in the quarter, an increase from $20.6 billion in the first quarter last year. Humana’s pretax income for the quarter was $1.2 billion, up from about $1 billion in the first quarter of 2021. The firm’s adjusted earnings per share also increased year-over-year, going up to $8.04 from $7.67.

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News Briefs: CMS Finalizes Rule Mandating Standard ACA Exchange Plans

CMS on April 28 finalized the 2023 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for Affordable Care Act exchange plans, cementing its proposal to require insurers to offer standardized plans on HealthCare.gov. In a provision opposed by the insurance industry at large, the Biden administration will require issuers offering Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) on the federal exchange to offer standardized plan options at every network type, at every metal level and throughout every service area where non-standardized options are offered, starting in 2023. Those plans also will be differentially displayed on HealthCare.gov “to help consumers make more informed choices about their coverage.” Another major provision included in the annual omnibus rule governing the ACA exchanges is the addition of new network adequacy standards that require QHPs to “ensure that certain classes of providers are available within required time and distance parameters.”

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Despite Growth, Barriers Remain to Driving MA Benefit Innovation

Innovative, mostly non-medical supplemental benefits have seen tremendous growth in the few years the Medicare Advantage program has allowed them. But that growth is still from a base of zero, and industry experts suggest that numerous barriers are keeping adoption of these new supplemental benefits at a relatively slow pace.

Starting with plan year 2019, MA organizations began offering a wider range of benefits such as Adult Day Care and In-Home Support Services thanks to CMS’s reinterpretation of the definition of “primarily health-related supplemental benefits.” And with the passage of the CHRONIC Care Act of 2018, MA plans in 2020 began offering Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill (SSBCI), a category of “non-primarily health related” items and services that can be made available to certain beneficiaries.

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Enforcement Actions Show Mounting CMPs from Financial Audits (with table: CMP Amounts Imposed on Medicare Advantage Insurers From February to April 2022)

Between February and April of this year, CMS imposed a total of nearly $1 million in civil monetary penalties (CMPs) on Medicare Advantage and Part D organizations for program violations uncovered during routine audits, including so-called “one-third financial audits.” While CMS has yet to release its annual report that provides a fuller picture of plan noncompliance, the latest round of CMP notices offers some important lessons for sponsors and flags a few potential areas of risk that they should be monitoring in their own operations, according to compliance experts.

Of the 15 CMP notices recently posted to the CMS Part C and Part D Enforcements Actions webpage, six resulted from 2021 program audits and eight were related to 2020 financial audits. Additionally, CMS imposed a fine on Anthem, Inc. for a Part D appeals violation stemming from a previously detected system migration issue that occurred in 2020.