Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage Organizations Chase ‘Signature Trend’ of Offering Extra Benefits for 2023

Judicious enhancements to supplemental benefits was the common theme as Medicare Advantage organizations prepared their bids for 2023, according to actuaries who recently helped sponsors submit bids that were due on June 6. The benefit changes come as plans considered potential bonus payment losses in 2024 and other possible drivers of increased costs next year.

“The signature trend of this year was carrying forward a lot of the innovative benefits that we’ve seen take hold over the past few years,” remarks Tim Murray, principal with Wakely, an HMA company. These include “wallet” benefits such as over-the-counter card allowances and flexible “choose your own adventure” benefits often involving healthy food and/or groceries, he observes.

News Briefs: Centene Settles New Mexico Medicaid Pharmacy Investigation for $13.7 Million

In the latest settlement with a state Medicaid program over its pharmacy benefit practices, Centene Corp. has agreed to pay $13.7 million to the state of New Mexico. Upon referral from the Office of the State Auditor in collaboration with the New Mexico Health Services Dept. — which oversees the Centennial Care Medicaid program — Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) conducted an investigation focused on “concerns that Centene was layering fees and not passing on retail discounts” to the program, according to a June 13 press release from the AG’s office. Centene has spent millions to settle claims by state Medicaid programs that it overcharged them for prescription drugs and is in the process of restructuring its pharmacy benefit management platform.

Trustees Report Underscores Need for Wholesale Medicare Reform

While the headline takeaway from the latest Medicare Trustees report was that the Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund will be exhausted two years later than previously projected, industry experts suggest that the report should light a fire under Congress to take swift legislative action to sustain Medicare financing. During a recent webinar hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a panel of seasoned policy experts agreed that the report underscored the need for comprehensive structural reform to the Medicare program, including potential changes to the way Medicare Advantage plans are paid.

Published on June 2, the Medicare Board of Trustees’ annual report provides previous and projected costs for the Medicare program’s two separate trust funds: the Hospital Insurance trust fund (HI), which helps pay for inpatient hospital and other services covered by Medicare Part A; and the Supplemental Medicare Insurance trust fund (SMI), which helps pay for physician, outpatient hospital, home health and other services covered by Parts B and D.

MedPAC Mulls Method of Reducing High-Cost Outlier Impact on Risk Scores

After its last two reports suggested comprehensive reforms to Medicare Advantage plan reimbursement, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) in its June report to Congress shifted its MA focus to one area in particular: the potential for high-cost patient outlier data to skew the calculation of risk scores that determine MA plans’ risk-adjusted pay.

Although the Hierarchical Condition Category (HCC) risk adjustment model is intended to produce scores that reflect the relative health status of a plan’s enrollees, fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare spending data that is used to calculate risk scores can include a small group of outliers whose annual costs are much higher than the average costs of patients with a given condition, explained MedPAC Executive Director Jim Mathews during a June 15 web briefing with members of the press.

Latest Audit Report Highlights Enforcement Activity Outside Program Audits

In CMS’s latest audit report, the agency confirms what an earlier AIS Health analysis of compliance notices indicated: the agency imposed approximately $1 million in civil money penalties (CMPs) based on 2021 referrals, and nearly half of that stemmed from one-third financial audit findings. CMS, meanwhile, cautioned the industry not to read too much into the latest audit results as they relate to 2020, when CMS audited a relatively small number of plans due to the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).

In the 2021 Part C and Part D Program Audit and Enforcement Report, published on June 7, CMS said it imposed 16 CMPs amounting to $1,043,953, or an average of $65,247 per CMP. Sponsors audited in 2021 covered 26% of enrollment.

Expanded Footprints, Enhanced Benefits Aided Plans’ OEP Gains

Medicare Advantage enrollment reached nearly 28.8 million as of May, reflecting an overall increase of about 1% during the three-month Open Enrollment Period (OEP) that ended on March 31, according to the latest update to AIS’s Directory of Health Plans (DHP). That’s compared with growth of 5.3% from October 2021 to February, reflecting results from the Annual Election Period (AEP) that ran from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Beneficiaries who enrolled in an MA plan during the AEP have a one-time opportunity to change their coverage selection during the OEP, and insurers that made above-average membership gains during both periods attributed their successes to product enhancements, geographic expansions and strong distribution partnerships.

UnitedHealth Dominates While Startups Make Gains in 2022 Medicare Open Enrollment Period

Medicare Advantage enrollment grew by about 232,000 lives during the 2022 Open Enrollment Period (OEP), according to CMS’s May data release and AIS’s Directory of Health Plans. As in the Annual Election Period (AEP), UnitedHealthcare dominated, holding 45.1% of the overall OEP gains, followed by CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna at 16.9% and Centene Corp at 13.5%. Among other large, publicly traded insurers, Cigna Corp. and Humana Inc. both flopped in the OEP, losing 12,600 and 4,200 members, respectively. Meanwhile, insurance startups Bright Health and Clover Health both made the top 20 despite recent financial challenges and questioned viability. See the top 25 OEP performers, plus their AEP results and current enrollment, in the chart below.

Plan Finder Update Leaves Out Detail on Supplemental Benefits

As CMS continues to seek ways to improve its consumer-facing tools for comparing Medicare coverage options, the agency last month unveiled a series of tweaks to the website and Medicare Plan Finder (MPF). The MPF in 2019 underwent a major makeover that reportedly cost the Trump administration $11 million but critics say fell short of fixing many of the issues highlighted in a July 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office. CMS has continued to make updates based on consumer feedback, but some industry experts suggest more detail around the supplemental benefits offered by Medicare Advantage plans would be useful.

“CMS is making easier to use and more helpful for people seeking to understand their Medicare coverage, which is an essential part of staying healthy,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a May 18 press release. “We are committed to listening to the people we serve as we design and deliver new, personalized online resources and expanded customer support options for people with Medicare coverage and those who support them.”

Clover Health Hires New CFO as Firm Aims to Improve Efficiencies, Lower Costs

Medicare Advantage-focused startup Clover Health, which continues to expand its footprint and gain enrollees despite questions about its profitability, will soon have a new chief financial officer. According to a May 25 press release, Scott Leffler will join Clover in August after serving as CFO and treasurer of Sotera Health, where he oversaw the company’s global finance, procurement and IT organizations.

Leffler’s hiring follows several key additions to the company’s management team this year. During the first quarter, Clover Health appointed Conrad Wai as chief technology officer and Joseph Martin as general counsel. And in May, the company hired Aric Sharp as CEO of value-based care. The news of Leffler’s appointment comes after Clover Health spent more than 10 months seeking a replacement for Joe Wagner, who left the company in August 2021 for personal reasons.

News Briefs: Aetna Wins Group Medicare Advantage Contract to Connecticut State Retirees

CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna won a new group Medicare Advantage contract to serve retirees covered by Connecticut’s state health plan. Connecticut Comptroller Natalie Braswell on June 1 said the state selected Aetna after a competitive bidding process and that the new contract will save an estimated $400 million over the next three years. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, Aetna will serve some 57,000 Medicare-eligible retirees and dependents enrolled in the state’s MA plan. Connecticut first adopted an MA plan for retirees in 2018.

After CMS imposed a historic increase to Medicare Part B premiums partly due to cost considerations around Alzheimer’s disease treatment Aduhelm, the agency on May 27 said it will not make a midyear change but will likely lower the Part B premium in 2023. Upon raising the standard monthly premium by $21.60 to $170.10 for 2022, the agency in November said it considered “[a]dditional contingency reserves due to the uncertainty regarding the potential use” of Aduhelm, which was approved in July 2021 and priced at $56,000 per year. After Aduhelm makers Biogen and Eisai, Co., Ltd., cut that price in half starting Jan. 1, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra instructed CMS to reassess the Part B premium. Meanwhile, the FDA issued a National Coverage Determination stating that Medicare will cover Aduhelm only for patients enrolled in randomized, controlled clinical trials conducted either through the FDA or the National Institutes of Health. CMS recommended incorporating the savings realized from this year’s lower-than-anticipated spending into the 2023 Part B premium determination.