Risk Adjustment

Bright Health Reveals Deal to Repay Risk Adjustment Funds

Bright Health Group, Inc. — the struggling “insurtech” firm that is in the process of pulling out of the health insurance business entirely — disclosed recently that it has failed to deliver $380 million to other health plans that it’s required to pay under the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment program. The firm therefore has entered into a repayment agreement with the federal government.

In a press release, Bright touted the agreement as a sign the company is making “significant progress” toward the wind down of its ACA exchange business. Bright stopped offering ACA plans in all 15 states in which it operated starting in 2023 amid ongoing financial troubles.


News Briefs: OIG Audits Will Focus on Unlinked Chart Reviews in MA

The HHS Office of Inspector General will conduct a series of Medicare Advantage audits focused on diagnoses identified from unlinked chart reviews that resulted in higher risk-adjusted payments to MA organizations. For the risk adjustment program, CMS allows Medicare Advantage organizations to conduct chart reviews of enrollee medical record documentation to identify diagnosis codes that providers either did not originally give the MAO or provided in error. With unlinked chart reviews, MAOs do not have to include the specific date of service for previously unidentified diagnosis codes. In a 2021 report suggesting some MAOs were relying heavily on chart reviews and health risk assessments to achieve higher risk-adjusted payments, OIG previously recommended that CMS reassess whether it should allow unlinked chart reviews to be sole sources of diagnoses for risk-adjusted payments. The audit reports are expected to be released in 2026, according to a work plan summary posted this month.


MedPAC Processes Headache-Inducing Alternatives for Estimating MA Coding Intensity

As the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) continues to consider ways Congress could achieve greater parity between traditional, fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare and Medicare Advantage, its September public meeting touched on several program aspects that are ripe for change. Three such areas — MA benefit standardization, access and quality, and encounter data — are slated to be addressed in separate chapters of its June 2024 report, MedPAC confirmed. Meanwhile, an analytical discussion on alternative methods of assessing MA coding intensity could lead the commission to conclude that MA plans are overpaid by even more than its current estimates, which are already disputed by the industry’s largest trade group.


Lamenting Lack of FFS Adjuster, Humana Suit Reopens RADV Wounds

Since the January release of CMS’s controversial final rule on Risk Adjustment Data Validation (RADV) audits, all has remained quiet on the litigation front. But in a complaint filed in a federal court on Sept. 1, Humana Inc. opens old wounds regarding the years-long leadup to the final rule and invokes the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in asking the court to vacate the rule. In doing so, it seeks to stop CMS from applying its new audit policy of seeking extrapolated recovery amounts.

Issued on Jan. 30, the final rule (88 Fed. Reg. 6643, Feb. 1, 2023) pertains to contract-level audits that CMS began conducting more than a decade ago to verify the accuracy of payments made to MA organizations and recover improper payments. In that rule, CMS codified its plans to begin extrapolating RADV audit findings with payment year 2018 — but not findings for payment years 2011 through 2017, as once proposed. And the agency confirmed it would not adopt a “fee-for-service adjuster” to account for any impact from unaudited diagnosis codes in FFS data that are used to calibrate the MA risk adjustment model.


News Briefs: Judge ‘Permanently’ Bans New York City From Executing Retiree MA Plan

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank issued an order “permanently” banning New York City from pushing some 250,000 retirees and their dependents into a private Medicare Advantage plan managed by CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna. Led by Mayor Eric Adams (D), the city has spent the last couple of years trying to implement a group MA plan for its retired workers, who continue to protest the switch for a variety of reasons, namely that the plan goes against a longstanding promise to provide them with free and comprehensive health care coverage in retirement. Frank previously ruled that the proposal violated city law by charging retirees $191 per month to maintain their fee-for-service Medicare coverage. In July, Frank granted the petitioners’ request for a preliminary injunction, which temporarily barred the city from executing its plan. In a decision issued Aug. 11, Frank ordered that the city be “permanently enjoined from requiring any City retirees and their dependents from being removed from their current health insurance plan(s), and from being required to either enroll in an Aetna Medicare Advantage Plan or seek their own health coverage.” On Aug. 14, the NYC Office of Labor Relations posted a new update to its retiree health benefits webpage stating that there is “no Opt-Out or Waiver deadline in effect due to an injunction issued by the court” and all current health plans remain in effect. Meanwhile, Aetna appreciates the agreement between the plaintiff’s counsel and the city “to not conduct any additional hearings, briefings or discovery in order for Judge Frank to immediately issue his decision,” according to Rick Frommeyer, senior vice president with Aetna Group Retiree Solutions. “This approach speeds the appellate review of this matter. We look forward to the City’s appeal.”


MAOs Reporting 2Q Financials Factored Rising Utilization Into 2024 Bids

After a handful of publicly traded insurers last month reported second-quarter 2023 earnings that reflected the impact of increasing utilization, additional insurers reporting results in August said they witnessed a similar phenomenon, particularly among the Medicare Advantage population. But the insurers indicated that they were able to factor those trends into their bids for the coming plan year, while analysts were reassured that the issue was largely confined to MA and not the commercial sector.

UnitedHealth Group first disclosed the uptick in outpatient care utilization in June, sparking an insurer-stock selloff. Shortly after, Humana Inc. revealed in an 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it was also seeing elevated medical costs due to an increased use of services. Humana in that filing projected its insurance medical loss ratio (MLR) for the full year would settle in the higher (worse) end of its previously stated 86.3% to 87.3% range. “This expectation is primarily driven by the emergence of higher than anticipated non-inpatient utilization trends, predominantly in the categories of emergency room, outpatient surgeries, and dental services, as well as inpatient trends that have been stronger than anticipated in recent weeks, diverging from historical seasonality patterns,” the MA-focused insurer stated. The company also explained that it was seeing strong growth in its MA membership, including a “higher-than-expected proportion of age-ins” during the three-month Open Enrollment Period that ran from January to March, and such members tend to have an above-average MLR when compared to more established customers.


Bright Health Founders as Other Insurtechs Work Toward Profitability

Three of the four startup “insurtech” health plans made progress toward profitability in the second quarter of 2023, according to Wall Street analysts and one health care industry insider. But Bright Health Group, Inc., the highly leveraged firm that is winding down its health plan operations, has significant liquidity problems, massive outstanding risk adjustment debt and may lose the lifeline of its deal to sell its remaining health plan assets to Molina Healthcare, Inc.

Bright Health is in the process of winding down all of its health insurance operations. The firm posted a net loss of $251 million in the second quarter.

On Aug. 7, two days before Bright’s quarterly earnings call, it secured a $60 million credit facility from one of its largest creditors, venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA). In a press release announcing the loan agreement, Bright added that it “has entered into a permanent waiver of default on its existing credit facility, which expires in February 2024.” That agreement, made with a consortium of banks led by JPMorgan Chase Co., extended Bright a $350 million line of credit earlier this year.


Startup Insurers Face High Risk-Adjustment Payouts for 2022 Benefit Year

Participants in the Affordable Care Act risk adjustment program will pay a record $9.24 billion for the 2022 benefit year, according to CMS. Among the 608 issuers that participated in the program, startup insurers owe the highest amounts of payouts, while a handful Blue Cross Blue Shield companies are slated to receive significant payments.

The ACA’s risk adjustment program, launched in 2014, transfers funds from insurers that cover lower-risk enrollees to insurers that cover higher-cost and higher-risk populations in the individual and small group health insurance markets.


ACHP’s MA for Tomorrow Framework Aims to Drive Quality, Level Playing Field

From reforming the Star Ratings program intended to steer consumers to the highest-quality plans to reducing gaming of the current risk adjustment system used to set insurer payments, the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) is envisioning the future of Medicare Advantage with MA for Tomorrow. While the new framework, released last month, comes at a time when the Star Ratings and other aspects of the MA program are under intense scrutiny, ACHP tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that it is the result of a multiyear collaboration with subject matter experts at its provider-aligned, not-for-profit health plans.

ACHP provides recommendations around five key pillars: raising the bar on quality, improving consumer navigation, advancing risk adjustment for care not coding, modernizing network composition and transforming benchmarks. And it says many of the provisions contained in these pillars can be implemented right away. AIS Health spoke with ACHP’s president and CEO, Ceci Connolly, and associate vice president for public policy, Michael Bagel, to learn more about the specific recommendations. (Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)


News Briefs: Kraft Heinz Sues CVS for Fiduciary Breach

The Kraft Heinz group has sued Aetna, alleging the insurer “leveraged its role as the third-party administrator or ‘TPA’ to enrich itself to Kraft Heinz’s detriment” and breached its fiduciary duties to the employer. The lawsuit contends that Aetna “(a) paid millions of dollars in provider claims that never should have been paid, (b) wrongfully retained millions of dollars in undisclosed fees, and (c) engaged in claims-processing related misconduct to the detriment of Kraft Heinz,” which contracted with the insurer to provide medical and dental benefits for the company’s employees, retirees and their family members. The firm is asking the court to force Aetna to reimburse it for losses linked to the insurer’s alleged fiduciary breach, along with any related profits.

Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers are again set to collect major payouts from the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment program, STAT reported based on an analysis of new federal data. The risk adjustment program transfers funds from ACA marketplace insurers that have lower-risk enrollees to those with higher-risk enrollees. STAT found that more than two dozen Blues insurers are projected to collect over $4.7 billion in risk-adjustment transfers for 2022, with Florida Blue, Health Care Service Corp. and Blue Shield of California due the largest amounts.