Value-based Care

DOJ to Test UnitedHealth’s ‘Firewall’ With Antitrust Probe

The U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) has opened an antitrust investigation into UnitedHealth Group, according to an internal company document shared with AIS Health and a Wall Street Journal report citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

Federal regulators are reportedly seeking information about how the Minnesota-based company’s UnitedHealthcare insurance arm interacts with the many provider acquisitions that its Optum division has made in recent years — and how that relationship affects competition.

One health care economist says that while many unanswered questions remain, the result of a different investigation into provider consolidation suggests that the DOJ’s probe of UnitedHealth could end in an antitrust lawsuit.

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News Briefs: Cigna May Be Close to Selling MA Business to Health Care Service Corp.

The Cigna Group may sell its Medicare Advantage business to Health Care Service Corp. for between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. After Cigna and Humana Inc. reportedly abandoned their rumored talks of combining, Bloomberg last month reported that HCSC and Elevance Health, Inc. were competing to buy Cigna’s MA segment. Sources close to the matter said Cigna is in “exclusive talks” with HCSC, which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in five states, the Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 3.

After securing an amended credit agreement with JP Morgan, Bright Health Group, Inc. on Jan 1. finalized the previously announced sale of its Medicare Advantage assets to Molina Healthcare, Inc. The technology-driven startup on Dec. 29 said an amendment to its credit facility with JP Morgan would reduce the final repayment amount by roughly $30 million to approximately $298 million. With the close of the MA sale — which involves the California plans Brand New Day and Central Health Plan — the company has eliminated its secured debt and will use the remaining proceeds of the sale to “provide a solid foundation” for advancing its NeueHealth accountable care organization business, according to a Jan. 2 press release. Molina in December said it would buy the MA plans for approximately $425 million, down from the originally announced $510 million; analysts speculated the discount had to do with underperformance in Bright’s MA business due to heightened Medicare utilization trends in 2023.The deal nets Molina 121,863 MA members, boosting its membership by 115%, according to AIS’s Directory of Health Plans.

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While Insurers Tout Value-Based Wins, Wide Adoption Remains Elusive

Across the U.S. in 2022, 24.5% of health care payments involved two-sided financial risk reimbursement arrangements, according to an analysis published on Oct. 30 from the Health Care Payment Learning & Action Network (HCPLAN). That is up from 19.6% in 2021 and 17.9% in 2020.

While the upward trend is encouraging for those interested in shifting away from a fee-for-service model, health policy experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that more needs to be done to encourage providers to embrace value-based care. They add that adoption varies based on the payer, with Medicare leading the way and private commercial plans lagging.

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Direct Contracting Model Achieves Savings, But ACOs’ Mileage Varies

Despite the program receiving continued pushback from progressive lawmakers, data from the since-renamed Global and Professional Direct Contracting (GPDC) Model suggests that it is making significant strides, with participants driving gross savings exceeding $870 million in 2022, more than seven times the $117 million in gross savings reported for performance year 2021. At least five known Medicare Advantage sponsors have subsidiaries participating in the model, which allows Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) to share risk and receive capitated payments for serving fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries.

CMS, in a fact sheet highlighting the performance year 2022 data, observed that the total financial savings increased year over year because of “growth in model participation, a longer performance period in PY2022 (12 months vs. 9 months in PY2021), and performance improvements by model participants as they gained experience.” Last year, 99 Direct Contracting Entities participated in the model, up from 53 DCEs in 2021, with 21 million beneficiary months, compared with 3 million beneficiary months in 2021.

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With Mixed Results Across ACOs, Direct Contracting Model Serves Up Seven-Fold Increase in Savings

Despite the program receiving continued pushback from progressive lawmakers, data from the since-renamed Global and Professional Direct Contracting (GPDC) Model suggests that it is making significant strides, with participants driving gross savings exceeding $870 million in 2022, more than seven times the $117 million in gross savings reported for performance year 2021. At least five known Medicare Advantage sponsors have subsidiaries participating in the model, which allows Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) to share risk and receive capitated payments for serving fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries.

CMS, in a fact sheet highlighting the performance year 2022 data, observed that the total financial savings increased year over year because of “growth in model participation, a longer performance period in PY2022 (12 months vs. 9 months in PY2021), and performance improvements by model participants as they gained experience.” Last year, 99 Direct Contracting Entities participated in the model, up from 53 DCEs in 2021, with 21 million beneficiary months, compared with 3 million beneficiary months in 2021.

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Experts: Even in Its Early Days, Value-Based Contracting Has Saved Money

A systemwide shift in the direction of value-based contracting has, since the turn of the century, been a cherished goal of many policymakers and health plans. A panel of experts say that a national focus on value-based reimbursement has yielded tangible results, although they say much more must be done to facilitate the value-based care transition — and point out that government may have to play an even bigger role than it already has to make that transformation happen.

Generally, value-based care is defined as paying providers based on cost and quality metrics, rather than per service or visit, and may believe widespread implementation of value-based payment could bring down overall health care spending. It's no secret that health care costs and spending per capita are much higher in the U.S. than they are in other wealthy countries — and experts predict that commercial insurance costs are set to rise steeply over the next few years. However, according to Melinda Buntin, Ph.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s schools of public health and business, increased scrutiny from policymakers and the health care sector on prices over the past two decades has had some impact.

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Care Coordination, Caregiver Support Will Be Central to Dementia Model

As the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation works toward its goal of having all fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare beneficiaries and most Medicaid beneficiaries in accountable care relationships by 2030, CMMI this year has unveiled three models aimed at advancing value-based care. One of them is the Guiding an Improved Dementia Experience (GUIDE) Model, which combines care coordination, caregiver support and respite services to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers while delaying avoidable long-term nursing facility placement. Although the model does not serve Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, its mission appears to parallel specialized MA plans that offer supplemental benefits aimed at helping people age in place, deploy interdisciplinary care teams and empower caregivers to play an active role in their loved ones’ care.

An estimated 6.7 million people in the U.S. are currently living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and that number is expected to grow to nearly 14 million by 2060. Medicare will cover most of those Americans at some point, but the program as it exists today does not have a standardized care delivery approach for dementia, observed Tonya Saffer, director of the division for health care payment models at CMMI, during a Sept. 13 webinar on the model hosted by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

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News Briefs: Idaho Completes Medicaid Redeterminations

Idaho is the first state to complete its Medicaid eligibility redeterminations process, the state’s Medicaid agency announced on Sept. 8. The state “processed 153,196 renewals, and 31,900 were determined eligible, and 121,296 were ineligible,” according to a post from the state’s Dept. of Health and Welfare (DEW). DEW added that the resumption of redeterminations is “a large and important undertaking that DEW has taken very seriously.” To handle redeterminations, “we committed more than 300 eligibility staff to the effort and an additional 42 staff from our call center.” The news is somewhat surprising, as Idaho paused redeterminations earlier this year due to what KFF termed “technical difficulties.” CMS has warned state Medicaid agencies not to disenroll Medicaid members too quickly.

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With Humana Pact, Interwell Health Aims to Defragment Kidney Care for More Patients

Since the 21st Century Cures Act loosened enrollment rules in 2021, enabling more patients with a previous diagnosis of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) to enroll in Medicare Advantage, MA insurers have been striking innovative partnerships with kidney care management companies to better manage care and control costs for kidney disease patients. Most recently, Humana Inc. — one of the leading MA insurers serving ESRD enrollees — unveiled a new value-based care pact with Interwell Health that will cater to most Humana MA HMO and PPO members in 13 states living with chronic kidney disease (CKD), as well as members across the country living with ESRD.

According to Brandon Spicer, director of kidney care at Humana, the insurer offers a variety of programs for members living with CKD and ESRD, and its program care managers “work closely with providers to give patients individual support and guidance while educating them about their disease, supporting their physician’s care plan and assisting with coordination of care.”

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Despite Limited Commercial Impact, Vermont’s ACO Test Delivers Results in Medicare

Vermont’s all-payer accountable care organization (ACO), OneCare Vermont (OCV), has reduced Medicare costs but has had minimal impact on the state's Medicaid and commercial segments, a new report commissioned by CMS says. However, the state’s largest carrier — nonprofit commercial insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont (BCBSVT) — withdrew from the program at the end of the 2022 plan year and does not currently plan to return.

The report, prepared by NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), focused most of its cost and quality improvement analysis on Medicare. The report did not make any quantitative assessments of OneCare Vermont’s impact on the commercial market. NORC found that the ACO reduced gross spending for Medicare enrollees by $686.40 per member per year, or 6.2% per year, during the first four years of implementation, resulting in a $124.9 million net reduction of Medicare spending during those years, a drop of 5.7%. However, quality improvement and utilization assessments were more difficult to make due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which distorted utilization patterns during 2020 and 2021.

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