Industry Trends

Perspectives on ACA Exchanges Amid COVID-19

June 11, 2020

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reverberate throughout the U.S. economy, it’s become clear that there will be a major enrollment shift away from employer-sponsored plans and into Medicaid and the individual market, AIS Health reported.

In fact, one analysis suggested that there could be “unprecedented growth” in the individual health insurance market. “The impact of COVID-19-related job losses will likely more than double the current enrollment in Individual & Marketplace plans, with the potential for the Individual market to triple in size to over 35 million in a sustained and severe economic contraction,” stated the analysis from A2 Strategy Group.

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reverberate throughout the U.S. economy, it’s become clear that there will be a major enrollment shift away from employer-sponsored plans and into Medicaid and the individual market, AIS Health reported.

In fact, one analysis suggested that there could be “unprecedented growth” in the individual health insurance market. “The impact of COVID-19-related job losses will likely more than double the current enrollment in Individual & Marketplace plans, with the potential for the Individual market to triple in size to over 35 million in a sustained and severe economic contraction,” stated the analysis from A2 Strategy Group.

Such growth, the report said, “will come from newly unemployed individuals in all states who exceed Medicaid eligibility thresholds” because of money they receive from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. And in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, nearly all of the newly unemployed who earn below 100% of the federal poverty level could qualify for Affordable Care Act premium subsidies.

Another analysis from the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), estimated that if U.S. unemployment reaches 20%, 25 million people would lose employer-sponsored health insurance. “Of these, 11.8 million would gain Medicaid coverage, 6.2 million would gain marketplace or other private coverage, and 7.3 million would become uninsured,” it stated.

Katherine Hempstead, the senior adviser to the executive vice president at RWJF, says it’s possible the coming enrollment shifts will cause some health insurers to re-evaluate their level of participation in the ACA exchanges, which some large insurers left in 2017 and 2018 before the market stabilized.

In fact, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said on May 12 that UnitedHealth filed to offer plans on the sate’s ACA exchange in 2021, bringing the total number of insurers in that market from two to three.

Ari Gottlieb, a principal at A2 Strategy Group, says the effect may be even stronger after 2021.

“If the market doubles to 25 or 30 million, some of that will probably fall off, but some of that will probably stay,” he says. “I think even a year or two from now, we’re going to have a bigger individual market than we had before.”

Radar On Market Access: 2021 MA, Part D Bids Face Challenges Amid COVID-19

June 9, 2020

There are always uncertainties when it comes to projecting plan costs for the year ahead, but Medicare Advantage and Part D organizations that submitted bids on June 1 faced a particularly unpredictable set of circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we will all look back on the 2021 bids as the year of COVID-19,” Brad Piper, a principal and consulting actuary in Milliman’s Milwaukee office, tells AIS Health. “That was a big challenge for the organizations that are in the Medicare Advantage program — [perhaps more so] than on the Part D side — and it impacted both sides of the coin: costs and revenue.”

There are always uncertainties when it comes to projecting plan costs for the year ahead, but Medicare Advantage and Part D organizations that submitted bids on June 1 faced a particularly unpredictable set of circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we will all look back on the 2021 bids as the year of COVID-19,” Brad Piper, a principal and consulting actuary in Milliman’s Milwaukee office, tells AIS Health. “That was a big challenge for the organizations that are in the Medicare Advantage program — [perhaps more so] than on the Part D side — and it impacted both sides of the coin: costs and revenue.”

From a cost perspective, unknowns include whether there will be “pent-up demand” for health care services next year given that many beneficiaries have deferred doctors’ appointments and elective/non-urgent procedures to avoid the risk of coronavirus exposure.

Adding to that is the question of whether there will be a second wave of COVID-19 “and how much COVID-related utilization and services will occur that plans will have to bear,” points out Matt Kazan, principal with Avalere Health. A third concern is “how much of the cost of all the things Congress is saying plans will need to cover in terms of testing, vaccines…will impact plans,” says Kazan, referring to various legislative requirements, some of which are still pending.

Preparing bids on the revenue side was equally challenging, since it’s the 2020 diagnosis information that drives reimbursement for next year, adds Piper. “As we’re trying to forecast what 2021 revenue will look like, we’ve got to look at what’s going on in today’s environment and understand if we’re not seeing our members as often…that potentially creates a challenge for health plans to capture all that diagnosis information in 2020, which in turn drives their 2021 revenue amount.”

On the Part D side, Milliman principal and consulting actuary Shelly Brandel says COVID-19 had less of an impact on costs because prescription drug utilization or fills weren’t “delayed to the same degree as medical services had been.” The risk score impact, however, created a similar challenge because Part D risk scores are based on medical diagnoses, she adds.

Trends That Matter: The Future of Value-Based Agreements

June 4, 2020

The challenge of improving patient access while reducing treatment costs has led the healthcare sector to explore innovative contract arrangements. Using value-based agreements (also referred to as risk-sharing or outcomes-based contracts) biopharmaceutical manufacturers and payers agree to link coverage and reimbursement levels to a drug’s effectiveness and usage. These agreements have been a necessity in providing patients access to high-cost and high-value gene therapies. However, in chronic disease states like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, value-based contracts have been essential to managing treatment costs associated with the high-volume utilization of these treatments.

The challenge of improving patient access while reducing treatment costs has led the healthcare sector to explore innovative contract arrangements. Using value-based agreements (also referred to as risk-sharing or outcomes-based contracts) biopharmaceutical manufacturers and payers agree to link coverage and reimbursement levels to a drug’s effectiveness and usage. These agreements have been a necessity in providing patients access to high-cost and high-value gene therapies. However, in chronic disease states like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, value-based contracts have been essential to managing treatment costs associated with the high-volume utilization of these treatments.

Current challenges in value-based care include stakeholders’ alignment on which metrics are measurable and are valuable to include in an agreement, along with the presence of extensive technology and an unbiased third-party administrator to track and report on treatment outcomes. Successful implementation of such programs also involves patient adherence to treatments coordinated and monitored by physician practices or hospital systems.

That said, the question remains, how are value-based agreements going to evolve in the future?

Value-based agreements are becoming more prevalent and will continue to grow over the next two years. MMIT’s Special Report on Value Based Agreements Between Payers and Manufacturers surveyed 50 decision-makers covering 136 million commercial members and found that engagement in value-based contracts has steadily increased over the past three years. In this same survey, payers covering 85% of those commercial members reported that they anticipate increasing their participation in such agreements over the next two years.

In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is pushing integrated delivery networks and health care systems to their limits financially, which may prompt them to re-evaluate or renegotiate existing value-based agreements to prioritize their financial recovery. Similarly, accountable care organizations (ACOs) facing a similar financial crisis may experience challenges in meeting their existing value-based contract goals. To alleviate some of the concerns that such organizations are facing, CMS recently announced that it will work toward relaxing quality reporting requirements and prorate losses suffered by Medicare ACOs in 2020.

The special report also illustrates another critical finding – the surveyed payers rated their organizations as highly capable of entering value-based agreements. As a result of the pandemic, recent research suggests there is an increased likelihood of additional vertical integration of payers on one side, in addition to smaller physician practices’ integration into larger hospital systems. This trend stands to improve payers’ and physicians’ ability to track outcomes more effectively, which will bode well for value-based agreements, since they often require interoperability between payers, providers and careful monitoring of patient adherence.

If payers relax their initial and reauthorization restrictions on therapies to ease drug access during the pandemic, they will likely have a chance to revisit existing policies once the dust settles. Exploring innovative contracting methods to help payer organizations control and recuperate costs in the aftermath of the pandemic may become a necessity that could create new opportunities for value-based contracts. With an increasing number of members filing for unemployment and moving to the Medicaid line of business, this segment could also be a focus area for such agreements.

To learn more about the special report on value-based agreements between payers and manufacturers, visit https://bit.ly/3ewzTLV. For more information about the impact of COVID-19 and resources that provide actionable insights, visit https://bit.ly/2yDQoGu.

Radar On Market Access: 1.7K Plans Apply for Trump Admin’s Fixed-Insulin-Copay Program for Seniors

June 4, 2020

The Trump administration on May 26 shared new details about a program that offers diabetic seniors access to a variety of insulin products for a maximum $35-per-month copay, AIS Health reported.

More than 88 health insurers offering about 1,750 standalone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans and Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage have now applied to participate in the Part D Senior Savings Model, which CMS unveiled in mid-March. Medicare beneficiaries in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will be able to enroll in a participating plan during the Medicare open enrollment period that lasts from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, 2020, for Part D coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2021.

The Trump administration on May 26 shared new details about a program that offers diabetic seniors access to a variety of insulin products for a maximum $35-per-month copay, AIS Health reported.

More than 88 health insurers offering about 1,750 standalone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans and Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage have now applied to participate in the Part D Senior Savings Model, which CMS unveiled in mid-March. Medicare beneficiaries in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will be able to enroll in a participating plan during the Medicare open enrollment period that lasts from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, 2020, for Part D coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2021.

That “widespread voluntary participation” from health plans “was essential for the program’s success,” says Marc Guieb, Pharm.D., a consultant at Milliman, Inc. Still, “many plans were hesitant to participate in the inaugural year of this program due to uncertainty around its financial impact,” he says. “It is likely that, in future years, more plans will jump on the bandwagon.”

CMS estimates that Medicare beneficiaries who use insulin and join a plan participating in the Part D Senior Savings Model could save an average of $446 annually on out-of-pocket insulin costs, or 66%. Three insulin manufacturers — Eli Lilly and Co., Novo Nordisk Inc. and Sanofi U.S. — have agreed to participate.

On the one hand, the concept of a fixed insulin copay should be attractive to seniors and can improve medication adherence, says Brian Anderson, a principal at Milliman. Still, “the benefit coordination and claims processing is going to be tricky,” he suggests, adding that “the pharmacy reimbursements, manufacturer payments, application of the Part D benefit phases and reinsurance will all come into play.”

“Overall, this has the opportunity to improve the Part D benefit and drive formulary competition from a cost standpoint,” Anderson concludes.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) gave the program a glowing assessment. “Innovative voluntary programs like this Part D Senior Savings Model are an excellent example of public-private partnerships where everyone wins, but especially patients,” AHIP President and CEO Matt Eyles said in a statement released May 26.

Radar On Market Access: Payers and PBMs May Play Key Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

June 2, 2020

The rollout of a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is an unprecedented logistical challenge. So will be deciding who gets it: experts say that the initial vaccine supply will not be large enough to dose everyone who wants it — and payers and PBMs will have a large role to play in distributing the medicine to the right people quickly.

The rollout of a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is an unprecedented logistical challenge. So will be deciding who gets it: experts say that the initial vaccine supply will not be large enough to dose everyone who wants it — and payers and PBMs will have a large role to play in distributing the medicine to the right people quickly.

David Simchi-Levi, Ph.D., a systems engineer who studies manufacturing and supply chain at MIT, tells AIS Health that it’s inevitable that vaccine supply will not meet demand when it is available. “The question will be, who gets it?” he says.

Mike Schneider, a principal at Avalere Health and a former executive at CVS Health Corp.’s Caremark PBM, says that given the likely scarcity of the vaccine, areas hardest hit by COVID-19 should be the focus of the initial supply.

“I think the payers will probably try to stay out of the way as much as possible, and let local laws determine who can get a vaccine and probably local health departments determine who can get the vaccine before others,” Schneider says. He adds that payers should also use prior authorization matched to FDA guidance to ensure the right people are dosed.

When a vaccine is available, Schneider expects retail pharmacies to play a large role in delivery. He cites retail pharmacy chains’ rollout of drive-through SARS-CoV-2 testing and the annual ritual of getting a flu shot from a pharmacist as examples of what delivering the coronavirus vaccine could look like. Along the same lines, he expects primary care practitioners to perform some inoculations.

Even a well-managed rollout will only be a first step. Manufacturing and supply chain concerns will dictate the supply of vaccines available in the U.S. going forward. So will trade, as most medicines are manufactured in China and India. Those countries will certainly want to care for their own citizens as soon as possible, which could delay the release of vaccine here.

Given all that uncertainty, Schneider expects that a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine could be a perennial component of formularies, along the lines of the flu vaccine. Schneider expects that receiving the coronavirus vaccine will be a routine preventive treatment that costs patients little to nothing.

Radar On Market Access: Will COVID-19 Advance Automatic Health Insurance Enrollment?

May 28, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the U.S. economy, it would seem to be the perfect time for policymakers to explore a policy option that has garnered rare bipartisan support: automatic health insurance enrollment.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the U.S. economy, it would seem to be the perfect time for policymakers to explore a policy option that has garnered rare bipartisan support: automatic health insurance enrollment.

“We have huge numbers of people who are losing employer-based coverage; most of them are eligible for some kind of help, but we know historically most laid-off workers do not enroll in coverage for which they qualify,” Stan Dorn, director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation and senior fellow at Families USA, told AIS Health. “It’s just overwhelming to be grappling with job loss and therefore it becomes imperative to make enrollment as easy, seamless and automatic as possible.”

Dorn was among several panelists who spoke during a May 18 webinar about automatic health insurance enrollment, hosted by the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy and the American Enterprise Institute. Current crisis aside, Dorn said he advocates helping eligible uninsured individuals sign up for coverage when they’re filing their tax returns.

Christen Linke Young, a fellow at the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, said that “retroactive enrollment” is the best option. A federal “backstop” program would pay all claims for uninsured people when they receive care, but when filing taxes they would be responsible for paying income-adjusted premiums for the “plan” they used. “It’s the path toward universal coverage that is in my view most feasible,” she said.

Other panelists advocated for a more state-driven approach. One way to accomplish that would be for the federal government to create an incentive program that grants states new tools and authorities to build automatic enrollment programs, according to James Capretta, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

During the current pandemic-related economic downturn, one solution could be for states to move people who have lost their employer-based coverage to a comparable Affordable Care Act marketplace plan, suggested Lanhee Chen, a David and Diane Steffy fellow in American public policy studies at the Hoover Institution. “I think certainly that would be a more affordable route than, for example, subsidizing COBRA continuation coverage,” he said.