Radar on Medicare Advantage

  • Part D Formularies Get More Restrictive, but MA-PDs Beat PDPs on Access

    Medicare Part D formularies are becoming more restrictive over time, asserts new research published in the March issue of Health Affairs. Studying Medicare administrative data that included Part D claims and plan formulary characteristics, researchers from the University of Southern California and Blaylock Health Economics found that utilization management tactics such as prior authorization, step therapy and formulary exclusions became far more commonplace between 2011 and 2020. In 2011, an average of 31.9% of drugs were restricted in some form, vs. 44.4% in 2020.

    Restrictions varied based on drug costs and the availability of generic alternatives to brand-name drugs. Nearly 70% of brand-name compounds with no generic alternatives were restricted in 2020, compared to 30% of drugs with generic availability. Additionally, the lower the cost of the drug, the less likely it was to be restricted. In 2020, only 16.7% of drugs with generic availability that cost less than $100 per prescription faced restrictions, vs. 83.7% of brand-name only drugs that cost more than $1,000.

  • False Claims Act Suits Offer Lessons Learned for MA Plans, Lawyer Says

    As Medicare Advantage organizations continue to face intense scrutiny — from the government’s latest probe into UnitedHealthcare to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission calling attention to the cost of higher coding in MA — a new report underscores the power of whistleblower lawsuits in enforcing program requirements. Recent False Claims Act (FCA) settlements with the Dept. of Justice reflect a continued focus on MA insurers submitting inaccurate diagnosis information for the purposes of inflating reimbursement, and while the DOJ isn't involved in proposed class action lawsuits accusing major insurers of using artificial intelligence to wrongfully deny claims, such litigation “bears continued watching as it progresses.”
  • News Briefs: Biden Budget Eyes Supplemental Benefit MLRs

    President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal included a familiar item from the previous year: a proposal to establish new medical loss ratio (MLR) requirements for supplemental benefits in Medicare Advantage. Without an estimated economic impact or additional detail, that proposal was included as a line item in the 188-page document released by the White House Office of Management and Budget. According to a March 11 fact sheet on the budget, the administration also aims to build on recent efforts to improve prescription drug affordability by accelerating the pace of Medicare drug price negotiations, expanding the Inflation Reduction Act’s inflation rebates and $2,000 out-of-pocket cap beyond Medicare and into the commercial market, and extending the IRA-established $35 cost sharing limit for Medicare-covered insulin to the commercial sector. Further, the budget seeks to strengthen Medicare by “modestly increasing” the Medicare tax rate on incomes above $400,000 and “directs an amount equivalent to the savings from the proposed Medicare drug reforms” into the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund.
  • Bigger Footprints, Stable Benefits, Value Adds Assisted AEP Wins

    Nearly 33 million individuals were enrolled in Medicare Advantage as of February, demonstrating a year-over-year increase of 7.1% and Annual Election Period growth of 4.0%, according to AIS Health’s analysis of the latest AEP data. Those figures reflect a continued slowdown in MA growth as fewer baby boomers age into Medicare. At the same time, switching among MA consumers continues to rise, and with less rebate and risk adjustment revenue expected this year, insurers had tough decisions to make to stay competitive.

    According to the latest Medicare Shopping and Switching Study from Deft Research, MA switching during the 2024 AEP reached a “multiyear high” of 16%, compared with 15% in the 2023 AEP and 12% in the prior two periods. While previous Deft studies identified increasing levels of frustration with supplemental benefits as a top driver of switching, this year’s changes were “more so due to reductions in benefits and added cost,” says George Dippel, president of Deft Research.

  • Is the MA Boom Over? 2024 AEP Results Reflect Continued Slowdown

    Medicare Advantage growth is slowing down after a pandemic-era windfall, according to AIS Health’s analysis of the 2024 Annual Election Period (AEP). As of February — when then the final AEP data is reported — total MA enrollment was approaching 33 million lives (AIS’s collection of AEP data excludes some Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibles; see note below). That’s a 4.0% increase from October 2023, when the AEP began, and down from 4.6% during the same time period last year and a high of 6.8% in 2021. CMS previously projected that MA enrollment would increase by roughly 7% to 33.8 million this year; the AIS Health analysis shows that MA enrollment grew 7.1% from a year ago.  
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