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.
Just under half (49%) of Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibles were enrolled in Medicare Advantage or other private plans in 2020, according to a new analysis from KFF. But only 30% were enrolled in private plans or programs specifically designed for duals, such as Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs), Fully Integrated Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plans (FIDE-SNPs), Medicare-Medicaid Plans, or Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). This could be concerning for lawmakers looking to leverage MA in their efforts to improve care coordination for this vulnerable population.
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. Lyle 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.”
In its annual release of the Medicare Part D bid information for the coming plan year, CMS on July 31 projected that the average total monthly Part D premium will decrease from $56.49 in 2023 to $55.50 in 2024, thanks in large part to the basic part of the premium being held down by a stabilization provision in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). But unlike previous years, where the national average monthly bid amount (i.e., the weighted average of the estimated cost to Part D plan sponsors of providing their benefit package) steadily dropped, CMS reported that the bid amount will rise from $34.71 for 2023 to $64.28 in 2024. That’s largely because of IRA-mandated changes and CMS’s recent rulemaking on pharmacy price concessions.
Starting in 2024, the IRA limits the annual increase in the base beneficiary premium to no more than 6%. The base beneficiary premium, which is the starting point for calculating a plan-specific basic Part D premium, is projected to rise by 5.9% to $34.70 in 2024.
Provider groups that want to sponsor a Medicare Advantage plan have multiple avenues of entering the market and competing with large national players — including building a plan from scratch. But funding, state licensure and other regulatory requirements are key considerations before taking the leap, according to experts who spoke during a recent webinar hosted by Manatt Health.
“There are a lot of players in the market, and a lot of providers are trying to figure out if this is a good strategy for them,” said Paul Carr-Rollitt, partner with Manatt Health, during the July 20 webinar, Creating Provider-Sponsored Medicare Advantage Plans: Opportunities, Risks and Keys to Success.
As the MA market expands, there is increasing interest among provider-based groups — from hospitals, health systems and physician associations — to make an entrance. While the market is currently “dominated by a few key players” and considered “highly concentrated,” that doesn’t mean provider-sponsored groups that are intrigued by the idea must be forced to the sidelines, Carr-Rollitt said.
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