Radar on Medicare Advantage

  • With Less Funding, MAOs Seek Creative Tradeoffs to Preserve Benefits

    As Medicare Advantage insurers face revenue headwinds driven by changes to risk adjustment, Star Ratings and benchmark rates, one overarching question at recent conferences and webinars has been, how will MA plans do more with less? Medicare beneficiaries in recent years have flocked to MA largely because of rich benefit offerings they can’t get in fee-for-service Medicare, and they have grown accustomed to items like comprehensive dental, flex cards and fitness benefits. But as the June 3 bid deadline approaches, insurers are considering what benefits they may have to tweak and how they’ll market those benefits to consumers for 2025.

    During an April 3 webinar cohosted by Deft Research and Rebellis Group, Deft Vice President of Client Services Rob Lourenço said the market is already showing signs of revenue changes trickling down to the consumer. In its latest Medicare Shopping and Switching Study, Deft observed a slight “pullback in certain benefits” and at a high level saw more removals of benefits than additions this year. Comparing plans that were offered in both 2023 and 2024, Deft saw that routine eye exam coverage remained stable, while 4% of plans removed eyewear coverage and 1% added the benefit, resulting in a net decline of -3% for eyewear access.

  • ‘LTSS-Like’ Supplemental Benefits Aim to Fill a Gap, but Enrollment Remains Low

    Millions of seniors report needing long-term services and supports that can assist with daily activities and disease management, but many don’t qualify for Medicaid, the primary source of LTSS coverage. Medicare Advantage plans have stepped up to fill in the gap with “LTSS-like” supplemental benefits, which range from select Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill such as home modifications and service dog support, to Expanded Primarily Health-Related Benefits, including adult day services, in-home support services and caregiver support.

    New research from ATI Advisory explores who has access to and ultimately enrolls in MA plans that offer LTSS-like supplemental benefits. The analysis of CMS data found that 82% of Medicare-only beneficiaries (i.e. those who are not dually eligible for Medicaid) have access to at least one plan that offers at least one LTSS-like benefit. Despite the wide availability of LTSS-like plans — particularly in high-population urban areas — just 9% of beneficiaries are enrolled in them, representing about 2 million people.

  • How Does MA Plan Design Impact Enrollment, Equity?

    Medicare Advantage plan design — particularly the cost of premiums — has a major influence on who chooses to enroll. The variance in that enrollment mix can have a big impact on outcomes and utilization, according to a new white paper from Inovalon and Harvard Medical School. Using Inovalon’s Medical Outcomes Research for Effectiveness and Economics Registry dataset, which tracks demographic and outcomes information for about 30% of the MA population at any given time, researchers found that socioeconomically disadvantaged populations were more attracted to MA, especially zero-premium products.

    “Our research challenges the misconception that Medicare Advantage is a monolith, revealing significant differences in plan designs and features and how those variables affect enrollment and outcomes,” Boris Vabson, Ph.D., a health economist at Harvard Medical School and co-lead researcher on the project, said in an April 8 statement released alongside the research. 

  • ACHP: Final Rule Checks ‘Untethered’ Agent, Broker Fees Impacting Competition

    After pushing for new limits on broker compensation and other changes to ensure seniors are guided to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans that best meet their needs, the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) on April 4 celebrated a victory with the release of CMS’s final rule making policy and technical changes for the 2025 plan year. ACHP, which represents provider-aligned, not-for-profit health plans, had spelled out its hopes for these policies in its broader “MA for Tomorrow” framework and provided Senate testimony on the impact of excessive “add-on” broker fees paid by larger plans. After CMS issued its final rule containing new marketing-related policies, AIS Health, a division of MMIT, spoke with ACHP’s executive vice president of public policy, Dan Jones, to learn more about the group’s position.
  • News Briefs: UnitedHealth Reaffirms Full-Year Earnings Guidance Despite Cyberattack Impact

    Although the cyberattack on its Change Healthcare subsidiary cost the company about $870 million, or 74 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2024, UnitedHealth Group on April 16 reaffirmed its full-year adjusted earnings per share (EPS) guidance of $27.50 to $28.00. Reporting financial results for the quarter ending March 31, the company said its Medicare Advantage business saw heightened outpatient care utilization that was consistent with what it experienced in the first half of 2023 and planned for in 2024. Winter seasonal activity that included vaccinations, higher incidents of respiratory illness and related physician office visits have subsided, management said. “If other MCOs had the same experience, it would be most positive” for Humana, “given its guidance for persistent, elevated utilization and investors’ likely preference for a 50%+ EPS recovery story (HUM) over slightly better revenue/EPS growth,” wrote Jefferies analysts on April 17. Revenue for the UnitedHealthcare segment grew 7% from the prior-year quarter to $75.4 billion, reflecting enrollment growth in its commercial and senior segments that was offset by expected declines in Medicaid due to ongoing eligibility redeterminations. UnitedHealthcare highlighted major managed Medicaid wins in Michigan, Texas and Virginia but expressed disappointment in the recent Florida selections.
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