Category Archives: Medicare

Medicare Advantage proposed rule could have a profound impact on product development for 2019 and beyond

The Medicare Advantage (MA) and Prescription Drug (PD) Benefit Program proposed rule for 2019 discusses important policy updates that may have a significant impact on the product development process for 2019. The proposed changes provide new opportunities for plans to innovate benefit designs and tailor packages for selected enrollees. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is also requesting feedback on Part D rebates and price concessions that could have a profound impact on the way formularies and pharmacy benefits are managed. Finally, we also highlight additional proposed changes in enrollment policies that may result in strategic implications.

The key advantage for product development is CMS’s proposal to discontinue the use of “meaningful differences” requirements. By removing the restriction that limits the number of plans a Medicare Advantage Organization (MAO) could offer, MAOs would be in a position to develop a more diverse portfolio of products. In addition, plans can focus on creating product designs that are meaningful to beneficiaries instead of making benefit decisions based on the results of the CMS out-of-pocket cost (OOPC) calculator prescribed methodology. CMS did not propose waiving the Total Beneficiary Cost (TBC) requirements, meaning that plans would still need to rely on the OOPC methodology to determine year-over-year plan changes.

CMS is proposing additional flexibility in the benefit design process. One proposal would allow plans to offer different cost sharing and/or additional supplemental benefits for specific subsets of enrollees based on defined health conditions (e.g., zero cost share for diabetic supplies for patients diagnosed with diabetes). In addition, CMS also proposes to allow additional flexibility with plan designs for segments within plans by being able to offer different supplemental benefit packages by segment. Finally, CMS also discusses the possibility of additional maximum out-of-pocket (MOOP) levels and associated cost-sharing limits to allow plans a greater range of options versus the currently prescribed mandatory levels and to encourage plan offerings with lower MOOP limits.

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Exploring Medicare Advantage star ratings

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) publish star ratings to measure the quality of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans. They are also published to help beneficiaries select the best plans for them and to financially reward high-quality plans.

In this article, Milliman’s Dustin Grzeskowiak and Pat Zenner provide an overview of CMS’s methodology for calculating star ratings. Additionally, the authors discuss the financial and marketing implications of star ratings for Medicare plans and summarize best practices common to high-rated plans.

Important considerations for Medicare premium support program

Policymakers sometimes point to Medicare premium support programs as a possible cost-reduction solution for the federal health insurance program. In this article, Milliman’s Catherine Murphy-Barron and Pamela Pelizzari discuss some of the key financial and insurance issues involved in premium support proposals for Medicare Part A and Part B. The authors also explore the potential advantages and disadvantages of such an approach.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

A premium support model has the potential to fundamentally change the way Medicare benefits are provided to eligible individuals. Such a model would substantially influence both beneficiary and federal spending far into the future.

Financially, the possible implications of some premium support models have been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to demonstrate the level of savings or costs to the federal government and affected beneficiaries. Under the options examined, the CBO found that net federal spending for Medicare would decrease in 2024 relative to current law by $84 billion (a 9% decrease) in the second-lowest-bid option (where the federal contribution is set at the second-lowest bid), and by $41 billion (a 4% decrease) in the average-bid option (where the federal contribution is set at the average bid). However, it is worth noting that the CBO projected an increase in spending by beneficiaries on their own premiums and care in the second-lowest-bid option.8

From a beneficiary perspective, the design of any premium support model would be under pressure to demonstrate that beneficiaries would have access to comprehensive coverage for an affordable price. Without sufficient information on the similarities and differences among various plans, beneficiaries may be at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to identify plans that best meet their needs. Financially, beneficiaries are at risk of incurring an increasing percentage of the cost of these plans if the federal contribution is less than the cost of the plans. In the second-lowest bid option that was scored by the CBO, beneficiaries’ spending was projected to increase by 18% (including both premiums and other out-of-pocket costs) in 2024 relative to the amount projected under current law, which represents a substantial increase in out-of-pocket costs for the same level of care.9

Medicare Advantage risk score considerations

Risk scores are a crucial area of focus for successful Medicare Advantage (MA) plans because changes in risk scores directly affect plan revenue. However, risk scores are complex and are influenced by many factors, which can confuse those who are new to MA risk score development. This article by Milliman’s Hillary Millican and Brad Piper offers perspective on the following questions related to MA risk scores.

• What time period of diagnoses supports risk scores?
• When are revenue payments made?
• Who submits diagnoses used to create risk scores?
• Why is member retention critical for the success of a Medicare Advantage organization (MAO)?

Webinar: Medicare Advantage risk scores

Payment year 2017 is a key year for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, as encounter data is weighted 25% and has been shown to result in lower risk scores and revenue. An upcoming Milliman webinar hosted by Charlie Mills and Deana Bell will explore how MA plans have prepared for the transition to encounter data, and highlight best practices for monitoring financial results and encounter data submissions. The webinar entitled “Medicare Advantage risk scores: Best practices in financial monitoring and encounter data submissions” is scheduled for October 19 from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. PT (2 p.m. – 3 p.m. ET).

For more information or to register, click here.

What predictive analytics can tell us about key drivers of MSSP results

We recently used machine learning techniques to understand key drivers of Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) financial performance. Of the 190-plus objective accountable care organization (ACO) features reviewed, ACO baseline efficiency proved to be the most important financial performance driver we identified. Another way of putting it is that MSSP rewarded inefficient ACOs more than ACOs that have attained efficiency.

You may be asking, “How did you measure baseline efficiency?” The chart below tells an interesting story.

We analyzed ACO baseline efficiency by reviewing ACO baseline expenditures that were unadjusted, risk-adjusted, and geographic-risk-adjusted. Risk-adjusted per capita expenditures were adjusted to account for each ACO’s average risk score and mix of entitlement categories. Geographic risk-adjusted per capita expenditures were adjusted to account for Medicare reimbursement levels in each ACO’s area.

Below are a few interesting notes:

1. Despite adjusting for risk levels, mix of entitlement categories, and reimbursement levels, there is still significant variation in baseline per capita expenditures. See the third column above for this wide range of variation.
2. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has already made MSSP rule changes that balance the rewards between ACOs at different levels of starting efficiencies. Past financial performance in MSSP agreement period 1 may not be a strong indicator of performance in agreement period 2. ACOs should understand how these rule changes affect them.

Beyond baseline efficiency, we found that several other features were strongly associated with gross savings:

1. National fee-for-service (FFS) trends higher than local market trends
2. Location in the Southeast and south central regions
3. Low performance year expenditures for short-term inpatient admissions
4. High baseline per capita expenditures, unadjusted
5. High CMS-hierarchical condition category (HCC) risk scores

However, we also found that these features still explained less than half of the variation in gross savings across ACOs. This may indicate that ACO care management efforts are accounting for some of the remaining variation.

The full report is posted at Milliman Insight and includes a deeper dive into research conducted by Jill Herbold, Cory Gusland, and myself.