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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