Medicare Advantage will have more enrollment, lower premiums in 2018

Dive Brief:

  •  The CMS says Medicare Advantage (MA) members will have more choices and lower premiums in 2018. Medicare open enrollment starts on Oct. 15.
  • The average MA monthly premium is expected to decrease by about 6% from $31.91 in 2017 to $30 in 2018. The CMS said 77% of MA enrollees who stay with their current plan will have the same or lower premiums in 2018.
  • MA’s enrollment is expected to increase by 9% to 20.4 million in 2018. The CMS expects that slightly more than one-third of Medicare enrollees will have an MA plan next year.

Dive Insight:

While the CMS has talked negatively about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CMS Administrator Seema Verma is a big fan of MA. Verma (a candidate for HHS secretary in the wake of Tom Price’s departure) said MA and Medicare Part D “demonstrate what a strong and transparent health market can do — increase quality while lowering costs.”

Payers are enjoying positive financial numbers in the MA market. UnitedHealth Group said recently that it believes eventually half of all Medicare beneficiaries will have an MA plan. Payers are looking at the MA market for growth opportunities. In some cases, payers, such as Humana, are cutting back on ACA plans and investing more in MA.

Despite the CMS’ overall support of MA, the agency still sees one way to improve the program. The CMS wants MA payers to provide current and accurate information about their providers. The CMS found that 45% of MA provider directories had incorrect information, such as listing which providers are taking new patients, or providing the wrong phone numbers and addresses.

Currently, the CMS can only review MA plans’ provider networks when there is a triggering event. This can include when the insurance company starts in MA or extends its coverage, or the CMS receives a complaint about provider network issues. The CMS wants to have more oversight over provider network information, so that it can ensure the information is up to date.

While MA plans have been popular with the CMS, members and payers, there is a concern about a small number of payers monopolizing the market. The Kaiser Family Foundation said UnitedHealth controls nearly one-quarter of the MA market and is a major MA player in 42 states and the District of Columbia. KFF found UnitedHealth, Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates make up 57% of MA enrollment and the top eight MA payers comprise three-quarters of the market.

Another issue for MA payers is that federal investigators are concerned about how much MA is paying insurers. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating payments to insurance companies involved with MA.

Two of the bigger cases involve UnitedHealth. The payer is involved in two whistleblower lawsuits that allege MA overpaid the insurer by billions. The DOJ joined the lawsuits, which allege that UnitedHealth changed diagnosis codes to make patients seem sicker, which resulted in higher reimbursements to the insurer.

The CMS estimated that it overpaid $14.1 billion in 2013 to MA organizations. Medicare Advantage payers received about $160 billion in 2014. The CMS estimated about 9.5% of those payments were improper.

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