The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota is no longer scheduling appointments for patients in most Medicare Advantage plans, and has been gradually notifying patients throughout the year, in a move that could have consequences for insurers operating plans in the area, according to a Mayo Clinic spokesperson.
Some insurers, such as UnitedHealthcare, have been negotiating with the Mayo Clinic to bring them in-network for Medicare Advantage, in some cases asking them to outline their requested terms, but Mayo to date has yet to send out proposals.
Mayo has long been out of network for most Medicare Advantage plans, but has historically treated out-of-network MA patients and accepted their benefits, according to Mayo Clinic spokesperson Karl Oestreich.
According to the Star Tribune, the change occurred because Mayo saw a significant increase in patients covered by “non-contract” MA insurers. That increase, officials said, threatens to crowd out patients covered by in-network insurers.
Non-contract MA plans are those in which insurance companies have not negotiated payment rates for services with Mayo.
UnitedHealthcare, which has been out of network, is negotiating to bring Mayo in-network for MA members, according to Dustin Clark, vice president for communications at UHC.
“We have asked Mayo Clinic to outline requested terms to join our network for Medicare Advantage and haven’t received a proposal,” he told Healthcare Finance News. “We are committed to reaching an agreement at an affordable cost for the people we serve. We stand at the ready to work with Mayo to end this disruption.”
For UHC, it’s especially important that MA patients who traditionally received care at Mayo can continue to do so in the future.
“Although Mayo Clinic does not participate in our network for Medicare Advantage, many of our members have received treatment from its physicians as part of their out-of-network benefits,” said Clark. “We understand how difficult this situation is for some of our members, which is why we are working with Mayo to ensure our Medicare Advantage members who are currently undergoing treatment or have an established relationship with the clinic can continue to see their physician.”
Mayo Clinic spokesperson Karl Oestreich said that medical need is the primary criteria for obtaining an appointment.
“In situations where medical need does not apply and to ensure appointments remain available for our Mayo Clinic patients, we no longer schedule routine visits for those whose coverage does not include Mayo Clinic,” he said. “Continuity of care and relationships with existing local and regional patients won’t be compromised.”
The primary issue, said Oestreich, is capacity, not reimbursement. He said Mayo doesn’t have the capacity to serve an ever-increasing number of patients, and needs to remain a good steward with its contracted plans.
“There was not a policy change, but a shift in enforcement to ensure Mayo has access for our contracted plans (not just Medicare) and those who truly need Mayo’s medical expertise,” he said. “This long-standing policy applies to all payers, not just Medicare Advantage.”
“The impact is to non-contract Medicare Advantage plans,” said Oestrich. “Mayo does not have contracts with these plans. Mayo is open to entering new contracts, but also must keep in mind the impact on capacity to ensure that we can continue to see those patients (regardless of payer) who are in the greatest need of the care Mayo provides.
“We understand that affected patients may be disappointed and frustrated. Patients should always ask their brokers and insurers whether their plans specifically have in-network coverage at Mayo Clinic.”
THE LARGER TREND
UnitedHealthcare, which already has significant market control with its MA plans, said it will strengthen its foothold in the space by expanding its MA plans in 2022, adding a potential 3.1 million members and reaching 94% of Medicare-eligible consumers in the U.S.
While UnitedHealthcare has a massive foothold in the Medicare Advantage space, it underwent scrutiny from the federal government earlier this month, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services blocked four Medicare Advantage plans from enrolling new members in 2022 because they didn’t spend the minimum threshold on medical benefits. Three UnitedHealthcare plans and one Anthem plan failed to hit the required 85% mark three years in a row.
Medicare Advantage plans are required to spend a minimum of 85% of premium dollars on medical expenses. Failure to do so for three consecutive years triggers the sanctions.
For UHC, the penalties apply to its MA plans in Arkansas, New Mexico and the Midwest, which encompasses Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. UHC plans cover about 83,000 members, and the Anthem plan covers about 1,200 members. They cannot offer select plans to members until 2023, assuming they hit the 85% threshold next year – what’s called the medical loss ratio. If they fail to hit the threshold for five years in a row, the government will terminate the contracts.
UHC representatives told Bloomberg that it missed the 85% benchmark in certain markets in part because of patients deferring medical care due to the COVID-19 pandemic.