Federal appeals court says HHS doesn’t have to make ACA risk corridor payments

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/moda-health-risk-corridor-payments-us-court-appeals-hhs-aca?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTkRBMk5UWXpOemhpT1RsaCIsInQiOiIzbWdsem9qRzZ0RDJPb0pTR1pRVVA1NjgzcmNZd1dnMzNoNWh0N2xVMlwvZXlMN0EyenFKVVFEUU9ZRFFRZXZYMm9acFVcL0creEt5TWpxY3V1aUE2b2tvZU1QcHNBSHFHN1VrUEswYVkxckRoMEh6clhFZ0lsQ3lvR2RzTm5cLzdodiJ9&mrkid=959610

Legal Review

A federal appeals court ruled the federal government does not have to make risk corridor payments, dealing a blow to insurers that claim they are owed billions in payments under the Affordable Care Act.

In a closely watched case brought by Moda Health Plans, the three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a decision by the Court of Federal Claims, ruling that the Department of Health and Human Services is not obligated to make risk corridor payments to insurers under the ACA.

The payments were built into the ACA as a way to protect insurers from extreme gains or losses on the ACA exchanges in a market that was still untested by insurers.

“Although section 1342 obligated the government to pay participants in the exchanges the full amount indicated by the formula for risk corridor payments, we hold that Congress suspended the government’s obligation in each year of the program through clear intent manifested in appropriations riders,” wrote Chief Judge Sharon Proust in the decision (PDF). “We also hold that the circumstances of this legislation and subsequent regulation did not create a contract promising the full amount of risk corridors payments.”

The court acknowledged the section of the ACA requiring the HHS Secretary to establish risk corridor payments is “unambiguously mandatory,” but said Congress included appropriations riders during each of the program’s three years to ensure risk corridor payments were budget neutral.

The court added that the program “lacks the trappings of contractual agreement,” rebuffing Moda Health’s argument that HHS is required to make payments.

In a statement to FierceHealthcare, Moda Health President and CEO Robert Gootee said the insurer plans to appeal the decision.

“We are disappointed by today’s decision,” he said. “If it is upheld on appeal, it will effectively allow the federal government to walk away from its obligation to provide partial reimbursement for the financial losses Moda incurred when we stepped up to provide coverage to more than 100,000 Oregonians under the ACA. We continue to believe, as our trial court did, that the government’s obligation to us is clearly stated in the law and we will continue to pursue our claim on appeal.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Pauline Neman argued that the appropriations riders did not cancel out HHS’s obligation to make risk corridor payments. She said the court’s decision “undermines the reliability of dealings with the government.”

So this isn’t the end of the road for insurers, and there’s some good language in the majority opinion about their statutory entitlement. But it’s a Michigan-size pothole in their path to getting paid.

Dozens of insurers have sued the government to reclaim billions in unpaid risk corridor payments. Moda Health claimed it is owed $214 million, while Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina filed for nearly $150 million in unpaid payments and Humana claims its owed $611 million.

 

 

 

Health Insurers Had Their Best Quarter in Years, Despite the Flu

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-03/health-insurers-had-their-best-quarter-in-years-despite-the-flu

Here’s a look at how the margins of the largest in the quarter, based on data compiled by Bloomberg:

U.S. health insurers just posted their best financial results in years, shrugging off worries that the worst flu season in recent history would hurt profits.

Aetna Inc., for instance, posted its widest profit margin since 2004. Centene Corp. had its most profitable quarter since 2008. And Cigna Corp., which reported on Thursday, had its biggest margin in about seven years.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley, in a research note, said insurers are in the midst of a “hot streak.”

One big reason for the windfall is the tax cuts passed by Congress last year, which in some cases more than halved what the insurers owe the government. Aetna said its effective tax rate fell to 16.8 percent from 39.6 percent, for example. Many insurers also spent less on medical care than analysts had expected, even taking into account increased spending on flu treatments.

 

 

Walmart, Not Amazon, May Turn Out To Be The Real Health Care Disruptor

https://www.investors.com/news/walmart-humana-amazon-disrupt-health-care/

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Every Amazon (AMZN) flirtation toward the health care industry has sent hearts racing on Wall Street. Yet Amazon appears to be having commitment issues, and others have leapt while Jeff Bezos hesitated. Now comes a possible Walmart (WMT)-Humana (HUM) merger. A Walmart acquisition of the insurer could fundamentally reshape health care delivery in ways that Amazon may have trouble matching.

A Walmart-Humana deal could potentially transform the health care market for seniors, a demographic that is critical for both companies.

Walmart already operates about 4,500 in-store pharmacies and 2,900 vision centers, but a Humana deal would likely accelerate its efforts in developing in-store clinics. The clinics haven’t been a knockout success, but Walmart has been learning, wrote Tracy Watts, U.S. health reform leader at Mercer, in a blog post. “This partnership could foster new ways to bring people what they want and need,” she wrote, highlighting health care access in rural areas.

CVS Health (CVS), which is in the process of acquiring Aetna (AET), is planning to revamp its drugstores to provide more health services. Walmart has greater financial wherewithal to execute the strategy and its supercenters may be a more natural fit for health services.

Strategic Merits For Walmart-Humana

A Walmart-Humana tie-up has strategic merits for the retail giant, wrote Stifel analyst Mark Astrachan. He expects it would drive greater store traffic and produce health care cost savings, helping the discounter to keep investing to fend off Amazon.

Savings would come from closer ties to Humana, the largest remaining independent pharmacy benefits manager. That would help to reduce drug prices for Walmart’s 1.5 million U.S. employees, Astrachan wrote.

Humana recently purchased a major stake in the home health care business of Kindred Healthcare, a natural fit for Walmart’s home delivery business.

Still, there would be challenges. Piper Jaffray analyst Sarah James sees hurdles to staffing up clinics amid a nursing shortage that’s pushing up wages. She also questioned how attractive a merger would be for Humana. Humana has an enviable Medicare position while Walmart has a smaller store base compared to CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA).

Still, Humana shares rose 4.4% on the stock market today, even as the Dow Jones, S&P 500 index and Nasdaq composite all lost about 2% or more. Meanwhile, shares of Walmart lost 3.8% and Amazon skidded 5.2%.

Amazon Threat Spurs Action

So far Amazon’s disruptive impact on health care has been all about what others are doing. Since reports last summer that Amazon might enter the retail prescription industry, the shockwaves have set in motion one deal after another. First it was CVS buying Aetna and beginning to offer same-day delivery in major markets, and next-day nationwide. Albertsons grabbed the Rite Aid (RAD) stores not bought by Walgreens. Last month, Cigna (CI) announced the purchase of Express Scripts (ESRX), the largest of the pharmacy benefit managers.

Options to enter the prescription drug business have narrowed for Amazon but haven’t been closed off entirely. One potential avenue would be acquiring Walgreens.

In January, Amazon announced a health care venture with JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB). Health care stocks tumbled amid fear that Amazon would use the same formula that slayed book sellers and department stores. The scariest part: The companies say they have no intent to earn a profit from the effort. Yet they also confessed to a lack of any coherent plan for putting still-to-be-formed cost-saving ideas to work.

 

 

Walmart reportedly in negotiations to buy Humana

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/walmart-reportedly-negotiations-buy-humana?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkRKaVpHRTBPRFZtWXpobSIsInQiOiJMQWJiXC85cGw1S2hcL3N0VlIzS2I2S3BqamJoRGFJeUxwbzgrUjVmYk5OZ2I5aDAzTmkyMXptQlpONCtsb3oyZVlqV2tZQ3haOVZWeko0cDhFbVVLbTJtU3F6ZGJUNWNNRGpMRHI4R3hBdzVYU0tLUVFpcjhpSlwvRXpmcXFtVUpVbyJ9

Credit: Google Street View

 

Deal has been long speculated since announced $69 billion merger between CVS Health and Aetna.

Walmart is in preliminary negotiations to buy Humana, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

There are few details in the potential deal that has not been announced publicly by either the retailer or the insurer.

But speculation has existed among industry analysts for months after the announced $69 billion merger between CVS Health and Aetna.

Two years ago, Aetna was in a proposed $34 billion deal to buy Humana.

Walmart is facing increased competition from such an integrated pharmacy business and is currently in an arms race against Amazon as the online giant has made strides into the Medicaid market by offering those beneficiaries a discounted Prime membership.

Humana specializes in Medicare Advantage plans for seniors, a fast-growing demographic as baby boomers enter retirement age.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has shown support for MA plans, said David Friend, MD, chief transformation officer of The BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation.

Friend predicts that due to the partnerships and mergers between healthcare companies, retailers and insurers, the traditional pharmacy benefit model could become extinct.

“The CVS-Aetna merger was a watershed moment in healthcare. But Walmart-Humana signifies the beginning of the avalanche that will cause the entire healthcare system to converge,” Friend said by statement. “And as this deal signifies, the healthcare organization that accurately captures and analyzes the data of the fast-growing U.S. demographic — seniors — stands to lead the industry of the future.”

 

Study: ‘Big five’ insurers depend heavily on Medicare, Medicaid business

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/cms-chip/big-five-insurers-medicare-medicaid-growth-profits?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT0RnMFkySXdPV0psWldSaCIsInQiOiJQSllQNlpcL2RhTzBDZFwvZXh5M1ZUSDJyUU5JTGw3dnh1QTVac01rZUFcL2pNUUhhMXBaQjBxK29ScHRrOHhsT3d6aE5pcFRJUWd4Sm0rYXA4S0RYVGE2N0czN2hhc2hsXC9EZk9mSGVLR0V1UFlwVDZpQmdkcll0eTBMNDUzTHlIZDIifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Rising Stocks

Even as they’ve retreated from the Affordable Care Act exchanges, the country’s biggest for-profit health insurers have become increasingly dependent on Medicare and Medicaid for both profits and growth.

In fact, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 59% of the revenues of the “big five” U.S. commercial health insurers—UnitedHealthcare, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna and Humana—in 2016, according to a new Health Affairs study.

From 2010 to 2016, the combined Medicare and Medicaid revenue from those insurers ballooned from $92.5 billion to $213.1 billion. The companies’ Medicare and Medicaid business also grew faster than other segments, doubling from 12.8 million to 25.5 million members during that time.

All these positive trends, the study noted, helped offset the financial losses that drove the firms to reduce their presence in the individual marketplaces. Indeed, the big five insurers’ pretax profits either increased or held steady during the first three years of the ACA’s individual market reforms (2013-2016). Their profit margins did decline during those three years, but stabilized between 2014 and 2016.

Not only do these findings demonstrate the “growing mutual dependence between public programs and private insurers,” the study authors said, but they also suggest a useful policy lever. The authors argued that in order to help stabilize the ACA exchanges, federal and state laws could require any insurer participating in Medicare or state Medicaid programs to also offer individual market plans in those areas.

Nevada has already done something similar: It offered an advantage in Medicaid managed care contract billing for insurers that promised to participate in the state’s ACA exchange. The state credited that policy with its ability to coax Centene to step in and cover counties that otherwise would have lacked an exchange carrier in 2018.

It’s far less certain, though, whether such a concept will ever be embraced at the federal level during the Trump administration, since its focus has been on unwinding the ACA rather than propping it up.

Either way, recent events underscore the study’s findings about how lucrative government business has become for major insurers. One of the main goals of CVS’ proposed acquisition of Aetna is to improve care for Medicare patients, which would help the combined company “be more competitive in this fast-growing segment of the market,” CVS CEO Larry Merlo said on a call this week.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini added that the transaction has “incredible potential” for Medicare and Medicaid members, as the goal is to provide the type of high-touch interaction and care coordination they need to navigate the healthcare system.

 

We’re on the brink of a health care M&A binge

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CVS Health is extremely close to cementing its $66 billion takeover of Aetna, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. It’d be the biggest deal of the year, and Axios’ Bob Herman notes that more health care deals could also be in the offing:

  • Humana recently altered its executive compensation and severance policies in case the health insurer is bought out or merges with another company. Wall Street views Humana as a ripe acquisition target for Cigna because of Humana’s huge Medicare business.
  • Express Scripts is about to lose its large, lucrative pharmacy benefits contract with Anthem. Express Scripts’ CEO said at a Forbes health care conference yesterday he “would be open” to striking a merger deal with a health insurer or partnering with Amazon.
  • Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, two large hospital systems, likely will provide more details into their merger discussions when they chat with bondholders next week.

Get smart: Health care mergers and acquisitions have been in vogue for years, and big deals would be almost certain to happen if Congress also passes its tax cut bill — which would give companies more money to play with through vastly lower corporate tax rates.

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1 in 3 People in Medicare is Now in Medicare Advantage, With Enrollment Still Concentrated Among a Handful of Insurers

http://www.kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/medicare-advantage-2017-spotlight-enrollment-market-update/?hsCtaTracking=cf7ca7bd-f263-4b1f-9f13-7153c1da02a1%7Ceb71522c-161b-4f47-906e-5abc935ef3b4

Medicare Advantage plans have played an increasingly larger role in the Medicare program as the share of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage has steadily climbed over the past decade.  The trend in enrollment growth is continuing in 2017, and has occurred despite reductions in payments to plans enacted by the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA).  This Data Spotlight reviews national and state-level Medicare Advantage enrollment trends as of March 2017 and examines variations in enrollment by plan type and firm. It analyzes the most recent data on premiums, out-of-pocket limits, and quality ratings.  Key findings include:

  • Enrollment Growth. Since the ACA was passed in 2010, Medicare Advantage enrollment has grown 71 percent. As of 2017, one in three people with Medicare (33% or 19.0 million beneficiaries) is enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan (Figure 1).

 

  • Market Concentration. UnitedHealthcare and Humana together account for 41 percent of enrollment in 2017; enrollment continues to be highly concentrated among a handful of firms, both nationally and in local markets. In 17 states, one company has more than half of all Medicare Advantage enrollment – an indicator that these markets may not be very competitive.

 

  • Medicare Advantage Penetration. At least 40 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare private plans in six states: CA, FL, HI, MN, OR, and PA. In contrast, fewer than 20 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans in 13 states, plus the District of Columbia.

 

  • Premiums and Cost-Sharing. While average Medicare Advantage premiums paid by MA-PD enrollees have been relatively stable for the past several years ($36 per month in 2017), enrollees may be liable for more of Medicare’s costs, with average out-of-pocket limits increasing 21 percent and average Part D drug deductibles increasing more than 9-fold since 2011; however, there was little change in out-of-pocket limits and Part D drug deductibles from 2016 to 2017.

Medicare Advantage enrollment is projected to continue to grow over the next decade, rising to 41 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries by 2027.1  As private plans take on an even larger presence in the Medicare program, it will be important to understand the implications for beneficiaries covered under Medicare Advantage plans and traditional Medicare, as well as for plans, health care providers and program spending.