Kusserow on Compliance: Inappropriate denial of services and payments in the Medicare Advantage program

In an update to its Workplan, the HHS office of Inspector General (OIG) added a new project in June. The OIG Office of Evaluation and Inspection will be reviewing and evaluating the question of inappropriate denial of service and payment in the Medicare Advantage program. Medicare Advantage Plans must cover all of the services that original Medicare covers. Capitated payment models are used for these plans. It is based on payment per person rather than payment per service provided. A central concern about the capitated payment model used in Medicare Advantage is that there may be an incentive to inappropriately deny access to, or reimbursement for, health care services in an attempt to increase profits for managed care plans. There have been questions raised as to whether some of the plans may be inappropriately denying service claims as a means to increase their profits.  The OIG plans to conduct medical record reviews to determine the extent to which beneficiaries and providers were denied preauthorization or payment for medically necessary services covered by Medicare. To the extent possible, we will determine the reasons for any inappropriate denials and the types of services involved.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

CY 2019 Medicare Part C and D policy changes and updates finalized

CMS has issued a Final rule making revisions to the Medicare Advantage (MA) (Part C) and prescription drug benefit (Part D) programs based on its continued experience in the administration of these programs and to implement certain provisions of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) (P.L. 114-198) and the 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255). The major provisions of the Final rule include: (1) the implementation of the CARA provisions governing the establishment of drug management programs, (2) revisions to timing and method of disclosure requirements for MA and Part D plans, and (3) preclusion list requirements for prescribers in Part D and individuals and entities in MA, cost plans, and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) (Final rule, 83 FR 16440, April 16, 2018).

On November 28, 2017, CMS published the Proposed rule (see Proposed CY 2019 Part C and D changes address opioid misuse and numerous other policy concerns, Health Law Daily, November 17, 2017). While this Final rule finalizes several of the provisions from the Proposed rule, there are a number of provisions from the Proposed rule that CMS intends to address later and a few that it does not intend to finalize. These provisions are discussed in the Final rule.

CARA provisions

CARA includes new authority for Part D plans to establish drug management programs effective on or after January 1, 2019. This Final rule establishes a framework under which Part D plan sponsors may establish a drug management program for beneficiaries at risk for prescription drug abuse or misuse, or “at-risk beneficiaries.” Specifically, under drug management programs, Part D plans will engage in case management of potential at-risk beneficiaries, through contact with their prescribers, when such beneficiary is found to be taking a specific dosage of opioids or obtaining them from multiple prescribers and multiple pharmacies who may not know about each other. Sponsors may then limit at-risk beneficiaries’ access to coverage of controlled substances that CMS determines are “frequently abused drugs” to a selected prescribers or network pharmacies after case management with the prescribers for the safety of the enrollee.

CMS also limits the use of the special enrollment period (SEP) for dually- or other low income subsidy (LIS)-eligible beneficiaries by those LIS-eligible beneficiaries who are identified as at-risk or potentially at-risk for prescription drug abuse under such a drug management program. Finally, these provisions will codify the current Part D Opioid Drug Utilization Review (DUR) Policy and Overutilization Monitoring System (OMS) by integrating this current policy with drug management program provisions.

The purpose of these CARA drug management program provisions is to create a lock-in status for certain at-risk beneficiaries. In addition to the benefits of preventing opioid and benzodiazepine dependency in beneficiaries, CMS estimates, in 2019, a reduction of $19 million in Trust Fund expenditures because of reduced opioid scripts. This $19 million reduction modestly increases to a $20 million reduction in 2023.

Timing and method of disclosure requirements

CMS is finalizing changes to align the MA and Part D regulations in authorizing CMS to set the manner of delivery for mandatory disclosures in both the MA and Part D programs. CMS will use this authority to allow MA plans to meet the disclosure and delivery requirements for certain documents by relying on notice of electronic posting and provision of the documents in hard copy when requested, when previously the documents, such as the Evidence of Coverage (EOC), had to be provided in hard copy. CMS is also changing the timeframe for delivery of the MA and Part D EOC to the first day of the Annual Election Period (AEP), rather than 15 days prior to that date.

Allowing MA and Part D plans to provide the EOC electronically will alleviate plan burden related to printing and mailing and reduce the number of paper documents that enrollees receive from plans. In addition, changing the date by which plans must provide the EOC to enrollees will (1) allow plans more time to finalize the formatting and ensure the accuracy of the information in the EOC, and (2) separate the mailing and receipt of the EOC from the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC), which describes the important changes in a patient’s plan from one year to the next.

CMS estimates that 67 percent of the current 47.8 million beneficiaries will prefer use of the internet versus hard copies. This will result in a savings to the industry of $54.7 million each year, 2019 through 2023, due to a reduction in printing and mailing costs.

Preclusion list requirements for prescribers and providers

The Final rule rescinds the current regulatory requirement that prescribers of Part D drugs and providers of MA services and items must enroll in Medicare in order for the drug, service, or item to be covered. Instead, a Part D plan sponsor will be required to reject, or require its pharmacy benefit manager to reject, a pharmacy claim for a Part D drug if the individual who prescribed the drug is included on the “preclusion list.” Similarly, an MA service or item will not be covered if the provider that furnished the service or item is on the preclusion list.

The preclusion list will consist of certain individuals and entities that are currently revoked from the Medicare program under 42 CFR sec. 424.535 and are under an active reenrollment bar, or have engaged in behavior for which CMS could have revoked the individual or entity to the extent applicable if they had been enrolled in Medicare, and CMS determines that the underlying conduct that led, or would have led, to the revocation is detrimental to the best interests of the Medicare program.

CMS estimates that for 2019, the preclusion list provision will save providers $34.4 million. For 2020 and future years, there will be no savings. The $34.4 million in savings to providers arises because of removal of the requirement of MA providers and suppliers and Part D prescribers to enroll in Medicare as a prerequisite for furnishing health care items and services. Part C providers and suppliers will save $24.1 million in reduced costs while Part D providers will save $10.3 million in reduced costs.

Report finds flaws in proposals for premium support programs in Medicare

The Urban Institute issued a report titled “Restructuring Medicare: The False Promise of Premium Support,” in which the authors attempt to point out the potential flaws in the proposed premium support program in Medicare. The report states that the proposals attempt to model the program off of the arguably successful Medicare Advantage (MA) program, but fail to account for the features of MA that actually make it work. According to the Urban Institute, the proposals also ultimately shift the burden of the rising cost of the Medicare program to the beneficiaries, who are not in a position to shoulder the increased costs.

The proposal

Current Medicare beneficiaries can choose between traditional Medicare, where they have defined benefits covered by specified providers, or MA, where the beneficiary picks from a selection of private plans that have been approved by Medicare and charge close to traditional Medicare costs. A premium support program would allow beneficiaries a fixed-dollar contribution that they could take and apply to the insurance plan they choose in a health insurance marketplace. Beneficiaries could choose a plan that costs more than their Medicare contribution amount, but they would be responsible for paying the difference out of their own pocket. Supporters of this proposed program argue that setting a fixed cost for each beneficiary would reduce government spending and the marketplace would create competition, which would in turn drive down prices.

Burden shifting

Proponents of the premium support plan argue that without the plan, the Medicare program will run out of money, noting that the “CBO projects that between 2017 and 2047, Medicare spending will grow from 3.1 percent to 6.7 percent of GDP.” However, the report argues that the proponents of are focusing on the wrong problem. The aging-in of the baby boom generation is expected to increase Medicare enrollment by about 50 percent by 2030. By focusing on the cost of premiums and restructuring the program to force more beneficiaries to pay more out of pocket, they are shifting the burden of the increase in incoming enrollees to the beneficiaries. Medicare beneficiaries reported an annual median income of about $25,000 in 2012. “Medicare households spent nearly three times as much of their household budgets on out-of-pocket spending as non-Medicare households did” in 2012. A premium support plan could potentially increase the financial burden on those low-income beneficiaries, and force them into plans that they wouldn’t choose otherwise just to alleviate some of that financial burden.

Competitive markets

Proponents argue that forcing insurance plans to submit bids to participate similar to the way MA does would create competition and lead to lower premiums. The government contribution would then be set based on a weighted average of all of the bids for each region. However, premiums can drastically vary within a region and if premiums are higher in an area than the benchmark government contribution for the region, beneficiaries would be forced to pay the difference. The difference between earlier versions of the premium support plan and the current proposals show that the proponents have noted that there would not be an even playing field in all areas and they have attempted to come up with different ways to set the government contribution amount and increase it annually based on different factors. The MA program has an administratively set benchmark government contribution that is based on traditional Medicare spending in each area, which varies significantly compared to the bids.

Providers who bid to participate in MA are aware that there is a billing limit and they will be paid Medicare rates. The premium support plan does not take into account the impact this has on who submits bids and at what rate. In 2013, “CBO found that commercial insurance rates for inpatient hospital services were 89 percent higher than traditional Medicare rates, but Medicare Advantage plan rates for inpatient services were roughly equal to traditional Medicare’s rates.” Private insurers competing with one another in the bidding process are not likely to drop their prices down to Medicare level rates unless limits are placed on the billing of Medicare beneficiaries, similar to the limits in the MA programs. This leaves Medicare beneficiaries effectively priced out of these competing private insurance plans.

Narrow MA networks reduce cost at what price?

More than one-third (35 percent) of Medicare Advantage enrollees were in “narrow” network plans, which insurers create to greater control the costs and quality of care provided to enrollees in the plan. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report, the size and composition of Medicare Advantage provider networks is particularly important to enrollees when they have an unforeseen medical event or serious illness. As of 2017, 19 million of the 58 million people on Medicare are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, yet KFF noted that little is known about their provider networks.

Accessing this information may not be easy for enrollees and comparing networks could be especially challenging. The report noted that beneficiaries could face significant costs if they unknowingly went out-of-network. In addition to the differences across plans, the report discussed questions for policymakers about the potential for wide variations in the healthcare experience of Medicare Advantage enrollees across the country.

Findings

KFF examined data from 391 plans, offered by 55 insurers in 20 counties, which accounted for 14 percent of all Medicare Advantage enrollees nationwide in 2015. In addition to the narrow network plans, Medicare Advantage networks included less than half (46 percent) of all physicians in a county, on average. The network size also varied greatly among Medicare Advantage plans offered in a given county.

For example, while enrollees in Erie County, NY had access to 60 percent of physicians in their county, on average, 16 percent of the plans in Erie had less than 10 percent of the physicians in the county while 36 percent of the plans had more than 80 percent of the physicians in the county. Access to psychiatrists was more restricted than for any other specialty. Medicare Advantage plans had 23 percent of the psychiatrists in a county, on average; 36 percent of plans included less than 10 of psychiatrists in the county. Some plans provided relatively little choice for other specialties as well—20 percent of plans included less than 5 cardiothoracic surgeons, 18 percent of plans included less than 5 neurosurgeons, 16 percent of plans included less than 5 plastic surgeons, and 16 percent of plans included less than 5 radiation oncologists.

Conversely, broad network plans tended to have higher average premiums than narrow network plans, and this was true for both HMOs ($54 versus $4 per month) and PPOs ($100 versus $28 per month).

KFF noted that CMS should consider strategies to improve the quality of information available to current and prospective Medicare Advantage enrollees. For instance, accurate, up-to-date provider directories to inform beneficiaries as they choose plans, along with the agency’s proposal to review all Medicare Advantage networks at least every three years.