Kusserow on Compliance: Controls working to prevent Medicare Advantage capitation payments after beneficiaries’ death

The OIG released a report that stated CMS policies and procedures were generally effective in ensuring that capitation payments to Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations for Medicare Parts A and B services were not made on behalf of deceased beneficiaries after their death. The Medicare Access and Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2015 requires CMS to establish policies to ensure that payments are not made for Medicare services rendered after death of beneficiaries. In prior audits, the OIG identified problems in controls to prevent these kinds of Medicare payments. In this case, the OIG conducted an audit to determine effectiveness of CMS’s policies and procedures to prevent capitation payments to Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations for Medicare Parts A and B services after individuals’ dates of death.

Details of the audit report noted that during calendar years 2012 through 2015, CMS received updated beneficiary date-of-death information and then made approximately 1.8 million adjustments to capitation payments, thereby recouping $2.96 billion from MA organizations for Parts A and B capitation payments that had been made on behalf of beneficiaries who had died.  However, the OIG found that CMS did not identify and recoup all improper capitation payments. As of March 7, 2017, CMS had not recouped $2.4 million associated with 1,817 capitation payments that were made on behalf of 978 beneficiaries. The OIG noted these improper payments represented .0004 percent of the total capitation payments made to MA organizations and .08 percent of the total adjustments that CMS made after receiving information on beneficiaries’ dates of death.

The OIG recommended CMS (1) move to recoup the $2.4 million in capitation payments made to MA organizations on behalf of deceased beneficiaries and (2) implement system enhancements to identify, adjust, and recoup improper capitation payments in the future. CMS concurred with both of these recommendations and described corrective actions that it had implemented.

 

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

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.

Health, drug plan star ratings improve for 2018

CMS issued its star ratings for Medicare health and drug plans for 2018, which according to the agency will assist consumers with information on high-quality health choices for coverage. According to CMS, most areas across the country have Medicare Advantage and Part D plans with four or more stars. In 2018, approximately 73 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees with prescription drug coverage will be in plans with four and five stars. This rose from the approximately 69 percent of enrollees in four and five star plans in 2017. Approximately 44 percent of Medicare Advantage plans that offer prescription drug coverage will have an overall rating of four stars or higher in 2018.

Medicare Part D prescription drug plan enrollees are also benefiting from improved access to high-quality plans. In 2018, approximately 47 percent of enrollees in stand-alone prescription drug plans will be in plans with four and five stars. This is an increase from the approximately 41 percent of enrollees in four or five star plans in 2017. Approximately 52 percent of stand-alone prescription drug plans will have a rating of four stars or higher in 2018.

The number of Medicare Advantage plans available to individuals to choose from is increasing from about 2,700 to more than 3,100 nationwide. More than 85 percent of people with Medicare will have access to 10 or more Medicare Advantage plans.

Premiums

CMS also estimated that the Medicare Advantage average monthly premium will decrease by 6 percent to $30 in 2018 from an average of $31.91 in 2017. About 77 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees remaining in their current plan will have the same or lower premium for 2018. CMS noted that the average basic premium for a Medicare prescription drug plan in 2018 is projected to decline to an estimated $33.50 per month.

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.