Older Americans Oppose Approval Process for Home Care Services

Eighty-three percent of seniors oppose a Medicare policy that requires a government contractor to approve claims for physician-prescribed home health care, according to a poll sponsored by Bring The Vote Home. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently implemented a pre-claim review demonstration that imposes documentation requirements on home health agencies and referring physicians. Doctors have to provide a broad array of eligibility-related documentation and clinical support for review by government contractors. Home health leaders warn that the new requirements could delay care and increase healthcare costs. Seniors say that requiring a government contractor to approve home heath care will have the following results:

  • 80% say it will delay care.
  • 77% say it will increase Medicare costs.
  • 75% say that will increase out-of- pocket costs.
  • 45% say it will decrease fraudulent home health claims.

For more information, visit bringthevotehome.org.

How Medicare Advantage Plans Can Increase Consumer Satisfaction

Medicare Advantage plans are more likely to achieve high satisfaction scores when they offer a consistent product message and brand experience and have control over the delivery of care, according to a J.D. Power study. Members frequently choose a plan they understand and find easy to work with. The study measures member satisfaction with Medicare Advantage plans based on six factors in order of importance: coverage and benefits (26%); customer service (20%); provider choice (15%); cost (14%); information and communication (13%); and claims processing (13%).

Improving communications with enrollees is one of the greatest opportunities for health plans to improve member satisfaction. It’s the only factor in the study that has not seen a significant improvement in member satisfaction. Valerie Monet, director of the insurance practice at J.D. Power, said that many plans have multiple product design features and come with technical manuals that are 20 pages or longer. Expecting members to be experts on these services and benefits is a losing battle for the plan and the member. Members expect their plan to provide guidance, ranging from assistance in selecting a doctor to helping them understand prescription costs.

Forty-eight percent of members agree strongly that their health plan is a trusted partner in their health and wellness, which increases satisfaction by 166 points. Satisfaction is 136 points higher among the 89% of members who completely understand how to find a doctor under the plan. Satisfaction is 110 points higher among the 88% of members who say their doctor spends the right amount of time with them.

Members expect immediate attention or advice when they call their health plan provider. Forty-one percent of those who called their plan had to give the same information more than once to get their issue resolved. Only 35% of members said that customer service provided all of the information they needed on the costs of prescription medications. Ninety-one percent of customers who are delighted with their Medicare Advantage plan (satisfaction scores of 901 or higher), say they will definitely renew their policy, and 89% will definitely recommend their plan to family and friends. Loyalty drops to 71% and advocacy to 66% among members who are pleased with their plan (scores of 751-900). Plans garnered the following member-satisfaction scores:

  • Kaiser Permanente 851
  • Highmark 791
  • Humana 782
  • UnitedHealthcare 775
  • Cigna 774
  • Aetna 773
  • Anthem 765
  • Health Net 756
  • WellCare 742

In 2016, members reported an average increase of $117 in annual premiums to $1,497. They also have more out-of-pocket expenses. On average, member deductibles are $1,705 in 2016, a $310 jump from 2015. Satisfaction is 136 points higher when members completely understand their out-of-pocket costs. Monet said that members are more satisfied and see the value of their plan when they have a better understanding of how much they are paying and what the costs cover.” For more information visit http://www.jdpower.com/resource/us-medicare-advantage-study.

Medical Marijuana Reduces Medicare Part D Drugs Costs

 BY  IN INSURANCE INSIDER NEWSLETTER

medical marijuana

Medical marijuana saves state and federal governments millions of dollars on Medicare. For example, prescriptions for painkillers have dipped drastically in states where medical marijuana is available, according to a Univ. of Georgia study published in the July issue of Health Affairs. Researchers combed through data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013 for a total of over 87 million physician-drug-year observations. In medical marijuana–approved states, the average doctor prescribed fewer doses of antidepressants as well as seizure and anti-nausea medication. Researchers narrowed the results to conditions for which marijuana may be an alternative treatment, selecting nine categories in which the Food and Drug Administration had already approved at least one medication: anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity.

In 2013, Medicare saved $165.2 million in lower prescription drug use when 17 states and the District of Columbia implemented medical marijuana laws. The results suggest that if all states had implemented medical marijuana, Medicare would have saved about $468 million. “The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes,” said study author Ashley Bradford.

The next study will look at medical marijuana’s effects on Medicaid. Researchers expect the cost savings to be repeated, saying their findings suggests that more widespread state approval of medical marijuana could provide modest budgetary relief.

Bill Would Make Home Medicare Program Permanent

Compassion & Choices praised the introduction of Independence at Home Act of 2016 (S. 3130). The bill would convert the Affordable Care Act’s home care pilot program into a permanent, national Medicare program. Under the Independence at Home program, patients with debilitating diseases get primary care at home from coordinated teams of doctors, caregivers, and other healthcare professionals. The program reduces avoidable emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and re-admissions. Mark Dann, federal affairs director for Compassion & Choices said, “A great benefit of providing care in a person’s home is advance care planning conversations seem to happen naturally more often and can be updated as their illness progresses and their care wishes change. If an individual ends up in the hospital, but did not want to be there, the whole team is aware of these wishes and can attempt to quickly correct the situation.”

Doctors May Do a “Brexit” from Medicare

American physicians have already been declaring independence from Medicare, states the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), but the imposition of new payment methods may lead to a rush to imitate the British in exiting the regime of a remote, unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy. Almost four in 10 physicians in solo and small group practices predict an exodus from Medicare within their ranks because of the program’s new payment plan, according to a Medscape Medical News survey.

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) includes complex system of bonuses and penalties. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) predicted that 87% of solo practice physicians would be penalized. AAPS says that a physician’s compliance score is tied to resource use. Physicians will be increasingly pressured to make decisions that save resources for Medicare instead of decisions that are in the best interest of their patients. Compliance is also tied to mandatory use of government-certified electronic health records, which AAPS says are harmful to patient medical privacy and detract from face-to-face patient care. The government would gain even greater ability to access patient medical records. The rules allow all insurance-based care, not just Medicare, to be phased in to these “harmful payment models, according to AAPS.

AAPS executive director Jane M. Orient, M.D. said, “It is impossible to practice medicine under this rule, for ethical and practical reasons. The rule makes it impossible to protect confidentiality, and one is in a constant conflict of interest: What is best for the patient may be bad for the financial viability of the practice. It would take a dedicated team of legal specialists to even attempt compliance. Full compliance is probably impossible even with such a team, which is beyond the means of a small practice. Physicians need to withdraw from Medicare or any other program that subjects them to this rule.” AAPS offers detailed instructions on how to opt out of Medicare, and regular workshops on building a successful practice to serve patients without third-party shackles.

No End in Sight for Escalating Prescription Drug Spending

Escalator

Prescription drug costs are rising more than 10% a year, which is twice the rate of medical costs increases according to an A.M. Best report. Retail prescription drug spending grew 12.2% in 2014 compared to 2.4% in 2013. Driving the rising costs are increased spending for new medications, such as specialty drugs for Hepatitis C; patents that expired, price increases for brand name drugs, and higher health plan enrollment due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Drug spending from private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid accelerated in 2014. These costs have affected insurers. Also consumers are paying more out-of-pocket costs.

The increase in drug costs has become divergent to other health care costs. In 2014, U.S. health care spending increased 5.3% to reach $9,523 per person. The cost growth was primarily due to major coverage expansion under the ACA, particularly for Medicaid and private health insurance. The share of the economy devoted to health care spending in 2014 was 18.1%, up from 17.5% in 2013.

The medical loss ratio (MLR) remained relatively flat from 2010 through 2013 in the low 80 percentages before a decline in the past two years to around 75%. But the MLR was more than 10 basis points higher in 2010 to 2015 when prescription drugs were included.

Moving Medi-Cal Forward

California is a national leader in extending Medicaid to low-income people. But the program has not kept pace with dramatic changes in the Medi-Cal population, according to a report by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF). Medi-Cal is now the largest single source of health insurance in the state. But Medi-Cal has also become a complex patchwork due to the its relationship with the counties, how care is delivered and financed, marketplace developments, and multiple initiatives that have been adopted throughout the years. This patchwork has had mixed results in quality of care, access to care, care coordination, and patient satisfaction. California is looking to reforms to drive timely access to high quality, coordinated, and cost effective care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has triggered a shift toward value-based purchasing in the commercial marketplace as well as in Medicare and Medicaid. These reforms are challenging in any environment, but the structural underpinnings of California’s Medicaid program make such changes all the more difficult to address.

Medi-Cal has accomplished a great deal in a short time, including a significant expansion of coverage, and important delivery system innovations in communities throughout the state. With Medi-Cal’s expanded role and the new Medi-Cal 2020 waiver recently launched, there is an extraordinary opportunity to reform the delivery system. To do so, California needs a plan to deliver better care and promote better health. The California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) retained Manatt Health to consider the current state of the Medi-Cal program and delivery reform, focusing particularly on Medi-Cal managed care.

Many states are developing ways to reform their Medicaid care delivery systems. For example, Oregon established locally driven regional coordinated care organizations, which bear full risk and are considered managed care organizations under federal rules. They have flexibility in designing their systems of care and, to some degree, choosing the services they will provide while meeting statewide quality and cost metrics. Massachusetts and New York are moving to require health plans to contract with accountable-care organizations or adopt alternative payment methods with a large portion of their providers. Colorado does not rely on managed care plans, but contracts directly with accountable care organizations. To get the report, “Moving Medi-Cal Forward on the Path to Delivery System,” visit chcf.org.

Bill Would Eliminate Medicare Advocacy Services

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved the FY17 Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill, which would eliminate funding for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). It’s called the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) in California. It is the only program that provides free, unbiased, one-on-one Medicare coverage and benefit counseling for beneficiaries, family members, and caregivers. According to California Health Advocates, “This dangerous bill aims to eliminate this important, effective program that helps millions of beneficiaries nationwide better understand and navigate the increasingly complex Medicare program.”

Bill Targets Pharma Tactics to Delay Generics

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on S. 3056, the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act. The bill would allow generic-drug companies to bring actions in federal court to get the drug samples they need to develop generic versions of brand drugs. It would authorize judges to award damages. Proponents say that the bill would prevent brand drug manufacturers from abusing risk evaluation and mitigation strategies to block generic competition. It would encourage more development of generic and biosimilar drugs and reduce drug costs. “This legislation will help bring generics to market faster, which is key to reducing drug costs,” said Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) president and CEO Mark Merritt.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Mike Lee (R-UT). The legislation is supported by a broad group of stakeholders, including the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, Public Citizen, Consumers Union, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Assn. PCMA also suggests these solutions to bring down drug prices:

  • Accelerate FDA approvals of drugs that face little or no competition.
  • Make copay coupons an illegal kickback for all insurance that receives any federal subsidy.
  • Modernize the Medicaid pharmacy to make it more like the commercial market and Medicare Part D.
  • Create new incentives for physicians to prescribe biosimilars.

Facing Medicare’s Tax Burden

Medicare’s cost burden will crush taxpayers unless we change how it is financed, according to a study by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) senior fellows Thomas Saving and Andrew Rettenmaier. “Without significant changes in the program, it is not realistic to think that federal Medicare spending, per capita, can be constrained to grow at the same rate as per capita GDP. Over the next 75 years, from 2016 to 2089, Medicare is projected to grow from 3.53% to 62% of GDP.” The report recommends the following reforms to bring Medicare’s cost growth in line with the growth of GDP:

  1. Raise Beneficiary Premiums.
  2. Raise Deductibles and Copays to Limit Spending to the Baseline Forecast: Retirees would be responsible for rising cost-sharing. Means-tested contributions to health-savings accounts (HSAs) by the federal government could complement the reformed insurance.
  3. Constrain the Federal Payment Rate by Procedure and Service: Rather than paying the CMS-determined reimbursement to each provider, Medicare would give those amounts to the participants. Over time, a real market would emerge for health care as seniors demand lower prices.
  4. Premium Support Payments that Rise at the Same Rate as Per-capita GDP: This would offer a significant  individual choice and individual payment responsibility while limiting the role of CMS in the Medicare market. It provides average premium support payments that follow the trustees’ baseline forecast.

Last Updated 12/05/2018

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