Build on the steady progress in risk adjustment. Risk adjustment is a tool used to address selection bias in Medicare Advantage and other private insurance programs. The goal is to mitigate an insurer’s ability to tailor plans to attract a disproportionate share of the most profitable enrollees—healthier enrollees that consume less medical services. Every major Medicare reform proposal, based on premium support, would provide risk adjustment or significantly improve the risk-adjustment formulas or mechanisms that currently exist in the MA or Medicare Part D program. Risk adjustment could either be prospective or retrospective. Prospective risk adjustment already characterizes Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D, where government per capita payments are adjusted by demographic factors, such as age, sex, institutional or Medicaid status, and medical conditions. Retrospective risk adjustment—back-end adjustments—would be based on new pooling arrangements, such as a risk-transfer pool. In that arrangement, health plans that attracted higher-risk or more costly patients would be cross-subsidized by plans that attracted fewer high-risk or less costly patients. The value of these types of arrangements is that they would be based on hard data and not on educated guesswork or projections. The Wyden–Ryan plan, for example, includes such an approach. The Heritage proposal would include both prospective and retrospective risk adjustment. Applying the lessons from MA’s risk-adjustment experience could mitigate the risks that only the unhealthy would be stuck in Medicare fee-for-service plans, leaving the plans’ costs to escalate and grow further away from the premium support benchmark, and thus more expensive for enrollees. Over the past decade, as Alice Rivlin and others have noted, the risk-adjustment mechanism used in Medicare Advantage has significantly improved and succeeded in reducing favorable selection in the program. In the future, with the adoption of defined-contribution financing for the entire Medicare program, one can expect further refinements and innovative approaches to adjusting government per capita payments. One particularly interesting approach has been developed by Zhou Yang, professor of economics at Emory University. Professor Yang’s proposal, to be implemented within an environment of competitive health plans, would tie Medicare payments to positive behavioral changes: Enrollees would be rewarded for enrollment in wellness or preventive-care programs that promote a healthier (and thus less costly) lifestyle.
How to Reform Medicare: First Stage to Fix the Current Program
The significant differences in official long-term projections, including projections of the program’s unfunded liability, reflect the differences in agency assumptions, particularly about the likelihood of the continuation of current law. The Medicare Trustees and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) are required to make projections under current law, which assumes, for example, that the large Medicare Part A payment reductions are sustainable and that the projected 29.4 percent reduction in Medicare physician payment will be implemented in 2012. The Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) makes projections based on the premise that key elements of current law are simply “unworkable.” See John D. Shatto and M. Kent Clemens, “Projected Medicare Expenditures Under an Illustrative Scenario with Alternative Payment Updates to Medicare Providers,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Office of the Actuary, May 13, 2011, at https://www.cms.gov/ReportsTrustFunds/downloads/2010TRAlternativeScenario.pdf (September 19, 2011).