Enrollment Still Growing In Medicare Advantage Plans, GAO Says
While the health law’s changes had little impact on MA enrollment this year, more changes may be in store. The GAO report notes that the Congressional Budget Office has predicted that those $136 billion in cuts to MA plans would decrease enrollment by about 35 percent through 2019. The Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has found that the reduction in MA payments would eventually lead to those plans offering less-generous benefit packages.
Video: Medicare Advantage Plans 2011
Premiums Down, Enrollment Grows in Medicare Advantage
Monthly premiums for Medicare Advantage plans declined by about 14% between April 2010 and April 2011, but beneficiaries were covered for additional benefits, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. The report also found that even though the number of MA plans fell during the same period, MA enrollment increased from 7.9 million beneficiaries in 2010 to 8.4 million in 2011.
Fewer Get Medicare Advantage Vision Benefits
The percentage of Medicare Advantage program enrollees in plans that offer vision benefits seems to have fallen to 79%, from 84% in 2010, officials at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in a review of theMedicare Advantage program prepared at the request of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
U.S. GAO – Medicare Advantage: Enrollment Increased from 2010 to …
The original Medicare program has two parts: Part A (Hospital Insurance), and Part B (Medical Insurance). Only a few special cases exist where prescription drugs are covered by original Medicare, but as of January 2006, Medicare Part D provides more comprehensive drug coverage. Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare Part C, are another way for beneficiaries to receive their Part A, B and D benefits. All Medicare benefits are subject to medical necessity. Part A: Hospital Insurance Part A covers inpatient hospital stays (at least overnight), including semiprivate room, food, tests, and doctor’s fees. Part A covers brief stays for convalescence in a skilled nursing facility if certain criteria are met: 1. A preceding hospital stay must be at least three days, three midnights, not counting the discharge date. 2. The nursing home stay must be for something diagnosed during the hospital stay or for the main cause of hospital stay. 3. If the patient is not receiving rehabilitation but has some other ailment that requires skilled nursing supervision then the nursing home stay would be covered. 4. The care being rendered by the nursing home must be skilled. Medicare part A does not pay for custodial, non-skilled, or long-term care activities, including activities of daily living (ADL) such as personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning, etc. The maximum length of stay that Medicare Part A will cover in a skilled nursing facility per ailment is 100 days. The first 20 days would be paid for in full by Medicare with the remaining 80 days requiring a co-payment (as of 2009, $133.50 per day). Many insurance companies have a provision for skilled nursing care in the policies they sell. If a beneficiary uses some portion of their Part A benefit and then goes at least 60 days without receiving facility-based skilled services, the 100-day clock is reset and the person qualifies for a new 100-day benefit period. Part B: Medical Insurance Part B medical insurance helps pay for some services and products not covered by Part A, generally on an outpatient basis. Part B is optional and may be deferred if the beneficiary or their spouse is still actively working. There is a lifetime penalty (10% per year) imposed for not enrolling in Part B unless actively working. Part B coverage includes physician and nursing services, x-rays, laboratory and diagnostic tests, influenza and pneumonia vaccinations, blood transfusions, renal dialysis, outpatient hospital procedures, limited ambulance transportation, immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplant recipients, chemotherapy, hormonal treatments such as Lupron, and other outpatient medical treatments administered in a doctor’s office. Medication administration is covered under Part B only if it is administered by the physician during an office visit. Part B also helps with durable medical equipment (DME), including canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and mobility scooters for those with mobility impairments. Prosthetic devices such as artificial limbs and breast prosthesis following mastectomy, as well as one pair of eyeglasses following cataract surgery, and oxygen for home use is also covered. Complex rules are used to manage the benefit, and advisories are periodically issued which describe coverage criteria. On the national level these advisories are issued by CMS, and are known as National Coverage Determinations (NCD). Local Coverage Determinations (LCD) only apply within the multi-state area managed by a specific regional Medicare Part B contractor, and Local Medical Review Policies (LMRP) were superseded by LCDs in 2003. Coverage information is also located in the CMS Internet-Only Manuals (IOM), the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the Social Security Act, and the Federal Register. Part C: Medicare Advantage plans With the passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Medicare beneficiaries were given the option to receive their Medicare benefits through private health insurance plans, instead of through the original Medicare plan (Parts A and B). These programs were known as “Medicare+Choice” or “Part C” plans. Pursuant to the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, “Medicare+Choice” plans were made more attractive to Medicare beneficiaries by the addition of prescription drug coverage and became known as “Medicare Advantage” (MA) plans. Traditional or “fee-for-service” Medicare has a standard benefit package that covers medically necessary care members can receive from nearly any hospital or doctor in the country. For people who choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage health plan, Medicare pays the private health plan a capitated rate, or a set amount, every month for each member. Members typically also pay a monthly premium in addition to the Medicare Part B premium to cover items not covered by traditional Medicare (Parts A & B), such as prescription drugs, dental care, vision care and gym or health club memberships. In exchange for these extra benefits, enrollees may be limited in the providers they can receive services from without paying extra. Typically, the plans have a “network” of providers that patients can use. Going outside that network may require permission or extra fees. Medicare Advantage plans are required to offer coverage that meets or exceeds the standards set by the original Medicare program, but they do not have to cover every benefit in the same way. If a plan chooses to pay less than Medicare for some benefits, like skilled nursing facility care, the savings may be passed along to consumers by offering lower copayments for doctor visits. Medicare Advantage plans use a portion of the payments they receive from the government for each enrollee to offer supplemental benefits. Some plans limit their members’ annual out-of-pocket spending on medical care, providing insurance against catastrophic costs over $5,000, for example. Many plans offer dental coverage, vision coverage and other services not covered by Medicare Parts A or B, which makes them a good value for the health care dollar, if you want to use the provider included in the plan’s network or “panel” of providers. Because the 2003 payment formulas overpay plans by 12 percent or more compared to traditional Medicare, in 2006 enrollees in Medicare Advantage Private Fee-for-Service plans were offered a net extra benefit value (the value of the additional benefits minus any additional premium) of $55.92 a month more than the traditional Medicare benefit package; enrollees in other Medicare Advantage plans were offered a net extra benefit value of $71.22 a month more. However, Medicare Advantage members receive additional coverage and medical benefits not enjoyed by traditional Medicare members, and savings generated by Medicare Advantage plans may be passed on to beneficiaries to lower their overall health care costs. Other important distinctions between Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare are that Medicare Advantage health plans encourage preventive care and wellness and closely coordinate patient care. Medicare Advantage Plans that also include Part D prescription drug benefits are known as a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan or a MA-PD. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans grew from 5.4 million in 2005 to 8.2 million in 2007. Enrollment grew by an additional 800,000 during the first four months of 2008. This represents 19% of Medicare beneficiaries. A third of beneficiaries with Part D coverage are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage enrollment is higher in urban areas; the enrollment rate in urban counties is twice that in rural counties (22% vs. 10%). Almost all Medicare beneficiaries have access to at least two Medicare Advantage plans; most have access to three or more. Because of the 2003 law’s overpayments, the number of organizations offering Fee-for-Service plans has increased dramatically, from 11 in 2006 to almost 50 in 2008. Eight out of ten beneficiaries (82%) now have access to six or more Private Fee-for-Service plans. Each year many individuals disenroll from MA plans. A recent study noted that about 20 percent of enrollees report that “their most important reason for leaving was due to problems getting care.” There is some evidence that disabled beneficiaries “are more likely to experience multiple problems in managed care.” Some studies have reported that the older, poorer, and sicker persons have been less satisfied with the care they have received in MA plans. On the other hand, an analysis of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality data published by America’s Health Insurance Plans found that Medicare Advantage enrollees spent fewer days in the hospital than Fee-for-Service enrollees, were less likely to have “potentially avoidable” admissions, and had fewer re-admissions. These comparisons adjusted for age, sex and health status using the risk score used in the Medicare Advantage risk adjustment mechanism. In December 2009 the Kaiser Family Foundation published a report that rated Medicare Advantage organizations on a five star scale. The ratings were based on data from CMS, the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS), Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) data, and the Health Outcomes Survey (HOS). New plans did not receive ratings, because data were not available. Almost six out of ten (59%) of MA plans did receive ratings, and these plans represented 85% of the enrollment for 2009. The average rating was 3.29 stars. Twenty-three percent of enrollees were in a plan with four or more stars; 20% were in a plan with fewer than three stars. Twenty percent of African-American and 32 percent of Hispanic Medicare Beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans in 2006. Almost half (48%) of Medicare Advantage enrollees had incomes below $20,000, including 71% of minority enrollees. Others have reported that minority enrollment is not particularly above average. Another study has raised questions about the quality of care received by minorities in MA plans. The Government Accountability Office reported that in 2006, the plans earned profits of 6.6 percent, had overhead (sales, etc.) of 10.1 percent, and provided 83.3 percent of the revenue dollar in medical benefits. These administrative costs are far higher than traditional fee-for-service Medicare.  Part D: Prescription Drug plans Main articles: Medicare Part D and Medicare Part D coverage gap Medicare Part D went into effect on January 1, 2006. Anyone with Part A or B is eligible for Part D. It was made possible by the passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. In order to receive this benefit, a person with Medicare must enroll in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) or Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (MA-PD). These plans are approved and regulated by the Medicare program, but are actually designed and administered by private health insurance companies. Unlike Original Medicare (Part A and B), Part D coverage is not standardized. Plans choose which drugs (or even classes of drugs) they wish to cover, at what level (or tier) they wish to cover it, and are free to choose not to cover some drugs at all. The exception to this is drugs that Medicare specifically excludes from coverage, including but not limited to benzodiazepines, cough suppressant and barbiturates. Plans that cover excluded drugs are not allowed to pass those costs on to Medicare, and plans are required to repay CMS if they are found to have billed Medicare in these cases. It should be noted again for beneficiaries who are dual-eligible (Medicare and Medicaid eligible) Medicaid may pay for drugs not covered by part D of Medicare, such as benzodiazepines, and other restricted controlled substances.
Choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan: Flat Fee Vs. Percentage for Outpatient Surgery
Medicare Advantage plans tell agents and brokers that a patient who goes into the hospital will pay only the in-hospital co-pay (which is $295 per day in Ralph’s plan). So I would have thought his bill would be $590. But because the bill says he was in an “observation room”, Ralph had to pay a lot more.
Washington State Insurance Update: Medicare drug and Advantage plan enrollment ends Dec. 7
Medicare’s open enrollment for prescription drug plans (Part D) and Medicare Advantage plans ends Dec. 7. This year’s enrollment period was moved and expanded, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, giving people additional time to consider their choices. Still need to make a decision and need some help? Our Statewide Health Insurance Benefit Advisors (SHIBA) program can answer questions and help you evaluate plans. Call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-562-6900 and ask to make an appointment with a SHIBA volunteer in your area. Before you make your decision, consider these tips:
UNH Acquires Medicare Advantage Biz
The first baby boomers will hit their retirement age soon and will opt for managed care plans. Health Insurers are thus looking to acquire providers of managed care plans to the seniors which in turn will help them generate higher revenues. Also, managed-care plans for Medicare is expected to generate incremental revenue of $10 billion by 2015, which would make such acquisitions valuable.
Open Enrollment Period For Senior’s Medicare Advantage Plans
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Medicare open enrollment continues through Dec. 7
During this Open Enrollment Period, Medicare recommends that people treat their Medicare number as they do their Social Security number and credit card information. People with Medicare should never give their personal information to anyone arriving at their home uninvited or making unsolicited phone calls selling Medicare-related products or services. Beneficiaries who believe they are a victim of fraud or identity theft should contact Medicare. More information is available at www.stopmedicarefraud.gov
Many Medicare Beneficiaries May Miss a Chance to Save Money on Medicare Health Plans Next Year According to Survey by Longevity Alliance
“It is great news that so many people know that Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. However, many Medicare beneficiaries may be missing an important opportunity to review their plan to make sure it is the right plan for their health care needs now,” said Joseph Volpe, President and CEO of Longevity Alliance. “By comparing and switching to a different Medicare plan, some of our customers find they can save hundreds of dollars a year in health care and prescription drug costs. Others confirm that after reviewing their options with a Longevity Alliance health plan advisor they feel confident that they have the right plan for 2012.”
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