By Lauren Flynn Kelly
Thanks to CMS expanding its definition of primarily health-related supplemental benefits for 2019 and beyond, MA insurers are now starting to look more seriously at the idea of covering cognitive training for their senior members. Although memory fitness benefits have received less attention than more-buzzworthy supplemental offerings such as nutrition, transportation or acupuncture, “the strong clinical case, plus its low cost, suggests it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a common offering,” predicts Michael Adelberg, principal with FaegreBD Consulting and a former top CMS MA official.
Notably, UnitedHealthcare last year incorporated Posit Science’s BrainHQ games into its larger “Renew Active” fitness benefit. Although the insurer has since switched to the brain training vendor preferred by its AARP partner, Posit Science CEO Henry Mahncke, Ph.D. says the company has signed on with three new plans in 2020: Anthem, Inc., CarePartners of Connecticut and Kaiser Permanente.
Anthem’s enhancements for 2020 included adding BrainHQ brain training exercises as a component of the Health & Fitness Tracker benefit offered with many of Anthem’s affiliated MA plans, according to Anthem spokesperson Hieu Nguyen. “The brain training exercises — as well as the other supplemental benefits we offer — align with Anthem’s whole-person approach to health care,” says Nguyen.
According to Posit Science, 87% of trial participants who used its BrainHQ’s Double Decision game showed meaningful increases in targeted cognitive ability, and users continued to show significant cognitive improvements five and 10 years later even though they were not training continuously during that time. To date, more than 150 published papers have used BrainHQ as a studied intervention method, Mahncke says.
Posit Science is encouraged by the interest in its programs. “Health care can be slow. We were out talking to MA plans last year who were not aware that the rules had changed or how the supplemental benefits worked, but word really is getting out at this point and…the science is very clear that a ton of lifestyle factors affect cognitive health and dementia risk,” says Mahncke. “I’m hoping that people can see that there are actions they can take to preserve their brain health, and of course what we’re seeing associated with that is MA plans saying, ‘We’ll help you do that.’”