Preview: RADAR on Medicare Advantage

Nutrition Makes Headway as MA Supplemental Benefit for 2022

November 4, 2021

The delivery of prepared meals, often triggered by a hospitalization, has played a steadily increasing role in Medicare Advantage plans’ efforts to manage members’ chronic conditions, but now the more nuanced area of nutrition is starting to gain traction as a supplemental benefit offering. Nutrition services vendors say offering healthy food options and education to at-risk members can result in major medical cost savings for plans.

The delivery of prepared meals, often triggered by a hospitalization, has played a steadily increasing role in Medicare Advantage plans’ efforts to manage members’ chronic conditions, but now the more nuanced area of nutrition is starting to gain traction as a supplemental benefit offering. Nutrition services vendors say offering healthy food options and education to at-risk members can result in major medical cost savings for plans.

According to a recent Avalere Health analysis of selected non-medical benefits offered by MA plans in 2022, 30% of plans will feature a nutrition benefit next year, compared with 17% of plans in 2021. For that analysis, Avalere focused on four benefit categories — meals, transportation, nutrition and in-home support services — differentiating nutrition as “general education and nutrition counseling from a practitioner (e.g., dietitian)” as opposed to pre-made meals that may be delivered to a patient’s home. The firm found that meals will be offered by 68% of MA plans next year, compared with 55% this year. The analysis excluded Special Needs Plans, many of which are promoting enhanced food benefits for 2022 (see story).

Avalere also examined the relationship between premiums and the number of plan offerings for certain non-medical supplemental benefits and estimated that in 2022, 89% of MA beneficiaries will have access to a $0 plan with nutrition benefits, compared with 67% for 2021. Moreover, 19% of $0 premium plans will feature such benefits, compared with 9% in 2021 (see infographic).

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Three Major Medicaid Insurers Report 3Q Gains Despite COVID Surge

November 4, 2021

A diversified portfolio was the name of the game late last month as publicly traded insurers discussed third-quarter 2021 earnings and braced for the return of Medicaid eligibility redeterminations, which could happen anytime after the latest public health emergency extension runs out in mid-January 2022. Despite a surge in COVID-19 costs in the quarter, Anthem, Inc., Centene Corp. and Molina Healthcare, Inc. all delivered better-than-anticipated earnings, which they attributed in part to Medicaid enrollment growth as states continue to put off eligibility reverifications.

A diversified portfolio was the name of the game late last month as publicly traded insurers discussed third-quarter 2021 earnings and braced for the return of Medicaid eligibility redeterminations, which could happen anytime after the latest public health emergency extension runs out in mid-January 2022. Despite a surge in COVID-19 costs in the quarter, Anthem, Inc., Centene Corp. and Molina Healthcare, Inc. all delivered better-than-anticipated earnings, which they attributed in part to Medicaid enrollment growth as states continue to put off eligibility reverifications.

Reporting earnings on Oct. 27, Molina Healthcare, Inc. beat Wall Street projections by three cents with adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $2.83 and a medical loss ratio (MLR) of 88.9%. The net effect of COVID increased the overall MLR by approximately 110 basis points and impacted all three lines of business (Medicaid, Medicare and Affordable Care Act marketplace), as the company experienced higher COVID-related inpatient costs that began to decline in late September. COVID led to increased medical costs in both the Medicaid and marketplace segments; while non-COVID utilization by exchange members who enrolled through the pandemic Special Enrollment Period also impacted the marketplace segment, there was a lower negative net effect of COVID among Medicare members.

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Iowa Medicaid Director Refutes Managed Care Audit Results

November 4, 2021

As the Iowa Dept. of Human Services considers making changes to its managed Medicaid program, IA Health Link, State Auditor Rob Sand last month released a damning report that says the state’s 2016 transition to managed Medicaid led to an 891% increase in “illegally denied services or care.” The report also details how two managed care organizations violated provisions of their contracts with the Dept. of Human Services, although DHS says the report is flawed. Since 2019, only two insurers have been serving the program, but DHS is considering adding up to two more.

As the Iowa Dept. of Human Services considers making changes to its managed Medicaid program, IA Health Link, State Auditor Rob Sand last month released a damning report that says the state’s 2016 transition to managed Medicaid led to an 891% increase in “illegally denied services or care.” The report also details how two managed care organizations violated provisions of their contracts with the Dept. of Human Services, although DHS says the report is flawed. Since 2019, only two insurers have been serving the program, but DHS is considering adding up to two more.

Since Iowa transitioned the bulk of its fee-for-service Medicaid population to managed care under then-Gov. Terry Branstad (R), it’s been one drama after another — from providers not getting paid, to providers reportedly being allowed to keep overpayments, to MCOs incurring financial losses and dropping out — and Democrats want the whole thing scrapped. Sand, a Democratic former assistant attorney general, has been gunning for the program since his 2018 race for auditor and recently used a tour of the state to talk about some of the issues facing the program.

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Industry Groups Get in Front of Potential Medicare Advantage Cuts

November 4, 2021

As progressives seek to keep some expansion of Medicare benefits in the president’s shrinking budget reconciliation package, industry-allied organizations have been building public-facing campaigns to protect Medicare Advantage from any “cuts.” Provisions to add dental and vision benefits to Medicare were removed from the latest text of the Build Back Better Act — likely giving MA plans less to worry about — while progressive lawmakers at press time were intent on getting drug pricing provisions into a final measure.

As progressives seek to keep some expansion of Medicare benefits in the president’s shrinking budget reconciliation package, industry-allied organizations have been building public-facing campaigns to protect Medicare Advantage from any “cuts.” Provisions to add dental and vision benefits to Medicare were removed from the latest text of the Build Back Better Act — likely giving MA plans less to worry about — while progressive lawmakers at press time were intent on getting drug pricing provisions into a final measure.

In a move that was questioned by Kaiser Health News for being vague, Better Medicare Alliance (BMA) has been running a television commercial urging seniors to call their Congress members and ask them not to cut MA. KHN reported that the MA-focused research and advocacy organization has launched a $3 million TV, radio and online advertising campaign, citing advertising tracker AdImpact.

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Select Insurers Enhance Grocery Allowances, Nutrition Benefits for Duals Next Year

November 4, 2021

As Medicare Advantage insurers promote an array of enhanced supplemental benefits for the 2022 plan year, grocery store allowances appear to be a staple among Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans. Here’s a sampling of what major D-SNP sponsors are marketing to eligible enrollees.

As Medicare Advantage insurers promote an array of enhanced supplemental benefits for the 2022 plan year, grocery store allowances appear to be a staple among Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans. Here’s a sampling of what major D-SNP sponsors are marketing to eligible enrollees.

Many of Anthem, Inc.’s affiliated MA plans will give qualifying members access to the Healthy Groceries Card, either as an embedded benefit or as part of the Essential Extras/Everyday Extras (EE) package. When offered as part of the EE package, members can select the card among a list of other benefits and receive a monthly allowance loaded on the card each month, explains a company spokesperson. The grocery card feature is part of new co-branded offerings with Kroger Health, which will be available in four regions in 2022 and include D-SNPs. Eligible recipients in Kentucky will receive the richest grocery card allowance, with up to $100 per month available to purchase nutritious food and health and wellness items from Kroger Family Stores. In Georgia, Ohio and Virginia, the Anthem-Kroger plans have a $75 monthly allowance. Qualifying members in all four regions can also access the plan’s Healthy Pantry Benefit, which offers up to 12 monthly sessions with a Kroger Health dietitian who can provide nutritional education support, and they can receive a monthly delivery of pantry staples. In addition, Kroger Health’s 2,200 pharmacies are in Anthem’s preferred network.

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