More on Reimbursement

Medicare Advantage plans can implement non-medical benefits around chronic care in 2019

Bipartisan Policy Center recommends CMS give MA plans flexibility in targeting supplemental benefits to members with chronic care conditions.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Starting in 2019, Medicare Advantage plans will have the flexibility to target non-medical health-related services to members who have chronic care conditions.

MA insurers will be able to target supplemental services such as minor home modifications to help accommodate walkers or wheelchairs, or home-delivered meals that are lower in salt or sugar for those with diabetes or chronic heart failure.

How the supplemental benefits are implemented depends on policies issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This is expected around December, when CMS sets rates for MA plans, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has issued its own recommendations.

The supplemental benefits for chronic care conditions are part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which was signed into law by President Trump in February.

It allows Medicare Advantage plans to provide additional or supplemental services to those with complex care needs and to provide access to non-medical health-related benefits, including those that have proved successful in keeping patients in their homes.

Medicare does not support these non-medical benefits, said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president, BPC.

About a third of all Medicare beneficiaries are in a MA plan. These plans are popular with both those who sign up due to the additional benefits they offer, and with insurers that have realized profits and decreased costs through narrow networks and aligned incentives.

MA insurers recently got a boost from CMS when the agency said it would allow these plans to cross negotiate between Part B and D drugs to choose the least expensive alternative.

MA also outperforms traditional Medicare for the chronically ill, a study shows.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is concentrating on three areas in recommendations to CMS to implement the chronic care provisions of the law.

The first is in striking a balance of flexibility for plans to offer  supplemental benefits such as transportation, meals and minor home modifications, and guidelines so plans feel comfortable offering the services without fear of audits or sanctions.

The second is in the implementation of new requirements to integrate Medicare and Medicaid dual eligibles.

The third is around the grievances and appeals procedures. CMS has already begun gathering input for the implementation of a unified grievance and appeals process, the BPC said.

In MA plans, claims are paid while they are in dispute but this is not the case in traditional Medicare, according to Katherine Hayes, director of Health Policy for BPC.

New York and Minnesota have already integrated appeals process, she said.

The law allows a shift from what is covered to what patients and their families need, Hayes said.

Barriers to adoption include the current requirement that MA plans offer existing uniform benefits to all enrollees. CMS should allow plans the flexibility to determine supplemental benefits, BPC said.

Also, CMS needs to ensure insurers will not use supplemental benefits to avoid high risk members through plan marketing.

Medicare beneficiaries with four or more chronic conditions account for 90 percent of Medicare hospital readmissions and 74 percent of overall Medicare spending, according to the BPC. The number of older Americans will double by 2050.

Recent Health Affairs study shows connection between meal supports and lower healthcare costs, from $843 per month compared to $1,413 for those without receiving meals specialized to meet needs of diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions.

The study also showed fewer hospital admissions and trips to the ER.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: