This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled some changes to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans–leading U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and almost a supermajority of the U.S. Senate to call on the Trump administration to protect Medicare Advantage.
The CMS is offering “proposed changes that will take significant steps in continuing the agency’s efforts to maximize competition among Medicare Advantage and Part D plans” which, it insists, will “increase plan choices and benefits and include important actions to address the opioid crisis.”
CMS Administrator Seema Verma weighed in on the matter on Wednesday.
“CMS is committed to modernizing Medicare and our top priority is to ensure that seniors have more choices and affordable options in receiving their Medicare benefits,” said Verma. “Medicare Advantage enrollment is at an all-time high as more and more seniors are choosing to enroll in private Medicare health and drug plans, and we need to maximize competition by providing plans the flexibility to meet patients’ needs.”
CMS listed out the proposed changes this week.
“The proposed changes will expand opportunities for seniors to choose Medicare Advantage plans that for the first time are providing new supplemental benefits in 2019. Beginning with the 2019 plan year, Medicare Advantage plans can provide certain enrollees with access to different benefits and services. For the 2020 plan year and beyond, under statutory changes and the proposed guidance on which we are soliciting comment in today’s release, Medicare Advantage plans will have greater flexibility to offer chronically ill patients a broader range of supplemental benefits that are tailored to their specific needs, such as providing home-delivered meals or transportation for non-medical needs,” CMS noted.
“The agency is also proposing new action to combat the nation’s opioid crisis,” CMS added. “CMS is encouraging Medicare Advantage plans to take advantage of new flexibilities to offer targeted benefits and cost sharing reductions for patients with chronic pain or undergoing addiction treatment, and encouraging Part D plans to provide lower cost sharing for opioid-reversal agents. CMS’ overutilization policies have resulted in a 14 percent decrease in the share of Part D beneficiaries using opioids between 2010 and 2017 (36.3 percent to 31.3 percent), with the largest decrease from 2016 to 2017 (5 percent).
“Medicare Advantage remains a popular choice among beneficiaries and has high satisfaction ratings. Average Medicare Advantage and Part D premiums are at their lowest in three years and plan choices have increased. Today’s proposals build in additional flexibilities to continue to increase choice and competition among Medicare health and drug plans,” CMS continued.
Rubio and 64 other members of the Senate–ranging from liberals like U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Ct., to conservatives like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.–quickly responded. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., did not sign the letter.
Rubio and the senators went to bat for Medicare Advantage, noting in 2018 it provided care to more than 21 million seniors and disabled Americans, including almost 1.8 million residents of the Sunshine State.
“Nearly two million Floridians rely on Medicare Advantage, including over 40 percent of the state’s Medicare enrollees, and I am committed to ensuring those plans continue to provide comprehensive care at affordable rates,” Rubio said on Thursday. “For plan year 2020, I urged the Administration to implement policies that continue to strengthen the program and increase choice for Floridians who depend on Medicare Advantage for quality, patient-centered health care.”
The senators wrote Verma on the matter on Thursday.
“We write to express our strong support for Medicare Advantage and the high-quality care it provides to more than 21 million seniors and individuals with disabilities. We appreciate the administration’s recognition of the value of Medicare Advantage and its work to encourage innovation for these private health plans. As annual updates are considered for 2020, we ask you to continue to strengthen and grow this proven part of the Medicare program by proposing policies that provide stability and predictability,” the senators wrote.
“Millions of our constituents depend on Medicare Advantage for quality, patient-centered health care. Beneficiary enthusiasm for the program remains strong, with more than one in three seniors enrolled,” they continued. “This is due, in part, to private plans’ ability to leverage best practices in care delivery, use robust data analytics, and implement proven value-based care and care management models. Medicare Advantage enrollees report a 91 percent satisfaction rate, with 74 percent of enrollees in plans rated four stars and above.
“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced average Medicare Advantage premiums are estimated to decrease by six percent in 2019. Meanwhile, beneficiary enrollment has increased by eight percent in the past year and 79 percent since 2010, a testament to the affordability, high-quality care coordination, disease management and community-based programs, and supplemental benefits such as vision and dental coverage provided by Medicare Advantage plans. Further, bipartisan efforts are helping to reduce beneficiary costs by increasing the use of telemedicine, promoting value-based insurance design, and expanding benefits that address social determinants of health by including transportation, nutrition, and other non-medical needs that enhance quality of life,” the senators continued.
Rubio and the senators concluded the letter by urging Verma and the administration to “implement policies that promote innovation, provide predictable funding to support long-term, value-based arrangements, and ensure that any substantive changes include sufficient time for thorough evaluation and stakeholder engagement.”
Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.