In the most recent technical changes made to Part C and Part D plans for 2019, CMS codified the star ratings methodology in regulations. Now, CMS is proposing changes to these regulations, such as new definitions to clarify the meaning of terminology used in describing the star ratings methodology. In addition, CMS is proposing several changes to improve program quality and accessibility of the Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D Prescription Drug Program (PDP) Plan Quality Rating for measures other than Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS).

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The April 3, 2017 release of the 2018 Rate Announcement and Call Letter brought some welcome news for Medicare Advantage organizations and Part D sponsors (collectively, sponsors) and could signal improved transparency by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in its regulation of sponsors. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-OH) issued a joint statement in response to the CMS Rate Announcement:

We are encouraged the Trump Administration took steps to roll back some of the Obama Administration’s flawed payment policies that would have negatively impacted nearly 18 million seniors. We are also pleased that HHS Secretary Price recognized the importance of protecting access to Medicare Advantage, including for patients suffering from kidney disease—a bipartisan priority on our Committee. We look forward to working with the new Administration on policies that promote innovation and competition, improve the quality and coordination of care, and deliver our seniors flexibility and choice in Medicare.

MA Employer Group Waiver Plans (EGWPs).  With CMS’s waiver last year of the bid submission requirement for MA EGWPs, payment rates for these plans have been administratively set based on a blend of EGWP bids and individual market plan bids.  CMS solicited comments in the 2018 Advance Notice on whether it should use only individual market plan bids from 2017 to calculate the bid-to-benchmark ratios for the 2018 MA EGWP payment rates, or whether it should continue to use the bid-to-benchmark ratios applied in calculating the 2017 MA EGWP payment rates. CMS decided to pause the transition to 100% individual market plan bids with the result that 2018 MA EGWP payment rates will continue to reflect a blend of individual market plan bids from 2016 and EGWP bids from 2016, with individual market plan bids weighted by 50% and EGWP bids weighted by 50%.
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Last month, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a memorandum announcing a change pertaining to the effect of intermediate sanctions on the calculation of Star Ratings for Medicare Advantage organizations (MAOs) and Part D sponsors.  This is a significant change for plans.

The Star Rating program has continued to evolve since being introduced by CMS in 2006, and is a part of CMS’s efforts to define, measure, and reward quality health care and member services. The ratings incorporate data from Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set quality measures, Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems surveys, the Medicare Health Outcomes Survey, and CMS administrative data.

Beginning in 2012, quality/Star Ratings directly affected the monthly payment amount MAOs receive from CMS. First, CMS is required to make quality bonus payments (QBPs) to MAOs that achieve at least 4 stars in a 5-star quality rating system. In addition, the percentage share of savings that MAOs must provide to enrollees as the beneficiary rebate is tied to the level of an MAO’s QBP rating.


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