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Medicare Advantage Riding High As New Insurers Flock To Sell To Seniors

This story additionally ran on USA Today. This story may be republished without cost (details).

Health care specialists broadly anticipated the Affordable Care Act to hobble Medicare Advantage, the government-funded personal well being plans that tens of millions of seniors have chosen as an alternative choice to unique Medicare.

To pay for increasing protection to the uninsured, the 2010 legislation reduce billions of dollars in federal funds to the plans. Government price range analysts predicted that will result in a pointy drop in enrollment as insurers decreased advantages, exited states or left the enterprise altogether.

But the dire projections proved incorrect.

Since 2010, enrollment in Medicare Advantage has doubled to greater than 20 million enrollees, rising from a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries to more than a third.

“The Affordable Care Act did not kill Medicare Advantage, and the program looks poised to continue to grow quite rapidly,” mentioned Bill Frack, managing director with L.E.Okay. Consulting, which advises well being firms.

And as beneficiaries get set to buy plans throughout open enrollment — which runs from Monday by means of Dec. 7 — they are going to discover a higher alternative of insurers.

Fourteen new firms have begun promoting Medicare Advantage plans for 2019, a number of greater than a typical yr, in line with a report out Monday from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially unbiased a part of the muse.)

Overall, Medicare beneficiaries can select from about three,700 plans for 2019, or 600 greater than this yr, in line with the federal authorities’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

CMS expects Medicare Advantage enrollment to leap to just about 23 million individuals in 2019, a 12 p.c enhance. Enrollees searching for new plans this fall will possible discover decrease or no premiums and improved advantages, CMS officials say.

With about 10,000 child boomers getting older into Medicare vary every day, the final view of the insurance coverage business, mentioned Robert Berenson, a Medicare professional with the nonpartisan Urban Institute, “is that their future is Medicare and it’s crazy not to pursue Medicare enrollees more actively.”

Bright Health, Clover Health and Devoted Health, all for-profit firms, started providing Medicare Advantage plans for 2018 or will accomplish that for 2019.

Mutual of Omaha, an organization owned by its policyholders, can be transferring into Medicare Advantage for the primary time in twenty years, offering plans in San Antonio and Cincinnati.

Some nonprofit hospitals are providing Medicare plans for the primary time too, such because the BayCare Health system within the Tampa, Fla., space.

While Medicare beneficiaries in most counties have a alternative of a number of plans, enrollment for years had been consolidated into a number of for-profit firms, primarily UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Aetna, which have gathered just under half the nationwide enrollment.

These insurance coverage giants are additionally increasing into new markets for subsequent yr. Humana in 2019 will supply its Medicare HMO in 97 new counties in 14 states. UnitedHealthcare is transferring into 130 new counties in 13 states, together with for the primary time Minnesota, its headquarters for the previous 4 many years.

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Seniors have lengthy been interested in Advantage plans as a result of they usually embrace advantages not out there with government-run Medicare, reminiscent of imaginative and prescient and dental protection. Many personal plans save seniors cash as a result of their premiums, deductibles and different affected person price sharing are decrease than what beneficiaries pay with unique Medicare. But there’s a trade-off: The personal plans often require seniors to make use of a restricted community of medical doctors and hospitals.

The federal authorities pays the plans to supply protection for beneficiaries. When drafting the ACA, Democratic lawmakers focused the Medicare Advantage plans as a result of research had proven that enrollees within the personal plans price the federal government 14 p.c greater than individuals within the unique program.

Medicare plans weathered the billions in funding cuts partially by qualifying for brand new federal bonus funds out there to those who rating a “4” or higher on a five-notch scale of high quality and buyer satisfaction.

Health plans additionally gained additional income by figuring out sicknesses and well being dangers of members that will entitle the businesses to federal “risk-adjustment” funds. That has offered tons of of billions in additional dollars to Medicare plans, although congressional analysts and federal investigators have raised concerns about insurers exaggerating how sick their members are.

A study last year discovered that these threat changes may add greater than $200 billion to the price of Medicare Advantage plans within the subsequent decade, regardless of no change in enrollees’ well being.

For-profit Medicare Advantage insurers made a 5 percent profit margin in 2016 — twice the typical of Medicare plans total, in line with the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which stories to Congress. That’s barely higher than the medical health insurance business’s total four p.c margin reported by Standard & Poor’s.

Those revenue margins may broaden. The Trump administration boosted payments to Medicare Advantage plans by 3.4 percent for 2019, zero.45 proportion factors greater than the 2018 enhance.

Betsy Seals, chief consulting officer for Gorman Health Group, a Washington firm that advises Medicare Advantage plans, mentioned many well being plans hesitated to enter that market or broaden after President Donald Trump was elected as a result of they weren’t positive the brand new administration would assist this system. But such issues have been erased with the announcement on 2019 reimbursement charges.

“The administration’s support of the Medicare Advantage program is clear,” Seals mentioned. “We have seen the downstream impact of this support with new entrants to the market — a trend we expect to see continue.”

Getting Consumers To Switch

Since the 1960s, Mutual of Omaha has offered Medicare Supplement insurance policies — protection to assist beneficiaries in government-run Medicare pay the portion of prices that program doesn’t decide up. But the corporate solely briefly entered the Medicare Advantage enterprise as soon as — in its residence state of Nebraska within the 1990s.

“In the past 10 or 20 years it never seemed quite the right time,” mentioned Amber Rinehart, a senior vice chairman for the insurer. “The main hindrance was around the political environment and funding for Medicare Advantage.”

Yet after watching Medicare Advantage enrollment soar and authorities funding enhance, the insurer has determined now’s the time to behave. “We have seen a lot more stability of funding and the political tailwinds are there,” she mentioned.

One problem for the brand new insurers can be attracting members from current firms since beneficiaries tend to stick with the same insurer for a few years.

Vivek Garipalli, CEO of Clover Health, mentioned his San Francisco-based firm hopes to realize members by providing low-cost plans with a good selection of hospitals and medical doctors and permitting members to see specialists in its community with out prior approval from their major care physician. The firm can be centered on interesting to blacks and Hispanics who’ve been much less more likely to be part of Medicare Advantage.

“We see a lot of opportunity in markets where there are underserved populations,” Garipalli mentioned.

Clover has obtained funding from Alphabet Inc., the guardian firm of Google. Clover offered Medicare plans in New Jersey final yr and is increasing for 2019 into El Paso, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; and Savannah, Ga.

Newton, Mass.-based Devoted Health is transferring into Medicare Advantage with plans in South Florida and Central Florida. Minneapolis-based BrightHealth is increasing into a number of new markets together with Phoenix, Nashville, Cincinnati and New York City.

BayCare, primarily based in Clearwater, Fla., is providing a Medicare plan for the primary time in 2019.

“We think there is enough market share to be had and we are not afraid to compete,” mentioned Jim Beermann, vice chairman of insurance coverage technique for BayCare.

Hospitals are interested in the Medicare enterprise as a result of it offers them entry to extra of premium dollars directed to well being prices, mentioned Frack of L.E.Okay. Consulting. “You control more of your destiny,” he added.

This story additionally ran on USA Today. This story may be republished without cost (details).

Phil Galewitz: pgalewitz@kff.org”>pgalewitz@kff.org, @philgalewitz

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