Senate Health Care Reform Policy Options: Medicare Advantage

The Facts
On April 29, 2009, the Senate Finance Committee released the first of three anticipated health reform option papers. The Committee’s white paper includes four proposals to “promote quality, efficiency and care management” in the Medicare Advantage (MA) Program: modifying the MA Plan payment system, increasing payments for chronic care management, linking payment to quality and simplifying the supplemental benefits offered to Members.

What’s at Stake
The Committee sets out two alternate reform proposals for the MA Plan payment system that would take effect beginning in 2012. One approach would reduce the existing benchmarks to which MA Plan bids are compared, and the other would change the methodology by which the benchmarks are determined to that used in the Medicare Part D Program. The Committee also proposes to pay bonuses for evidence-based care management programs for chronic conditions. A Medicare Advantage Organization (MAO) that does not currently target chronic illnesses with care management activities should consider implementing such programs now so that it only has to incorporate adjustments to receive the bonus payment. Finally, the Committee proposes to tie a portion of MA Plan payment rates to quality performance. An MAO would need to ensure that its processes for collecting and submitting data are refined to capture all relevant data that may affect quality measures, and thus payment. 

Steps to Consider
The changes are proposed to take effect in 2012, meaning MAOs would have to position themselves to respond to the changes in time for the June 2011 bid submission deadline. In anticipation of these or similar reforms, an MAO should begin to analyze its plan benefit packages, provider payment arrangements and member population, and to discern the extent to which the MAO can modify its operations and/or develop and implement new initiatives. Health care providers can identify those MA Plans that represent a material portion of the providers’ patient population and initiate a dialogue to explore potential new areas of collaboration that will help improve quality outcomes while managing costs.