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Medicare Advantage Permitted to Address Non-medical Needs

Starting in 2020, Medicare Advantage plans will be permitted to provide non-medical benefits to their chronically ill members.

As described in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ “final call letter’ for 2020,

MA [Medicare Advantage] plans are not prohibited from offering an item or service that can be expected to improve or maintain the health or overall function of an enrollee only while the enrollee is using it.  In other words, the statute does not require that the maintenance or improvement expected from an SSBCI [special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill] result in a permanent change in an enrollee’s condition.  Items and services may include, but are not limited to:  meals furnished to the enrollee beyond a limited basis, transportation for non-medical needs, pest control, air quality equipment and services, and benefits to address social needs, so long as such items and services have a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function of an individual as it relates to their chronic condition or illness.

The CMS final call letter offers permission to Medicare Advantage plans to offer such services; it does not require them to do so.

Such a policy change could be highly beneficial to many of the low-income patients served by private safety-net hospitals, which have long sought help with addressing the social determinants of health that often bring patients to them but limit their ability to recover from their illnesses and injuries.

Learn more from the Commonwealth Fund report “New Medicare Advantage Benefits Offer Social Services to People with Chronic Illness” and see CMS’s “Announcement of Calendar Year (CY) 2020 Medicare Advantage Capitation Rates and Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment Policies and Final Call Letter.”

 

MedPAC Meets

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. to discuss a number of Medicare payment issues.

The issues on MedPAC’s April agenda were:

  • Expanding the use of value-based payment in Medicare
  • Medicare Shared Savings Program performance
  • Redesigning the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program
  • Increasing the accuracy and completeness of Medicare Advantage encounter data
  • Evaluating patient functional assessment data reported by post-acute-care providers
  • Options for slowing the growth of Medicare fee-for-service spending for emergency department services
  • Options to increase the affordability of specialty drugs and biologics in Medicare Part D
  • Improving payment for low-volume and isolated outpatient dialysis facilities

Many of these issues are important to private safety-net hospitals.

MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues involving the Medicare program.  While its recommendations are not binding on either Congress or the administration, MedPAC is highly influential in governing circles and its recommendations often find their way into legislation, regulations, and new public policy.

Go here for links to the policy briefs and presentations that supported MedPAC’s discussion of these issues.

 

Medicare Advantage to Address Social Determinants of Health

Beginning next year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will authorize Medicare Advantage plans to pay for some health-related but non-medical benefits for their members – benefits that will help address social determinants of health that affect the health status of many Medicare beneficiaries.

As explained by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a recent event in Salt Lake City,

These interventions can keep seniors out of the hospital, which we are increasingly realizing is not just a cost saver but actually an important way to protect their health, too.  If seniors do end up going to the hospital, making sure they can get out as soon as possible with the appropriate rehab services is crucial to good outcomes and low cost as well. If a senior can be accommodated at home rather than an inpatient rehab facility or a [skilled nursing facility], they should be.

According to Azar, HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will be looking for new ways to address social determinants of health that have an impact on Medicare beneficiaries’ health.

What if we provided more than connections and referrals?  What if we provided solutions for the whole person including addressing housing, nutrition and other social needs all together?  What if we gave organizations who work with us more flexibility so they can pay beneficiaries’ rent if they are in unstable housing or make sure that a diabetic has access to and can afford nutritious food?  If that sounds like an exciting idea, then stay tuned to what CMMI is up to.

During the gathering, Azar made similar comments about Medicaid, suggesting that in the near future, federal Medicaid funds might soon be used for non-health-related benefits as well.

Learn more about Secretary Azar’s plans for addressing social determinants of health in this Fierce Healthcare article.

MedPAC Meets

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. last week.

Among the issues on the agenda of the independent agency that advises Congress on Medicare payment issues were:

  • payment adequacy for physicians and other health professional services
  • An alternative to the merit-based incentive payment system (MIPS)
  • payment adequacy for hospital inpatient and outpatient services
  • payment adequacy for ambulatory surgical center services
  • the status of the Medicare Advantage program

Find links to issue briefs on these subjects and the presentations offered at the meeting by going here, to the MedPAC web site.