This week, our In Focus section reviews the request for information (RFI) on ways to strengthen the Medicare Advantage (MA) program, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on July 28, 2022. CMS’s intent is to better align the MA program with the agency’s Vision for Medicare and the CMS Strategic Pillars. The agency is strongly emphasizing the importance of stakeholder comments for this process. This openness to feedback presents MA plans, providers, and other stakeholders an opportunity to inform the agency’s early thinking as it considers potential regulatory actions impacting supplemental benefits, value-based contracting arrangements, risk adjustment, prior authorization, and marketing among other issues.
The questions are grouped into five categories. Throughout each section CMS seeks to better understand operational issues and insights from past or ongoing experiences tackling health equity issues in states and communities. Below we describe several of the questions and themes within each category:
- Advance Health Equity: This extensive set of questions is intended help CMS better understand MA plans’ specific programs, screenings, benefits, and data that are components of addressing health equity and how the agency can better ensure that all MA enrollees receive the care they need. CMS also is seeking to better understand the collaborations and reimbursement arrangements between MA plans and providers that partner with community-based organizations, particularly as these arrangements become more central to efforts to address social drivers of health. The agency continues to focus on the dual eligible population, and asks specifically how it can support efforts by Special Needs Plans to provide targeted, coordinated care for enrollees.
- Expand Access: Coverage and Care: In this section CMS explores MA plans’ marketing efforts, including the tools beneficiaries use and how plans differentiate themselves to beneficiaries, as well as factors for building and changing plan networks. Additionally, CMS poses many questions about supplemental benefits, including questions about how MA plans design supplemental benefits, how they inform beneficiaries about these benefits and whether there are evaluations or data elements that are used. CMS also anticipates receiving information on how it can ensure that enrollees have access to the covered behavioral health services they need, access and use of telehealth services.
- Drive Innovation to Promote Person-Centered Care: Last year, CMS committed to ensuring that 100 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were in accountable care relationships by 2030. This will require changes for more than 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries. To date, much of the attention around this goal has been focused on fee-for-services arrangement. With this RFI, CMS is turning its attention to value-based arrangements in MA. Specifically, it asks stakeholders about the factors driving MA plans and providers participating in value-based contracting. The agency wants to better understand the data that is crucial for value-based contracting and the experiences of MA plans in trying to align with value-based contracting in other Medicare programs/models, Medicaid, and the commercial payers. Stakeholders also have an opportunity to provide input on how CMS could better support efforts of MA plans and providers to appropriately and effectively collect, transmit, and use appropriate data as well as potential new tops of payment or service delivery models that could be tested.
- Support Affordability and Sustainability: This set of questions turns to payment and competition in the marketplace. Specifically, the agency asks for input on potential methodologies to ensure risk adjustment is accurate and sustainable. CMS also wants to understand how stakeholders are thinking about the relationship between risk adjustment and health equity and addressing social determinants of health SDOH. The agency also wants to consider specific local market barriers to entry and advantages and disadvantages in different markets.
- Engage Partners: This group of questions provides an opportunity for stakeholders to address information gaps for Medicare beneficiaries. The agency also is interested in how it could promote collaboration among MA stakeholders.
Why It Matters:
As the urgent issues with the pandemic continue to ease, CMS is turning its attention to proposals that could help refocus the Medicare program, including Medicare Advantage, to address health equity, quality, and affordability.
Stakeholders will want to carefully consider how they could use their RFI responses to shape the agency’s potential future proposals. Health plans, providers, community organizations, and vendors have an opportunity to highlight concepts, tools, and other innovations that have proven successful and scalable.
Specific concrete examples of the impact on Medicare beneficiaries would be highly valued by the agency. It will also be important to focus responses on regulatory policy changes and actions that CMS can advance with its existing authority.
HMA experts can assist stakeholders with their responses on these impactful issues including but not limited to:
- Innovations stakeholders have tried, barriers to concepts and needs they have identified, and other ideas on flexibilities for local partnerships and technology.
- Approaches to improve the MA experience for the Medicare and Medicaid dually eligible population and rural communities.
- New risk adjustment methods.
- Potential improvements to the MA quality program.
- Strategies for improving the beneficiary enrollment process.
- The value and opportunity of using technology and telehealth and how these impact the design of provider networks.
- Framing the factors and dynamics around MA plan and provider value-based contracting.
CMS is accepting comments on this RFI until August 31, 2022. The agency could use input it receives to develop proposals for at least the next two regular rulemaking cycles for the Medicare Advantage program, issue policy proposals outside of the normal rulemaking, or both.
HMA experts are available to provide strategic assistance with framing and developing responses as well as analysis to reinforce points and recommendations to the agency for this expedited RFI response timeline.