Summary: CMS just finalized the 2024 payment rule for Medicare Advantage, weakening the draft rule. There remain massive overpayments and widespread barriers to care. These fundamental problems are inevitable with reliance on private insurer intermediaries.
Biden Just Took the First Step to Overhaul Medicare Advantage. Many More Must Be Taken
April 7, 2023
By Diane Archer
The corporations that run Medicare Advantage plans are engaged in widespread waste, fraud and abuse, resulting in tens of billions of dollars of overpayments to them every year. The advocates and government agencies overseeing Medicare Advantage have spent nearly two decades reporting on this fraud and waste and urging Congress to overhaul the program. Few in Congress or the administration were listening. Now, the Biden administration is finally taking action, but it’s only a first step.
The Biden administration has just finalized a rule that begins to rein in these overpayments, at last putting a spotlight on an issue that Congress and the public have long overlooked. The new rule is a small step towards reining in some of the overpayments to the Medicare Advantage plans and protecting the integrity of the Medicare Trust Fund, though it is not nearly enough.
The insurance industry’s fierce opposition and the multi-million dollar fear campaign the health insurance corporations launched against the proposed rule was their admission that Medicare Advantage plans can’t provide coverage at a reasonable cost. Medicare Advantage only works for the insurers if they are wildly overpaid and profiting exorbitantly. It was their admission that they cannot do what they were created to do and are legally obligated to do. They cannot deliver Medicare coverage anywhere near as cost-effectively as traditional Medicare, let alone at lower cost, as they had promised.
The fight over small improvements to the flawed Medicare Advantage payment system reveals how challenging it is to fix Medicare Advantage and free it of the bad actors who are engaged in massive — sometimes fraudulent — overbilling of Medicare. Medicare Advantage is in need of a substantial overhaul, as the advocates, along with the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, the Government Accountability Office and the Office of the Inspector General, have all been saying for years.
The Biden administration also recently finalized another rule, aimed at addressing widespread and persistent inappropriate delays and denials of care in Medicare Advantage. Among other things, the rule attempts to streamline the Medicare Advantage prior authorization process. It spotlights and begins to address the serious risks some Medicare Advantage plans pose to the health and well-being of their enrollees — our nation’s sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents.
Though it goes further than any past rule in its attempt to protect Americans from the bad actor Medicare Advantage plans, it does not provide the public with important information as to which plans are the bad actors. Nor will it lead to the government’s cancellation of contracts with the worst-performing Medicare Advantage plans. Therefore, it will not keep the bad actor Medicare Advantage plans from continuing to inappropriately delay and deny critical care.
Comment by: Jim Kahn
Lobbying elected representatives and public scare campaigns are high-yield investments for health insurers. Their profits these days derive mainly from serving as intermediaries for Medicare Advantage and other public insurance programs. They spend millions to safeguard billions in excess payments from CMS. The rate of return may exceed 100:1. The Biden administration is starting to address overpayment, but their effort is undercut by massive industry push-back.
The final rule spreads the modest and overdue proposed adjustments over three years. If you want a good technical summary, look at the fact sheet. The net result is a payment increase of 3.3% for 2024, as compared with 1% in the draft rule. How much is the difference? $10 billion. All into profits.
And that doesn’t begin to represent the scale of the overcharging documented by the Medical Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) and others. Up to $50 billion per year.
The insurers no doubt also hope that delay will further benefit them — a more sympathetic administration might abandon the out-year adjustments. They might also argue that other much-needed broader changes must wait until these three years of slow adjustment are done.
This is a rules-based approach. Very long and complicated rules attempt to rein in private sector entities which spend every working day scheming how to evade and game those rules, to shift more of the Medicare Trust Fund to shareholder profits.
Diane does an excellent job describing the sweep of problems plaguing Medicare Advantage. She rightly calls for a major overhaul.
What kind of major overhaul would really work? So complete we might not want to use the word “overhaul”. We need to abandon the financial intermediary structure, which guarantees bloated costs and aggressive limits on access to care, especially expensive care.
We need to jettison the insurers, and use a structure like traditional Medicare, with payments directly from the program to providers. For everyone. Single payer, Medicare for All.