Tavenner slams CMS over Medicare Advantage underpayments
The CMS’ previous administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, criticized the agency after an analysis showed it has underpaid Medicare Advantage plans for the costs of treating individuals with chronic conditions.
Key findings from a study of federal data by Avalere Health, funded by America’s Health Insurance Plans, found that the risk-adjustment model used by the CMS lowballs the cost of treating chronic pain by $14.3 billion, osteoarthritis by $13.4 billion, depression by $8.9 billion and rheumatoid arthritis by $5.3 billion.
“Rather than relying on an antiquated fee-for-service approach as the model for care delivery, the CMS should focus on strengthening Medicare Advantage and the innovative programs that improve seniors’ health,” Tavenner, now CEO of AHIP, said in a statement. (See Q&A with Tavenner, p. 30.)
This is the first time Tavenner has publicly criticized her former agency, and it comes as AHIP faces scrutiny over losing two of its biggest members, Aetna and United Health Group.
The two insurers are founding members of Washington’s newest health insurance lobbying group, the Better Medicare Alliance, which focuses on Medicare Advantage. They and their insurance business colleagues have made it a priority to strengthen the increasingly profitable Medicare Advantage program by keeping payment rates stable.
The Avalere study comes months after the CMS admitted it underpaid health plans that enroll large numbers of beneficiaries dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. It has announced plans to adjust its risk model to address the issue. The CMS uses a prospective model that measures health status in a base year to predict costs for the following year. Critics say some insurers have bilked the system by exaggerating the condition of their Medicare Advantage patients to get higher risk-adjustment payments.
AHIP said Medicare Advantage plans have provided “tailored care coordination and disease management programs that allow beneficiaries to better manage their chronic conditions.”
The insurance lobbying group pointed to research that shows the program improves health outcomes. It also said Medicare Advantage beneficiaries consistently report high satisfaction with the program.
“While the CMS is considering changes to the risk model to address underpayments for low-income beneficiaries, the agency may also want to conduct research on methods to address underpayments for individuals with chronic conditions,” said Tom Kornfield, vice president at Avalere.
A CMS spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
This is the first time Tavenner has
publicly criticized her former agency.