Healthcare Reform and Medicare NewsStay up-to-date on Healthcare Reform.

Below is a summary of recent events to help you stay current on the healthcare and Medicare news that impacts you. This page is updated frequently, so check back regularly to keep up with changes in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 6, 2020

CMS Proposes Changes for Medicare Advantage & Part D Plans

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released proposed rule changes for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans on Wednesday. Some of the proposals include:

  • Increasing Medicare Advantage rates by 0.93% for 2021
  • Allowing those with end-stage renal disease on dialysis to enroll in Medicare Advantage
  • Enabling consumers to view real-time direct drug price comparisons between formulary options
  • Adding a second specialty drug tier to formularies for “preferred” medications
  • Revising the star ratings system to account for patient feedback.

CMS will accept comments on the proposed changes until Friday, March 6.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 4, 2020

Humana and Private Equity Firm to Develop More Medicare-centric Primary Care Centers

Health insurer Humana and private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stow have formed a joint venture to develop payor-agnostic primary care centers that focus on treating seniors.

The clinics will be managed by Humana’s Partners in Primary Care and will more than double the number of its care centers over the next three years. Currently, it runs 47 facilities in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 28, 2020

Medicare Approves Coverage of Next Generation Sequencing Tests for Cancer Patients

Medicare will now cover diagnostic laboratory tests that use next-generation sequencing (NGS) for enrollees with inherited ovarian and breast cancers, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced. The new tests will help determine the most effective treatments for patients with advanced cancers and their candidacy for clinical trials.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 22, 2020

Medicare to Cover Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain

Medicare will now pay for acupuncture treatments for beneficiaries with chronic low back pain, CMS announced on Tuesday. Coverage includes up to 12 sessions over three months and an additional 8 sessions if symptoms improve.

The decision is part of an effort to increase the number options for non-opioid pain management.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 2, 2020

Costs for over 200 Prescriptions Drugs Expected to Rise in 2020

Pharmaceutical companies are expected to increase the cost of over 200 medications in the U.S. beginning in 2020. These include treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory issues, and more. The price increases are expected to all stay below 10%, most likely due to pressure from politicians and patients.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 19, 2019

Medicare Suspends Data Sharing Tool Over Technical Error

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced that it has temporarily shut down access to Blue Button 2.0 due to a coding error that may have exposed beneficiaries’ data.

The Blue Button data sharing tool allows Medicare enrollees to share claims data with third-party applications. The error may have unintentionally sent protected health information to the wrong user or to the wrong Blue Button 2.0 app. Any data exposure was limited to Blue Button beneficiaries or developers; the information was not compromised by outside entities.

CMS said that the issue has affected fewer than 10,000 users and 30 authorized apps.

Access to Blue Button 2.0 will remain closed until the issue is resolved.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 10, 2019

Poll: Medical Costs Are Causing Americans to Delay Care for ‘Serious’ Conditions

One in four Americans say they or a family member decided to postpone treatment for a serious medical condition in 2019 because of the cost, according to a new Gallup poll. The percentage is the highest recorded since Gallup began asking the question in 1991.

Other findings from the poll include:

  • 8% of respondents said they or a family member delayed treatment for less serious conditions because of cost.
  • 36% of households with less than $40,000 in annual income reported delaying treatment because of cost–an increase of 13% compared to 2018.
  • Delaying care for those with pre-existing conditions rose 13% compared to last year.
  • Throughout the past 18 years, there has been a 50% increase in the percentage of respondents who have delayed care due to cost.
  • The increase in delaying care did not appear to be caused by changes in insurance status, as the percentage of those uninsured remained steady.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 5, 2019

Hospital Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Price Transparency Rule

Four hospital groups have filed a lawsuit over a Trump administration rule that requires hospitals to publish the rates they negotiate with insurers.

The groups argue that the rule violates the First Amendment, would cause confusion with consumers regarding their out-of-pocket costs, and would be an administrative burden. They also claim that the Department of Health and Human Services does not have the legal authority to enforce the rule.

The suit was filed Wednesday by the American Hospital Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the Federation of American Hospitals.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 4, 2019

Humana Will Offer Remote Monitoring Services to At-Risk Medicare Advantage Enrollees

Humana is partnering with health technology company Philips on two programs that will offer remote monitoring services to Medicare Advantage members who are at high risk of hospital readmissions.

Humana will offer Philips’ Lifeline medical alert service to members who are at risk for falls and a suite of remote monitoring tools to members with severe congestive heart failure.

The initiatives are intended to provide at-risk members with 24/7 access to care, increase support after a hospital stay, and encourage prevention.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 3, 2019

Study: Most Medicare Beneficiaries Are Keeping Their Current Plans

Most Medicare Beneficiaries with Medicare Advantage prescription drug plans (MA-PDs) and Part D stand-alone prescription plans (PDPs) do not switch to different plans during the Open Enrollment Period, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study shows that during Open Enrollment in 2016, 8% of MA-PD enrollees switched to new 2017 plans and 10% of PDP enrollees switched to new 2017 plans.

For all the Open Enrollment periods between 2007 and 2016, enrollees who switched to new plans ranged from 6% to 11% for MA-PD enrollees and 10% to 13% for PDP enrollees.

The reluctance to change plans could be attributed to several factors. But previous analysis showed that 45% of Medicare beneficiaries never review or compare their options, and 35% said it is “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to compare plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 2, 2019

UnitedHealthcare Opens Medicare Service Centers in Walgreens Stores

UnitedHealthcare will open service centers for Medicare beneficiaries in Walgreens stores in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Cleveland, Denver, and Memphis beginning in January.

The service centers will provide information about Medicare coverage options and the ability for enrollees of the company’s Medicare Advantage plans to schedule their annual wellness visits.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 22, 2019

Medicare Plan Finder Tool Can Misdirect Consumers to Higher-Cost Plans

A feature in the new plan finder tool on the website may be causing some beneficiaries to unintentionally choose higher-cost coverage.

The tool, used by 60 million Medicare recipients, automatically displays the lowest-premium plan at the top of the page. However, the tool does not take into consideration other out-of-pocket expenses such as copays and prescription drug costs. If a user doesn’t take extra steps to filter the results, the plan with the lowest total annual cost may not be the first one shown.

Critics of the new tool say that the wrong choice could cost beneficiaries thousands of dollars per year.

Medicare is testing different methods, such as a pop-up, to direct consumers’ attention to total costs.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 18, 2019

Trump Administration Proposes New Insurance Price Transparency Rules

The Trump administration on Friday released a new proposal that would require insurance companies to provide price and cost-sharing information to consumers before services are performed.

The Transparency in Coverage proposal would enable participants, beneficiaries and enrollees to:

  • Access personalized out-of-pocket cost information for all covered services through an online tool or a printed copy, if requested.
  • See the rates their insurance company has negotiated with in-network providers and the allowed amounts for out-of-network providers.
  • Share the cost savings received by their insurance company.

The proposal builds on its newly finalized transparency rules for hospitals “to ensure consumers are empowered with the information they need to make informed health care decisions,” according to a statement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 14, 2019

Google Healthcare Data Project Incites Federal Investigation

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation regarding the healthcare data collection partnership between Google and Ascension.

The federal probe will investigate whether the initiative is compliant with federal patient privacy laws.

Both companies have stated that the mass collection of patient data meets all HIPAA regulations regarding data privacy, security, and usage.

“We are happy to cooperate with any questions about the project,” said Tariq Shaukat, Google Cloud’s president of industry products and solutions.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 12, 2019

Google to Store & Analyze Healthcare Records for Millions of Patients

Google’s deal with medical system Ascension allows the tech company to collect and analyze the medical data, such as lab results, doctor diagnoses, and hospitalization records, of millions of Americans.

Google said in a blog post that patient data would not be combined with any of its consumer information.

The companies are in “early testing” for optimizing Ascension’s data. Ascension claims its goal for the partnership is to use artificial intelligence to help improve clinical effectiveness and patient safety.

Ascension operates 150 hospitals and more than 50 senior living facilities in 21 states.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 11, 2019

Original Medicare Premiums and Deductibles to Increase in 2020

Original Medicare monthly premiums, deductibles, and copayments will in increase in 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced on Friday.

Medicare Part B premiums will rise nearly 7 percent, increasing from $135.50 to $144.60 for beneficiaries who earn up to $87,000 per year. The Part B outpatient deductible will rise from $185 to $198.

Medicare Part A rates will also increases. Inpatient hospital deductibles will jump from $1,364 to $1,408, an increase of $44. Coinsurance for the 61st through the 90th day in the hospital will rise from $341 per day to $352.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 7, 2019

Federal Judge Voids Trump Administration Conscience Rule

A federal court on Wednesday struck down a Trump administration rule that allowed healthcare providers to refuse to cover or perform services on religious or moral grounds.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer said the “conscience” rule was “arbitrary and capricious,” conflicted with federal laws, and would threaten funding for noncompliant providers including hospitals, clinics, and universities.

The law was scheduled to go into effect November 22.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 6, 2019

Report: Number of MA Plans With Supplemental Benefits Increases Significantly

Medicare Advantage plans offering expanded supplemental benefits grew from 102 in 2019 to 364 in 2020, according to a new study from Milliman and the Better Medicare Alliance.

Some of the benefits that will become more available in 2020 are therapeutic massage, in-home support services, adult day health services, home-based palliative care, and support for caregivers of beneficiaries. In 2019, no plans offered more than one of these services; in 2020, 116 plans include more than one.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 5, 2019

Survey: Majority of Seriously Ill Medicare Beneficiaries Incur Financial Difficulties

Over half of all Medicare enrollees who are seriously ill face financial hardships as a result of medical bills, according to a new survey published in “Health Affairs.”

Drug costs are the leading cause of financial exposure, with hospital bills, ambulance rides, and emergency visits also cited.

Other findings include:

  • More than a third said they used all or most of their savings to pay medical bills.
  • 30% said prescription drugs were their major hardship.
  • 27% were contacted by a collection agency.
  • 25% said the costs were a major burden on their families.
  • 23% could not pay for basics, including housing, food, and utilities.

The study describes seriously ill patients as those who have conditions that require two or more hospital stays and have visited more than three doctors. Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes were the most common illnesses.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 28, 2019

Medicare Advantage Choices Reach Highest Level in a Decade

The average Medicare beneficiary will be able to choose from 28 Medicare Advantage plans offered by seven different insurance carriers in 2020, according to new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Availability varies by location.

In total, there will be 3,148 Medicare Advantage plans available nationwide, up from 2,734 in 2019. HMOs account for 64% of all plans offered.

Other findings include:

  • More special needs plan will be available in 2020 than in any other year.
  • Twenty-four percent of Medicare users will be able to choose between plans offered by 10 or more companies, while 4% will only be able to choose from plans offered by two or fewer.
  • Metropolitan counties will average 31 plans per beneficiary, whereas non-metropolitan counties will average 16 plans.
  • Ninety-seven percent of beneficiaries have access to extra benefits, like dental, vision, fitness, and hearing.
  • There are 13 new insurers entering the market in 2020 and one insurer leaving, with a total of over 100 companies offering Medicare Advantage plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 14, 2019

More 2020 Medicare Plans Receive Higher Star Ratings

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released Medicare star ratings for 2020, which shows an increase in the number of plans rated four stars or higher.

Some of the star-rating results:

  • 52.4% of 2020 Medicare Advantage plans with drug coverage received at least four stars, a 6.7% increase over 2019 plans.
  • The average star rating for 2020 Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage is 4.16 (compared to 4.06 in 2019).
  • Higher-rated plans get a larger share of enrollments; MA-PD plans rated 4 stars or higher are on track to have 81.1% of members (compared to 75.3% in 2019).
  • Enrollment in Medicare Part D plans that received at least four stars is estimated to grow from 5.6% in 2019 to 27.6 in 2020.
  • 2020 Part D plans received an average star rating of 3.5 (compared to 3.34 in 2019).

CMS awarded five stars to 23 individual plans, including offerings from CVS Health, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 4, 2019

Trump Signs Executive Order to Expand Medicare Advantage Plans

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Thursday that directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop regulations that will encourage Medicare Advantage plans to offer innovative services and benefits.

Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies and serve as an alternative to Original Medicare, which is managed by the federal government.

The order asks HHS to develop proposals that will:

  • Expand access to Medicare medical savings accounts.
  • Ensure that Original Medicare is not promoted over Medicare Advantage plans
  • Allow plans to offer access to telehealth services.
  • Change the payment model that will allow beneficiaries receive savings or rebates for seeking high-quality care.
  • Modify Original Medicare fee-for-service payments to more closely reflect prices paid for Medicare Advantage and private plans.
  • Allow nurse practitioners and medical assistants to practice at the top of their licenses.
  • Streamline approval, coverage, and coding processes for medical devices.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 2, 2019

Cigna Rolls out Its Largest Medicare Advantage Expansion to Date

Cigna is launching its first Medicare Advantage PPO plans in 43 counties and expanding HMO plans into 37 new counties for 2020 plan year. The company is also offering both types of Medicare Advantage plans in Colorado for the first time.

Cigna’s new Medicare Advantage PPO plans will be available in select counties in Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

The company’s Medicare Advantage HMO plans are expanding into new counties in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

According to Cigna, most plans will include vision and dental benefits, access to fitness centers and remote access to doctors. In addition, select plans will offer additional benefits that target the social determinants of health, such as:

  • an adult day care allowance,
  • acupuncture allowance,
  • transportation, and
  • fall prevention programs.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 1, 2019

Alignment Healthcare Expands California Medicare Advantage Offerings

Alignment Healthcare announced that it will double its Medicare Advantage coverage in California for 2020.

The company will offer plans in eight new counties in Sacramento and the Bay area. If approved by regulators, the expansion

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 25, 2019

Medicare Advantage Rates Hit Lowest Point in 13 Years

Premiums for 2020 Medicare Advantage plans will be the lowest since 2007, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Plan premiums for 2020 will be 14.4% lower than those for 2019, with the average monthly premium set for $23 per month compared to last year’s $26.87.

In addition, the average number of Medicare Advantage plans available per county will increase from 33 to 39. CMS also expects enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans to increase 9.9% for a total of 24.4 million enrollees.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 24, 2019

Medicare Double Bills 411,000 Part B Direct Payments

Due to a processing error, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services deducted Medicare Part B premiums twice for approximately 411,0000 beneficiaries who pay through the department’s Easy Pay system.

CMS says that “approximately 20% of the duplicated transactions have been returned by financial institutions, and if the remaining duplications are not returned by Wednesday, Sept. 25, Treasury’s Bureau of Fiscal Service will begin to reverse the remaining transactions to complete the reimbursement.”

Any overdraft of fees resulting from the error should be waived by the financial institution.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 11, 2019

Report: Number of Privately Insured Americans Held Steady in 2018

The percentage of people covered by private health insurance remained statistically the same between 2017 and 2018, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2018, 67.3% of Americans purchased private health insurance plans through employers, directly from insurance companies, or through TRICARE. This is a 0.4% decrease from 2017.

The overall uninsured rate increased slightly from 7.9% to 8.5%, mostly due to a decrease in Medicaid participants.

Other findings include:

  • The percentage of people with Medicare coverage grew from 17.4% to 17.8%.
  • The percentage of uninsured children increased from 4.9% to 5.5%.
  • States with the largest percentage of uninsured residents were Texas (17.7%), Oklahoma (14.2%), Georgia (13.7%) and Florida (13%).

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 21, 2019

New Medicare Advantage Plan Launched for Chicago Area

Health2047 is launching a new Medicare Advantage plan in 2020 geared toward helping traditionally underserved seniors.

Zing Health, available in Cook County, will use local teams to coordinate with physicians and hospitals in order to help improve access to care.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 20, 2019

CMS Announces Updates to Hospital Star Ratings for 2021

The way hospital star ratings are determined will change beginning in 2021, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The agency will finalize the changes after a public listening session and the formation of a technical expert panel.

In the meantime, CMS will refresh the ratings on the Hospital Compare website in early 2020 using the current methodology.

Alignment Healthcare to Expand Presence in California

Alignment Healthcare announced that its Medicare Advantage plans will be available in more California counties in 2020, doubling from eight to 16.

The company will increase its offerings from 10 health maintenance organization (HMO) plan to 22 HMO and preferred provider organization (PPO) plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 8, 2019

Medicare Will Cover CAR T-cell Cancer Therapy

Medicare will now cover CAR T-cell gene therapy when it is provided in healthcare facilities enrolled in the FDA risk evaluation and mitigation strategies program, according the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

These types of therapies use a patient’s own immune system to combat certain types of lymphoma and leukemia. CMS said it will also approve the therapy for additional uses when recommended by CMS-approved medical guidelines.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 7, 2019

New Survey Shows Consumer Neutrality on Medicare for All Plans

Close to half of adults surveyed neither support nor oppose Medicare for All and other healthcare expansion proposals, according to a new study on consumer attitudes.

Urban Institute surveyed respondents on their opinions regarding access to care, costs, and other factors. The survey differs from other recent polls in that it offered respondents the option to remain neutral, instead of being forced into giving an opinion.

Some of the findings include:

  • 40.7% of respondents neither support nor oppose Medicare for All.
  • 45% of respondents neither support nor oppose a public option plan.
  • Young adults, nonwhite and Hispanic adults and those with low incomes were more likely to support than oppose Medicare for All. Those with higher incomes were more likely to oppose.
    • 29.8% of all respondents support Medicare for All.
    • 27.8% of all respondents oppose Medicare for All.
  • Medicare for All Supporters list universal coverage and affordability as important factors influencing their support. Opponents list higher taxes, wait times, and quality of care as their top concerns.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 31, 2019

2020 Medicare Part D Premiums Expected to Decrease

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has projected that premiums for 2020 Medicare Part D prescription drug plans will decline for the third year in a row.

The average Part D premiums will be $30 per month, which is 13.5% less than in 2017, according to a CMS press release issued Tuesday. The price reduction will save enrollees roughly $1.9 billion in premium costs.

CMS attributed several cost-cutting measures for the price reduction, including:

  • elimination of the “gag clause,”
  • reducing out-of-pocket costs for biosimilar products, and
  • requiring explanation of benefit notices to include price increases and lower-cost therapeutic alternatives.

Pilot Program Enables Medicare Providers Access to Patient Claims Data

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is launching a new pilot program called Data at the Point of Care that gives healthcare providers direct access to claims data for their Medicare patients.

CMS’s Blue Button computer interface will help physicians and clinicians easily access and assess a patient’s medical history.

“This data gives them more information about their patients, so they are better able to impact their care, and it allows them to do the analysis about their patient population,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

The pilot program is scheduled to begin in September. Medicare beneficiaries will be automatically included in the program unless they contact Medicare to opt out.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 30, 2019

Latest Kaiser Poll Shows Bipartisan Support for ACA Provisions

A majority of Americans prefer that the Affordable Care Act’s provisions remain in place and that future healthcare measures build on the existing law, rather than be replaced with a Medicare for All plan, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

A majority of both Republican and Democratic respondents believed that it’s “very important” to maintain key provisions of the ACA, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions and pregnant women, no-cost preventive services, no annual or lifetime limits, and keeping young adults on their parents’ plan up to age 26.

Among Democrats, 55% favor expanding the ACA, and 39% prefer a Medicare for All approach.

Support for Medicare for All plans decreased from April, with Democratic support slipping from 80% to 72%, and Republican support dropping from 27% to 15%.

Among Democrats, 55% favor expanding the ACA, and 39% prefer a Medicare for All approach.

Other findings include:

  • 65% favor a public option plan that would compete with private health insurance plans. However, views shifted when presented with arguments both for and against the approach.
  • 83% have a favorable opinion of Medicare.
  • 76% have a favorable opinion of employer health plans.
  • Medicare, Medicaid, and employer coverage are viewed more favorably than individual health plans. But a majority rate their own coverage positively, whether they have private or public coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 25, 2019

Bright Health Expands Into 13 New Markets for 2020

Bright Health announced that it will double its locations in 2020 by expanding into 13 new markets in seven states for Affordable Care Act health plans and Medicare Advantage plans.

If approved by regulators, the new markets will increase the company’s availability to a total of 22 markets in 12 states.

New Bright Health plan locations for ACA plans include:

  • Colorado: Summit County
  • Florida: Jacksonville, Orlando, Palm Beach, Tampa
  • North Carolina: Charlotte, Winston-Salem
  • Nebraska: Statewide
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
  • South Carolina: Greenville

New Bright Health plan locations for Medicare Advantage plans include:

  • Florida: Orlando, Palm Beach
  • Illinois: Chicago
  • Nebraska: Omaha
  • Ohio: Cleveland
  • South Carolina: Greenville
  • Tennessee: Memphis

Report: Medicare Could Save $57M By Providing Free Home-Delivered Meals

Medicare could save about $57 million per year by providing free meals to recently hospitalized seniors, according to a new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

By analyzing data from seniors with multiple chronic conditions, the study found that providing meals for one week after a hospitalization could prevent nearly 10,000 hospital readmissions every year.

The meals would cost approximately $101 million, but Medicare would save more than $158 million in payments for return hospital stays.

Currently, some Medicare Advantage plans cover meal-service delivery. The report recommends that lawmakers add the benefit to Original Medicare in limited circumstances.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 24, 2019

Senate Committee Announces Plan to Overhaul Medicare Part D

The Senate Finance Committee announced its bipartisan legislation designed to lower drug costs.

The proposal, called The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act, would overhaul Medicare Part D in significant ways, including:

  • Putting a cap on drug prices, which would keep drug makers from raising prices above the rate of inflation.
  • Lowering the threshold that activates the catastrophic phase for Medicare Part D users from more than $8,000 to $3,100 by 2022.
  • Revising the catastrophic coverage drug payment model so that insurance companies pay 60 percent of the costs, and the government and drug makers each pay 20 percent.

The proposal is projected to save Medicare beneficiaries $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs and $5 billion in premiums over 10 years.

Committee leaders Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that the committee plans to vote on the legislation on Thursday.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 18, 2019

Oscar Health Will Offer Medicare Advantage Plans

Oscar Health announced Wednesday that it will enter the Medicare Advantage market in 2020 with plans available in New York City and Houston.

In New York, the company is offering plans in partnership with Montefiore Health System. In Houston, the company is pairing with several regional providers including Houston Methodist, HCA Houston Healthcare, and St. Joseph Medical Center.

Pending approval by regulators, the plans will be available during Open Enrollment this fall.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 16, 2019

Medicare Considering Covering Acupuncture for Back Pain

A new Medicare proposal would cover acupuncture for beneficiaries with chronic low-back pain as an alternative to opioid treatments, which can become addictive.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Monday that the coverage would apply only to patients enrolled in clinical trials or other CMS-approved studies. The agency would then use results of those trials to determine further acupuncture coverage options.

CMS is gathering public input before finalizing the proposal.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 12, 2019

Cancer Patients Face Substantial Financial Burden

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the annual out-of-pocket expenses for cancer survivors is increasing with 25 percent experiencing problems paying their bills and 34 percent worried about their costs.

Average out-of-pocket spending for cancer survivors is $1,000 per year compared to $622 per year for people who’ve never had cancer. And those costs are growing. Even with health insurance in place, cancer patients incur an additional financial burden from  things such as traveling to treatment and being away from work.

Other findings from the study:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses were highest among cancer survivors ages 18-64 and those who were unemployed.
  • Cancer survivors ages 40-49 reported the highest percentage of “material or psychological financial hardship.”
  • A higher percentage of minority racial/ethnic cancer survivors reported “material or psychological financial hardship.”
  • “Cancer survivors [are] more likely to be older, female, non-Hispanic white, married, privately insured,” full-time employees, more educated, and have more chronic conditions compared to people who’ve never had cancer.

Narrow Medicare Advantage Networks Limit Access for Some Enrollees

Finding a doctor in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan network can be difficult for many enrollees, especially if they live in rural areas.

Government audits have found that nearly half of the entries in MA directories had incorrect addresses, phone numbers, or doctors who were not accepting new patients. The American Journal of Managed Care found that a Google search for participating doctors could be more accurate than using a plan’s directory.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study from 2017 found that MA plans included “46 percent of all physicians in a county, on average.” Access to psychiatrists is the most restricted, with 23 percent in a county’s plan on average, followed by cardiothoracic surgeons, neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, and radiation oncologists.

Rural beneficiaries can be especially burdened by narrow MA networks. A study of California MA plans showed that some enrollees in rural areas lived over 100 miles from in-network specialists.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 9, 2019

Connecticut Enacts Mental Health Parity Bill

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill into law that will require insurance providers to submit annual reports to state insurance commissioners, detailing their coverage of mental health and substance abuse services.

The new law intends to hold insurers accountable for complying with state and federal laws that mandate equal access to mental and physical health services.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 8, 2019

Medicare Coverage Expanded for Blood Pressure Monitoring Devices

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has extended coverage of Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring (ABPM) devices to Medicare beneficiaries who have suspected abnormal low blood pressure readings while in a doctor’s office.

Previously, Medicare covered ABPM devices only for patients with suspected “white coat hypertension,” which occurs when a patient’s blood pressure is elevated due to anxiety associated with a clinical setting. The 24-hour monitoring device is now also approved for “masked hypertension,” the inverse of “white coat hypertension,” which causes patients to have lower-than-normal blood pressure readings while in a clinical setting.

The new rule also lowers the definition of hypertension from a reading of 140/90 to 130/80 “to align with the latest society recommendations regarding the diagnostic criteria.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 3, 2019

Poll: Majority Support Medicare for All if Healthcare Providers Remain

A majority of voters would back a Medicare for All plan if they could keep their preferred doctors and hospitals, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico survey.

Of those surveyed, 55% of respondents backed a single-payer system that would reduce the role of private insurance companies but allow them to keep their healthcare providers.

But 46% were in favor when told the role of private insurers would be reduced, and 53% approved when not given any specifics about insurers or doctors.

The poll found that general support for a Medicare for All system comes from 77% of Democrats, 27% of Republicans and 50% of Independents.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 26, 2019

New Study Shows 14% Increase in Out-of-Pocket Healthcare Costs

In 2018, out-of-pocket costs for inpatient services increased 14% over the previous year, according to a report from TransUnion Healthcare.

TransUnion tracked deductible and co-pay costs for patients with commercial insurance, Medicare Advantage, Traditional Medicare, and those who self-pay to find the annual averages.

2018 Average Out-of-Pocket Cost

2017 Average Out-of-Pocket Cost

Inpatient visit



Outpatient visit



Emergency visit



In addition, the study found that 59% of patients had out-of-pocket expenses between $501 and $1,000, compared to 39% in 2017. Patients with expenses of $500 or less drop from 49% in 2017 to 36% in 2018.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 25, 2019

President Signs Executive Order on Healthcare Pricing Transparency

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday that will require hospitals and insurance companies to publicly disclose their negotiated pricing.

The order is meant to increase price transparency through five policies:

  1. Providers must disclose the prices for insurers and patients in an easy-to-read format.
  2. Providers and insurance must provide patients with the estimated out-of-pocket costs before they receive care.
  3. Agencies must propose ways to simplify and improve quality measures across all healthcare programs.
  4. Researchers must gain increased access to healthcare claims information, stripped of individual details.
  5. The Treasury Department must look for ways to expand how health savings accounts can be used.

Before the changes can be implemented, government agencies, including Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department, must determine a rule-making process and work out the details of how the president’s plan will be executed.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 13, 2019

House Committee Debates Medicare for All Proposals

For the first time, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the various Democratic proposals for universal healthcare.

The discussion, held Wednesday with a panel of healthcare experts and advocates, primarily served as a platform for partisan debate. Republicans were united in the belief that Medicare for All measures would cost too much, raise taxes and dilute the quality of healthcare. Democrats remain split on what type of public plans to support and whether the Affordable Care Act could be used to move those proposals forward.

Lawmakers from both parties agreed that the current healthcare system needs to be revised so that more people can have access to quality care and affordable coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 7, 2019

250K Medicare Beneficiaries Could Be Impacted by Error

At least 250,000 Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans could receive bills for five months of coverage due to a “processing error” within the Social Security Administration.

This error has caused some beneficiaries to be dropped from their coverage due to nonpayment.

In a notice to beneficiaries, the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed that some enrollees have not had premiums deducted from their Social Security benefit checks since February. The error has been corrected and payments will be resumed beginning this month or in July.

Insurance companies will bill customers for any shortfalls. Members will have at least two months to pay the premiums that were missed. Payment plans can be set up for beneficiaries who need them.

Neither the SSA or Medicare have said how the glitch occurred, which plans were affected, or the total amount of premiums that will need to be paid retroactively.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 5, 2019

Medicare for All Hearing Set for Next Week

The House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a Medicare for All hearing for June 12. It will be the first time the measure is examined by a panel that oversees healthcare issues.

The House version of the proposal is sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and currently has 110 Democratic cosponsors.

This hearing could encourage the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has control over healthcare issues, to consider the Medicare for All proposal.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 4, 2019

Committee Starts Talks to Expand Long-Term Care in MedSupp Plans

The House Ways and Means Committee has reached out to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners for recommendations on how to expand long-term care benefits for Medicare Supplement plans.

Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) wrote to NAIC President Eric Cioppa asking for ideas on how a federal policy could be crafted to “provide some relief” to families without causing adverse selection. Neal requested suggestions on lifetime and daily caps, waiting periods, eligibility requirements, and enrollment forecasts.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 17, 2019

Trump Administration Releases Final Rule for Medicare Drug Pricing

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule Thursday aimed at lowering costs and improving price transparency for prescription drugs.

Stipulations in the rule include:

  • Medicare Part D plans will continue to cover drugs in six “protected classes,” including antidepressants and immunosuppressants.
  • Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to use “step therapy” for Part B drugs, which requires the use of a lower-cost medication before trying a more expensive one.
  • Pharmacists may disclose when Part D drugs can be purchased at a lower cost out-of-pocket than through their insurance.

Also, beginning in 2021:

  • The Part D explanation of benefits beneficiaries receive will include a notice of price hikes and any low-cost therapeutic alternatives.
  • Each Part D plan will use at least one electronic benefit tool that works with electronic health records.

CMS did not implement some rules it had proposed last fall, including allowing insurance companies to drop a medication from its formulary if the price soared or was a new formulation of an existing single-source drug.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 14, 2019

Washington Creates Country’s First State-Run, Long-Term Care Benefit Program

A first-of-its-kind program that will help state residents offset the costs of long-term care became a law on Monday when Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the new bill.

Beginning in 2025, participants will receive a $100-per-day allowance that can be used for nursing home fees, in-home assistance, and reimbursement for family caretakers, up to a lifetime maximum of $36,500, indexed to inflation. To receive the funds, residents must need help with at least three “activities of daily living,” such as bathing, eating, and dressing.

The program will be funded through a payroll tax that starts in 2022. Employees will pay 0.58 percent of their income into a state fund. Workers will have to pay the premium for at least 500 hours per year for three of the previous six years, or for a total of 10 years (with at least five of those paid without interruption), in order to be eligible for the benefit.

Residents who have long-term care insurance policies are exempt from paying the tax. Those who are self-employed can opt to pay into the program, but it’s not required.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 13, 2019

Washington to Become First State With a Public Healthcare Option

Washington will establish the country’s first universally available public insurance option when Governor Jay Inslee signs the legislation today.

The public option, called Cascade Care, is a hybrid insurance model: the state will create the terms of the plans and private insurance companies will administer the day-to-day operations, such as enrollment and claims payments.

Premiums are expected to be up to 10 percent lower than comparable private insurance coverage. The reduced costs are made possible by capping payments to healthcare providers at 160 percent of federal Medicare rates.

The set of tiered plans will available by 2021 and will be offered to all Washington residents, regardless of income.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 10, 2019

Study: Employer Plans Pay 241% More Than Medicare

Hospitals charged private employer-sponsored plans 240% more on average than what they billed Medicare, according to a new RAND Corp. study on healthcare pricing.

Researchers compared payment rates for 1,600 hospitals in 25 states. The charges represent the negotiated allowed amounts between hospitals and health plans.

Some of the findings include:

  • The price disparity has increased from 2015, when it was 236%.
  • The difference between Medicare and employer plans ranged from 150% to over 400%.
  • If employer plans were charged the same as Medicare during the study period. It would have reduced health spending by $7.7 billion.
  • The price difference was higher for outpatient care (293%) than for inpatient care (204%).

The study also recommends measures that employers could take to help reduce the disparity, including:

  • pressuring their health plan to base pricing on Medicare rates
  • encouraging state or federal policy intervention as a way to readjust “negotiating leverage between hospitals and employer health plans”

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 7, 2019

Study: Medicare Advantage Beneficiaries Spend Less

People who switch to Medicare Advantage plans spend less on average and use fewer services than traditional Medicare beneficiaries—even before they enroll in Medicare Advantage, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family.

In the study, researchers compared the “average traditional Medicare spending and use of services in 2015 among beneficiaries who switched to Medicare Advantage plans in 2016 with those who remained in traditional Medicare that year, after adjusting for health risk.”

Those who switched spent $1,253 less on average in 2015, according to the analysis.

The spending difference remained, regardless of age, gender, or health condition. Medicare Advantage users with dual-eligibility also spent less prior to their switch to Medicare Advantage.

The findings suggest that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) could be overpaying MA plans by billions of dollars per year because the department bases its payments on spending by those on traditional Medicare.

In addition, the results question whether the care management strategies of Medicare Advantage plans are responsible for the lower spending of enrollees.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 2, 2019

CBO Report Highlights Complexities of a Medicare for All System

The Congressional Budget Office released a report on Wednesday that analyzes the “opportunities and risks” of creating a Medicare for All type of healthcare system like those proposed by some Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates.

Instead of cost estimates, “Key Design Components and Considerations for Establishing a Single-Payer Health Care System” lays out the positive and negative outcomes that lawmakers and consumers could face if current system were revised.

The report outlines ways in which Congress could address issues that may arise with a single-payer system, such as:

  • Funding the system
  • Plan oversight
  • Eligibility
  • Cost-sharing
  • The role of private insurance providers
  • Management of provider rates and prescription drugs

The analysis suggests drawbacks of single-payer healthcare could include longer wait times and decreased access to care. New taxes would also have to be established for income, payroll, or consumption to help pay for the system.

Benefits of a single-payer system, according to the report, include costs savings from administrative streamlining, and a greater focus on preventive care and increasing the nation’s health as a whole.

Other considerations for legislators include whether or not to pay for undocumented immigrants and long-term care services, and what strategies should be used to maintain costs.

Democrats Reintroduce Compromise Medicare Expansion Proposal

Democratic Representatives Rosa DeLaura of Connecticut and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois presented their plan for expanding healthcare coverage on Wednesday. The Medicare for America Act is considered a more moderate approach than a single-payer models like Medicare for All.

The plan debuted last year, but now has 16 cosponsors.

The proposal would maintain employer-based health plans, but employees would have the option to enroll in Medicare coverage. Consumers who have coverage though Affordable Care Act plans, Medicaid, Medicare and CHIP would all transition to the newly expanded Medicare plans.

Premiums for the plans would be based on income, but cost would be capped at 8 percent of monthly pay. Tax subsidies would be provided to those with low-incomes. There would be no deductibles to be met before coverage begins.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 1, 2019

Medicare for All Bill Receives First Congressional Hearing

The first public congressional discussion on Medicare for All was held on Wednesday in front of the House Rules Committee. The hearing centered on a bill from Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), which has over 100 Democratic co-sponsors.

Speakers included healthcare providers, a conservative economist, liberal activists with disparate opinions on how a single-payer system would operate, and Ady Barkan, a supporter with Lou Gehrig’s disease who described his struggles with exorbitant out-of-pocket costs.

Jayapal’s bill currently lacks support from centrist Democrats and would not be able to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, she and other advocates were positive about gaining a hearing. “This was the first step, it’s a big step, but we’re on our way. Medicare for All is possible. It is reasonable. It can move forward, and I think it should,” said the Chairman of the Rules Committee Jim McGovern (D-MA.).

Republicans remained skeptical about Medicare for All efforts. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the committee, said that supporters have “not told us how much this massive new program would cost, who would pay for it and how much taxes would have to go up.”

Additional hearings on Medicare for All were confirmed during Wednesday’s discussion: one for The House Budget Committee and another for the House Ways and Means Committee.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 23, 2019

CMS Announces New Medicare Payment Models for Primary Care Practices

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Monday announced two new voluntary Medicare programs for primary care physicians that will reward practices based on their patients’ health improvements instead of the traditional fee-for-service payments.

The initiative will “move [the nation] toward a system where providers are paid for outcomes rather than procedures, and free up doctors to focus on the patients in front of them, rather than the paperwork we send them,” Azar said.

The CMS Primary Cares initiative, set to launch in 2020, contains new payment models where physicians and hospitals assume varying levels of financial responsibility for reducing costs and improving services.

The first model, aimed at small, primary-care practices, gives two payment options that include a flat monthly fee per patient, with bonuses and penalties based on patients’ health.

Larger practices and health systems have three payment options within this initiative:

  • The “Professional Option:” Providers would receive a fixed monthly payment and assume 50% of the financial risk.
  • The “Global Option:” Providers would assume the full risk of the cost of caring for patients.
  • The “Geographic Option:” Health systems or insurance plans take on the full risk for the primary care cost for communities within a specific region.

CMS Primary Cares was designed to promote new technologies such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring. “Providers will have greater flexibility to spend these resources how they want, allowing them to come up with innovative ways to care for patients — and receive significant savings if they keep patients healthier than expected,” Azar said.

Azar said he expects around one-fourth of primary care practices to sign up for CMS Primary Cares.

Medicare and Social Security Funds Face Uncertainty

A new report from the board of trustees for Medicare forecast that the Medicare Supplementary hospital insurance fund will be depleted by 2026, which is the same date projected last year.

In addition, costs for the Medicare Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) fund, which covers drug cost in Part B and D, are expected to grow gradually from 2.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2018 to about 3.7 percent of GDP in 2038. However, trustees report that the fund will be sufficiently financed by general revenues and beneficiary premiums.

Social Security also faces an uncertain financial future, as its total cost is predicted to exceed its total income in 2020, which will be the first time it’s happened since 1982.

The report requests that legislators “take action sooner rather than later to address these shortfalls, so that a broader range of solutions can be considered and more time will be available to phase in changes while giving the public adequate time to prepare.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 11, 2019

Bernie Sanders Debuts Revamped Medicare for All Bill

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) debuted an updated version of his Medicare for All bill on Wednesday with the support of 14 Democratic cosponsors.

In his proposal, Sanders calls for replacing private insurance with a single-payer, government-run system with no premiums or deductibles. Certain services would come with small copays, and copays for brand-name prescription would be capped at $200. This new version of the proposal adds coverage for long-term care.

“The American people are increasingly clear: They want a health care system which guarantees healthcare to all Americans as a right,” said Sanders.

Sanders did not outline how the program would be funded, but did offer general suggestions.

In response, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the plan a “total government takeover of health care that would actually hurt seniors, eliminate private health insurance for 180 million Americans, and cripple our economy and future generations with unprecedented debt.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 1, 2019

Senators to Debut Revised “Medicare X” Plan

Democratic Senators Tim Kaine (VA) and Michael Bennet (CO) will introduce a new “Medicare X” healthcare plan next week, which would create a public health insurance option.

The proposal retains employer health plans, but also allows consumers to purchase Medicare plans through the individual or small-business ACA exchanges.

“180 million people in America get their insurance through an employer-based plan and Medicare X gives people the opportunity to decide whether they want to stay on that plan,” said Bennet.

Features of the Medicare X plan include:

  • access to the Medicare network of doctors,
  • the ACA’s essential benefits, such as maternity and newborn care,
  • the establishment of a federal reinsurance program to keep premiums down, and
  • tax credits for higher-income Americans.

The plan would be gradually phased in over a five-year period, beginning in rural areas, then nationwide, and lastly to small businesses.

The proposal has no Republican cosponsors, although Bennet and Kaine are optimistic about the idea catching on.

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