Medicare changes could create confusion

A new report from the AARP Public Policy Institute examines changes to Medicare Advantage (MA) supplemental benefit policies and the implications for people with Medicare.

MA plans have long been able to offer benefits beyond what is required by law. However, the Balanced Budget Act of 2018 and recent regulatory decisions, including those in the 2019 Part C and D final rule and the Final Call Letter for 2019, have greatly increased this authority.

Among the reforms with significant consequences for consumers are those that expand the array of benefits MA plans can offer and grant the insurers more latitude to design and target those packages. While these changes could result in plan offerings that work well for some people with Medicare, they also have the potential to introduce additional complexity and confusion into the plan-selection process.

The evolving landscape may also increase the potential for plans to include discriminatory or other poorly aligned incentives as insurers experiment with the offerings to find the most profitable approach. As a result, this suite of updates could make it more difficult for people with Medicare to choose the best, most affordable coverage for their unique circumstances. This is especially troubling given the well-documented deficiencies of many Medicare decisionmaking tools.

AARP discusses these and other considerations and recommends ways the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can prioritize beneficiaries in the roll-out and adoption of these changes — namely by strengthening its plan oversight and monitoring methods.

The Medicare Rights Center shares AARP’s concerns and supports the outlined policy improvements. With some of the new MA plan changes taking effect in 2019—and with the full range to be in place next year—it is urgent that CMS prepare robust consumer protection and plan compliance systems.

Looking ahead, we recognize that while some of the new policies may benefit people with Medicare, others may not. Accordingly, we will remain actively engaged in the implementation process and in the development of future reforms, to ensure the beneficiary perspective is considered throughout.

Lindsey Copeland, who wrote this article for its blog, is the federal policy director for the Medicare Rights Center, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization.