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1) Jan 25 [press release] -- On December 7, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions to promote competition in health care, including increasing transparency in the Medicare Advantage (MA) insurance market and strengthening MA programmatic data. Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is continuing momentum in this area by releasing a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit feedback from the public on how best to enhance MA data capabilities and increase public transparency. Transparency is especially important now that MA has grown to over 50% of Medicare enrollment, and the government is expected to pay MA health insurance companies over $7 trillion over the next decade. The information solicited by this RFI will support efforts for MA plans to best meet the needs of people with Medicare, for people with Medicare to have timely access to care, to ensure that MA plans appropriately use taxpayer funds, and for the market to have healthy competition. . . .

CMS has already taken several steps to improve transparency in this market, outlined below, and the MA data RFI is the next step in these efforts. CMS is seeking data-related input from the public related to all aspects of the MA program, including access to care, prior authorization, provider directories, and networks; supplemental benefits; marketing; care quality and outcomes; value-based care arrangements and equity; and healthy competition in the market, including the effects of vertical integration and how that affects payment. We are also seeking comments on improving MA data collection and release methods. The RFI has an extended comment period of 120 days to encourage feedback from a wider array of stakeholders and to allow time for convenings and other efforts to synthesize detailed feedback to CMS.

https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2024/01/25/biden-harris-administration-launches-effort-increase-medicare-advantage-transparency.html

2) Jan 30 FRN -- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), seeks input from the public regarding various aspects of Medicare Advantage (MA) data by May 29. 2024. Responses to this request for information (RFI) may be used to inform general efforts to strengthen Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) MA data capabilities and guide policymaking.

In a request for information that appeared in the Federal Register on August 1, 2022 (87 FR 46918) (hereinafter referred to as 2022 General MA RFI), CMS sought feedback on ways to strengthen Medicare Advantage (MA) to align with the Vision for Medicare (https://www.cms.gov/blog/building-cms-strategic-vision-working-together-stronger-medicare) and the CMS Strategic Pillars (https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/what-we-do/cms-strategic-plan). The 2022 General MA RFI set out to create more opportunities for stakeholders to engage with CMS, and in alignment with the agency’s Strategic Pillars, prioritize increased engagement throughout the policy process with our partners and the communities we serve. As a result of this commitment, we received more than 4,000 responses from a wide variety of voices. One key theme that emerged was an interest in greater beneficiary protections, such as strengthened MA marketing regulations and prior authorization protections. Respondents also focused on issues related to payment, including accurate risk adjustment and value-based payment arrangements between providers and insurers, as well as competition in the market, such as topics related to insurer consolidation and vertical integration. Additionally, we received strong feedback from respondents who stated that CMS should have comprehensive high-quality MA programmatic data and promote more program transparency through increased public releases of MA data. Respondents underscored the urgency for more complete MA data and data transparency as enrollment in MA has for the first time reached half of all people enrolled in Medicare.

Recommendations regarding MA data included calls for CMS to collect and release more MA data on key areas of concern, such as supplemental benefit costs and utilization, value-based payment arrangements between providers and plans, utilization management and prior authorization including denials and appeals and access to inpatient services and post-acute care, network adequacy and provider directory accuracy, competitive forces in the market such as the effects of market shifts and vertical integration and consolidation on consumers, care outcomes, and Medicare Loss Ratios (MLRs). Commenters also raised data considerations on topics such as MA marketing activity, especially predatory behavior, care outcomes and data available in MA compared to Traditional Medicare (Medicare Parts A and B), and geographic impacts including on rural areas, among other important topic areas. Respondents emphasized that CMS should improve its data capabilities to measure impacts of MA on underserved communities. HHS’ Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) have pointed out program areas that would benefit from better or more MA data as well.

During the Biden-Harris Administration, we have finalized policies for 2024 and proposed policies that will improve MA data capabilities, among other important MA policy changes. We have also issued requirements for collecting more data related to supplemental benefits in the updated Part C reporting requirements, required MA organizations to improve prior authorization processes and final interoperability requirements, and begun collecting race and ethnicity data on a voluntary basis on MA and Part D enrollment forms.

This RFI is an extension of our ongoing work on MA data as we solicit feedback from the public on how best to meet the shared goals of enhancing data capabilities to have better insight into our programs, consider areas to increase MA data transparency, and propose future rulemaking. Our eventual goal is to have, and make publicly available, MA data commensurate with data available for Traditional Medicare to advance transparency across the Medicare program, and to allow for analysis in the context of other health programs like accountable care organizations, the Marketplace, Medicaid managed care, integrated delivery systems, among others. . . .

In this RFI, CMS requests comments on all aspects of data related to the MA program – both data not currently collected as well as data currently collected. We are especially interested in: data-related recommendations related to beneficiary access to care including provider directories and networks; prior authorization and utilization management, including denials of care and beneficiary experience with appeals processes as well as use and reliance on algorithms; cost and utilization of different supplemental benefits; all aspects of MA marketing and consumer decision-making; care quality and outcomes, including value-based care arrangements and health equity; healthy competition in the market, including the impact of mergers and acquisitions, high levels of enrollment concentration, and the effects of vertical integration, data topics related to Medicare Advantage prescription drug plans (MAPDs); and special populations such as individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, individuals with end stage renal disease (ESRD), and other enrollees with complex conditions. We ask that academic researchers and other data analysts provide precise detail and definitions on the data format, fields, and content that would facilitate comprehensive analyses of any publicly released MA data, including comparisons with existing data sets, for example, between Traditional Medicare and MA. Additionally, we seek detail regarding the rationale, goals, and questions that you could address with newly released data and suggestions for how such data could support new action or regulation by CMS. We are also interested to hear if you have insight in ways in which CMS could leverage existing private sector data.

It would also be helpful for plans, providers, data vendors, and other stakeholders with a deep understanding of MA data to provide recommendations related to operational considerations as part of this effort. Comments are welcome on ways that we could improve our current MA data collection and release methods, including recommendations on the preferred cadence of data releases. Finally, we seek detailed information from beneficiary advocates, health care providers, and other stakeholders on common challenges and experiences in the MA program for which limited data are currently available.

FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2024-01832

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