What You Need to Know
- A watchdog says a mechanism for paying plans with sicker members more is broken.
Medicare Advantage is leading the U.S. government to spend billions more on seniors’ medical care than it should and needs a significant makeover, a nonpartisan watchdog said in a report to lawmakers.
The program collected $12 billion in “excess payments” in 2020 over what the U.S. would have paid to cover people who used the private plans under standard Medicare, according to a report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, released Tuesday.
Medicare has offered some private-sector version since the 1980s, and the current program, called Medicare Advantage, is nearly two decades old.
It allows insurers to sell plans that provide Medicare benefits along with add-ons like dental or vision coverage. That can eliminate the need for consumers to purchase supplemental insurance that picks up costs not covered by Medicare itself.
However, MedPAC said swelling costs could threaten the sustainability of Medicare and a major overhaul of the popular program is urgently needed. The program paid Medicare Advantage plans $350 billion last year, MedPAC said.
Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has doubled over the past decade to cover nearly half of Medicare’s 64 million beneficiaries, fetching billions for large insurers including UnitedHealth Group Inc., Humana Inc. and CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna unit that have bet heavily on the business.
It has also given rise to an ecosystem of smaller companies eager to cash in, such as tech-focused insurers like Clover Health Investments Corp. and Alignment Healthcare Inc., and clinics that cater to seniors on the plans, including Oak Street Health Inc. and Cano Health Inc.
Many of those companies have seen their shares suffer recently due in part to concerns that it will be more difficult to make profits from the business than investors had once expected.
MedPAC, established in the 1990s to advise lawmakers on Medicare policy, has long warned about excess Medicare Advantage payments. Private plans are on pace to cover half of all Medicare beneficiaries next year, according to the latest report, and MedPAC said they should be pushed to pare costs.
Medicare Advantage plans “need to face appropriate financial pressure” in line with providers in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program, the group said.