By GEORGE HALVORSON
Medicare Advantage now enrolls almost exactly half the people enrolled in Medicare — and has both significant fans and hardline opponents in the health care policy circles who disagree about its performance.
The biggest attack point that comes from the critics deals with the issues of coding accuracy by the plans. The payment model for the program is capitation — and that capitation is based on the average cost of fee-for-service Medicare in every county. The people who designed the model believed that the country should use the average cost of fee-for-service Medicare in every county as the baseline number and should have the plans paid less than that average Medicare cost going forward every year in their capitation cash flow.
Medicare fee-for-service has a strict and consistent payment level based on a list of approved Medicare services — and they add up the cost of those services in every county and let the plans bid a lower number than that fee for service Medicare cost, if the plans believe they can offer all of the basic benefits and possibly add more benefits and additional services for that amount.
The fee-for-service Medicare cash flow and costs in each county tend to be very stable over time, with a continuous and steady increase in the actual functional cost for taking care of those fee-for-service patients for each year that they receive care. That total cost of fee-for-service Medicare care is a visible and clear baseline number that we can use each year with confidence and knowledge that it is what we are spending now on those Medicare members in the counties.
The direct capitation amount that is then paid to each of the plans is based on the age, gender, health status, and diagnosis profile of the Medicare Advantage members who enroll in the plans. The plans have been reporting those patient profile numbers to the government through the Risk Adjustment Processing System (RAPS) over a couple of decades to set up their payment levels and to create the monthly cash flow for each plan.
That’s where the upcoding accusations relative to the plans arise.
The plans get paid more if the patients have more expensive diagnoses — so the plans have had a strong and direct incentive to make sure that every diabetic enrollee is recorded and reported as being diabetic for their RAPS filings.
They also have a strong incentive to be sure that every congestive heart failure patient has their diagnosis recorded in their RAPS report.Continue reading…