KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

As Open Season Begins, More Medicare Advantage Plans Get Top Ratings

The Wall Street Journal: Shopping for Medicare
It's shopping time for Medicare beneficiaries. For the second year, the federal program is starting its annual open-enrollment period earlier in the fall—running from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. ... consulting firm Avalere Health found that among the 10 most popular drug plans, seven will have premiums rise by a double-digit percentage, with the increases as high as 23%. Avalere also says there will be some new low-cost options for seniors, including a UnitedHealthcare offering with premiums averaging just $15 a month (Mathews, 10/13).

MarketWatch: Medicare Open-Enrollment: Find The Right Drug Plan 
[T]his time around, experts say the stakes are greater than in previous years – particularly for retirees who rely heavily on prescription drugs. Higher premiums in certain plans, as well as changes to their coverage, could lead to significantly higher out-of-pocket costs for some beneficiaries who stick with their current option (Marte, 10/13).

Forbes: In Medicare Trust, Obamacare Scores Higher Ratings
Privately-run health insurance companies that contract with Medicare are scoring higher in a government-backed quality rating system designed to guide seniors to better medical care choices and service, the Obama administration announced Friday. The so-called "Medicare Advantage Plans" are performing better with more of them hitting four- and five-star ratings on the five-star scale, said U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The system will allow them to market their ratings and next year get bonus payments from the federal government ranging from 3 to 5 percentage points (Japson, 10/12). 

Detroit Free Press: Medicare Changes: What You Need To Know This Year
Beginning this year, [Michigan] beneficiaries of chronically poor-performing plans will be notified by mail that there might be better options elsewhere and those beneficiaries may switch to the highest-performing plans throughout 2013. Medicare for the first time will cover screenings for depression, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases and alcohol misuse. It also will cover behavioral therapy for cardiovascular disease.
Under health care reform, Medicare discounts continue to deepen on drugs in the donut hole (Erb, 10/14).

The Columbus Dispatch: Medicare Will Prod Users To From Low-Rated Advantage Plans
The federal government said yesterday that it will become more aggressive about moving people off poorly performing Medicare plans and onto higher-scoring ones. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said they will mail letters to people enrolled in 26 poorly rated plans nationwide — plans that have received 2.5 or fewer stars on a 5-star scale for the past three years. The letters will encourage those people to enroll in plans that score better on the government measures of patient health outcomes and satisfaction (Sutherly, 10/13). 

Modern Healthcare: AHIP Cheers Release Of Medicare Health, Drug Plan Ratings
The quality ratings are based on a scale of one to five, with five reflecting “excellent” performance. Starting next year, people with Medicare will have access to 127 Medicare Advantage plans that earned either a four or five-star rating and currently serve 37% of Medicare Advantage enrollees, up from 106 plans in 2012 that served 28% of enrollees, according to the new statistics from HHS. Meanwhile, people with Medicare next year will have access to 26 prescription drug plans with four- or five-star ratings that serve about 18% of enrollees, compared with 13 plans that received those ratings and served 9% of enrollees in 2012 (Zigmond, 10/12).

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