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With Boom Over, Will Medicare Advantage Collapse Or Adjust?

After I posted my last blog Thursday ( ) and people digested what was happening with insurers’ stocks last week, a number of readers contacted me asking me to opine further on what was happening in MA. Many asked: “Is the Medicare boom over and is Medicare Advantage (MA) somehow collapsing under the weight of growing medical expense and government regulations?” They told me that they read many articles that implied MA was done — kaput! Indeed, my blogs have struck an alarmist cord at times about what is happening in MA, while other times I continue to extol the value and continued success of MA. So what’s up? It is a fair question and impression after the MA news over the past few weeks. Indeed, I give you a mixed review on MA on this site for good reasons. Refresh on issues Let’s refresh a bit on that

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With Medical Expense Rising, What Are Health Plans To Do?

Insurer stocks were rocked recently by news that both United Healthcare and Humana saw unexpected medical expense increases.  After filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and quarterly investors relations calls, these two companies’ stocks as well as those of other insurers tumbled.  Elevance Health also reported its Q4 2023 and full year 2023 results. It beat the trend.  It reported medical expense in line with expectations, but did note some increases in areas.  We are sure to see other plans report unexpected increases, with the biggest impacts likely seen at plans with major enrollment in Medicare Advantage (MA). And many plans are gearing up for additional layoffs and other administrative cuts due to the medical expense concerns. Why are plans seeing increases in medical costs?  First, utilization is slowly returning to normal in the healthcare industry post the COVID pandemic.  Second, inflation is taking root again and it

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Great News For Insurers and Medicare Beneficiaries: January 2023 to January 2024 Medicare Advantage Growth Rebounds

It is time for my annual Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment growth assessment. I usually write this in mid-January after we receive the results of the MA open enrollment season that ends on December 7 of the prior year. As I say, MA is the place to be in terms of revenue and margin opportunity. Here is this year’s assessment. I will be adding to this over the next few months as enrollment continues to increase. While some MA health plans are singing the blues after a lackluster MA enrollment season, my analysis of January 2023 to January 2024 growth shows there is reason for the industry to cheer overall. And some of the MA plans reporting disappointing growth in enrollment season actually did quite well throughout 2023. The MA enrollment big picture A few key points before we go into the year-over-year statistics: Why is Medicare Advantage (MA) attractive? As

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A Trump Second Term Would Be A Schizophrenic Experience On Healthcare

Kaiser Health News recently did a piece on what a second Donald Trump term would mean for healthcare. It was a good piece and there is a link at the bottom of this story. That prompted me to do my own evaluation of the prospects of what might happen in Trump 2. After all, lawsuits and indictments do not appear to be impacting the president’s standing in the GOP primary polls, but we will see what New Hampshire brings with candidate Nikki Haley closing in on Trump. In the general election polls, Trump and President Biden are neck and neck. To be fair to the former president, his tenure on healthcare was a mixed bag. As a bit of an atypical Republican, he ventured into areas not usually seen. Here are some major areas I would call out as the good and then the bad and ugly. The Good Price

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The GOP Primary: My Dilemma From A Healthcare Perspective And Other Policy Issues

Update: Posted early on January 1/15/2024 — Martin Luther King Day. The Iowa Republican Caucuses were on 1/15. After the Iowa Caucus results, Vivek Ramaswamy dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed Donald Trump. In Iowa, Trump won at least 20 delegates, at least DeSantis 8, Haley at least 7, and Ramaswamy at least 3. While you have learned I definitely have opinions, I try to keep politics per se out of my blogs. You do know, though, I am a Republican. As we approach the primary season, I have to try to pick a candidate. My decision will be a mix of healthcare and non-healthcare issues. So here is how I view it. As a Florida resident, I have until March 19 to make my decision on whom I want to win the GOP nomination. Forgive my delving into non-healthcare issues, but I believe the nation is on

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Major Health Insurers Can Have Differing Profiles and Priorities

With so much going on in the health insurance world, I thought it would be interesting to profile some of the largest insurers and discuss some of their priorities/activities. I picked the seven largest insurers owned by for-profit publicly traded companies. Collectively, they cover about 200 million people, or 60% of the U.S. population. Collectively, their revenues are over $1.25 trillion annually. While this is not meant to be an exhaustive review of financial information or advice on stock purchases, I combed investor relations filings and sites as well as the internet for this information. As you will see, some are focused a bit on diversification from insurance alone and strengthening services units. Others continue to be more pure-play insurers. A few points: Here goes: United Health Group 2022 Revenue: $324 billion Q3 2023 Membership: Commercial – 27.3 million Medicaid managed care – 8.0 million Medicare Advantage – 7.6 million

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Inflation Reduction Act’s Medicare Price Negotiations Should Have Small Impact On Innovation But Positive Impact On American Lives And What We Pay

If you have read my book, The Healthcare Labyrinth (available at this website), you know I am a proponent of negotiating drug prices nationally as well as the Medicare drug price provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) more specifically. In my book, I argue a few fundamentals about drug prices in America: I am a Republican and I hold atypical views on drug pricing for my party – at least compared with most House and Senate GOP lawmakers. But the truth is, the last president and current president have proposed similar reforms on drug pricing. Respected think tanks with bipartisan representation support change, too. Polls also show support across parties for drastic changes to lower drug prices. I also don’t believe that if you support drug price negotiations and other reforms that somehow you are anti-free market. Negotiations and contractual agreements are a cornerstone of the free market. But

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Risk Adjustment Basics and The Controversy Over Medicare RADV

A few readers have sent me messages and asked me to detail some basics of risk adjustment (RA) — how it works, its benefits, and its challenges — and the controversy surrounding risk adjustment data validation (RADV) in Medicare Advantage (MA) specifically. RA is a complex world, but here is my best effort to keep the overview simple and then move to the coming RADV conflagration. While not practiced in the employer world because of the penetration of self-insured funds under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA, where the employer shoulders the entire burden of costs and insurers are not at risk), risk adjustment has become an important and common practice in MA, Medicaid managed care, and Exchange managed care. Quite simply, risk adjustment is critical to ensuring that health plans are compensated fairly to cover the costs of a given individual as well as the population as a

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Channeling Nostradamus: The Healthcare Labyrinth’s 2024 Predictions

In my last blog, I gave you my healthcare year-in-review for 2023.  After that, as I always do each year, I play Nostradamus to prognosticate about what will happen in the next twelve months in the world of healthcare. Despite my Irish last name, I do have French blood (well, 50% French Canadien, so I count it). But I don’t claim to be an oracle or seer like our 16th century physician, apothecary, and astrologer friend. I do take a page from Nostradamus, though, in that my healthcare predictions for 2023 (not really prophecies) will be sometimes deliberately vague (they include a lot of mays, coulds, shoulds, and possibles) so as to amass a reasonable record for those tracking and putting together my forecasting report card for the history books. Here is hoping my crystal ball is clear and not cloudy, but don’t hold me to any of this; I am simply

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The Healthcare Labyrinth 2023 Year-In-Review

As I have done for many years, I write a healthcare year-in-review blog to tell you about all the major health stories and trends of the last twelve months. It is meant to be a general assessment and you can check this website’s Newsfeeds and Blogs as well as my LinkedIn posts ( ) for more information.  I break the stories and trends into categories to help your understanding. It is clear that 2023 was a busy year for healthcare, so this blog will be a long one! Here we go! Healthcare, Insurers, and Providers In General In general, 2023 was a continuing year of recovery from the COVID pandemic (2020 to 2022). Healthcare utilization was up again and costs/inflation are returning to normal. We shall see this continue into 2024. We saw moderate inflation in the healthcare sector in 2023 with similar projections for next year (5% to

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