Under the Trump administration, federal health care policymakers have long been vocal about the ability of Medicare Advantage (MA) to lower costs and improve outcomes among vulnerable populations.
A recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Better Medicare Alliance (BMA) and consulting firm Avalere Health is now putting hard numbers on that claim, particularly around home health services and post-acute care.
“The hallmark features of Medicare Advantage — risk-adjusted capitated payment, strong value-based performance incentives and flexibility in benefit design — enable health plans to offer care management interventions that meet complex care needs of vulnerable beneficiaries in ways that produce robust positive outcomes and greater value for high need, high cost beneficiaries,” the report states.
To study cost and outcomes differences between MA and traditional fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare, Avalere and BMA analyzed data tied to more than 1.4 million MA enrollees and 7.9 million FFS beneficiaries. Researchers pulled data from 2015 to 2017.
Broadly, the findings show that MA enrollees spend far fewer days on home health services compared to their FFS peers. For every 1,000 individuals, home health days on service were nearly 20% lower in MA than in traditional Medicare, with an even greater difference among certain subpopulations.
For every 1,000 individuals under the age of 65 living with a disability, for example, home health days on service were about 27% lower in MA than FFS. For every 1,000 individuals living with a major complex and chronic condition, home health days on service were again 27% lower.
The smallest gap in home health agency days came in the frail elderly subpopulation, according to the report. For every 1,000 frail and elderly individuals, home health days on service were about 10% lower in MA than in traditional Medicare.
“The data … show that home health utilization is lower for all three populations in Medicare Advantage compared to traditional FFS Medicare,” the report notes. “One possible explanation is that inappropriate use of these services is minimized in Medicare Advantage relative to traditional FFS Medicare, but further research is needed to evaluate differences in use of home health services.”
High-need, high-cost MA beneficiaries had lower rates of post-acute utilization across all settings compared with those in traditional Medicare. Skilled nursing facility (SNF) days were 16% to 41% lower in MA, for instance.
In general, differences in post-acute care costs were similarly aligned with differences in utilization of post-acute care.
Across all populations, home health agency costs were about 38% lower in Medicare Advantage compared to FFS Medicare.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasts that 47% of all Medicare enrollees will be Medicare Advantage beneficiaries by 2029.
“This study finds that overall Medicare Advantage delivered robust positive outcomes for high-need, high-cost beneficiaries compared to similar populations in traditional FFS Medicare,” the report continues. “Higher utilization of preventive screenings, preventive therapy and post-acute care follow-up in Medicare Advantage suggests that care management results in higher quality of care for this vulnerable population.”