A quarter of Medicare Advantage plans now offer chronically ill beneficiaries healthy food, transportation and other special supplemental benefits in 2022, representing a nearly 40% year-over-year increase in carrier uptake of these unconventional services, a new study found.
The report, released by consultancy ATI Advisory on Wednesday, found that 1,292 Medicare Advantage plans offered special supplemental benefits this year, up 383.8% from 267 carriers in 2020, the first year plans were able to offer chronically ill patients these benefits, the report said. Greater understanding of how the social determinants of health can impact individual conditions and competition in the Medicare Advantage market is driving carrier adoption of these unique products, said Tyler Cromer, a partner at ATI and co-author of the report.
"We saw really significant growth in Medicare Advantage enrollment from 2021 to 2022 and, within that growing pie, there are a lot of folks that are competing," Cromer said. "Plans see these benefits as a way to differentiate themselves to both new members and to current members. They're hugely important."
Introduction of these benefits came in 2018 after Congress passed the CHRONIC Care Act, bringing legislation allowing Medicare Advantage plans to offer special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill to the table. These benefits initially had to be primarily health related, including items such as in-home care, therapeutic massage and support for caregivers. After 2019, authorities granted plans authority to offer such non-medical items to enrollees as food and transportation. Insurers finance these items through premiums and rebates and they can count toward patients' medical costs, allowing payers to lower their medical loss ratio.
2020 represented the first year that plans could offer enrollees these benefits, and early adopters included Centene and Anthem, Cromer said. As consumers deferred care during the COVID-19 pandemic, these benefits grew in popularity, with plans increasingly looking to add new kinds of benefits to avoid returning excess profits to the federal government. CMS has proposed required Medicare Advantage plans to report the amount they spend on these supplemental benefits.