Some Medicare Advantage Companies Leveraged Chart Reviews and Health Risk Assessments To Disproportionately Drive Payments
WHY WE DID THIS STUDY
CMS risk-adjusts payments by using beneficiaries' diagnoses to pay higher capitated payments to companies with contracts under Medicare Advantage (MA companies) for beneficiaries expected to have higher-than-average medical costs. This may create financial incentives for MA companies to make beneficiaries appear as sick as possible. For CMS to risk-adjust payments, MA companies report beneficiaries' diagnoses-based on services provided to beneficiaries-to CMS's MA encounter data system and the Risk Adjustment Processing System.
Chart reviews and health risk assessments (HRAs) are allowable sources of diagnoses for risk adjustment. A chart review is an MA company's review of a beneficiary's medical record to identify diagnoses that a provider did not submit or submitted in error. An HRA occurs when-in order to diagnose a beneficiary and identify possible gaps in care-a health care professional collects information from a beneficiary about the beneficiary's health.
We undertook this evaluation because of concerns that MA companies may leverage both chart reviews and HRAs to maximize risk adjusted payments, without beneficiaries receiving care for those diagnoses. Unsupported risk adjusted payments have been a major driver of improper payments in the MA program. The risk adjustment program is an important payment mechanism for MA. It levels the playing field for MA companies that enroll beneficiaries who need a costlier level of care, which helps to ensure that these beneficiaries have continued access to MA plans. Chart reviews and HRAs can be tools for improving the MA program. However, two prior OIG evaluations found that the diagnoses that MA companies reported only on chart reviews or HRAs in the 2016 encounter data-i.e., on no other service records-resulted in billions in risk-adjusted payments for 2017. These prior evaluations raised concerns about the completeness of encounter data; the validity of submitted diagnoses on chart reviews or HRAs; and the quality of care provided to MA beneficiaries. The current evaluation builds on those two evaluations to identify MA companies that disproportionately drove increases in risk adjusted payments from both chart reviews and HRAs.
HOW WE DID THIS STUDY
Using previously collected MA encounter data from 2016, we determined whether any MA companies' use of chart reviews and HRAs increased their risk adjusted payments disproportionately relative to their size and their peers.
WHAT WE FOUND
Our findings raise concerns about the extent to which certain MA companies may have inappropriately leveraged both chart reviews and HRAs to maximize risk adjusted payments. We found that 20 of the 162 MA companies drove a disproportionate share of the $9.2 billion in payments from diagnoses that were reported only on chart reviews and HRAs, and on no other service records. These companies' higher share of payments could not be explained by the size of their beneficiary enrollment. Each company generated a share of payments from these chart reviews and HRAs that was more than 25 percent higher than its share of enrolled MA beneficiaries. Among these 20 MA companies, 1 company further stood out in its use of chart reviews and HRAs to drive risk adjusted payments without encounter records of any other services provided to the beneficiaries for those diagnoses. This company had 40 percent of the risk-adjusted payments from both mechanisms, yet enrolled only 22 percent of MA beneficiaries. In addition, this company accounted for about a third of all payments from diagnoses reported solely on chart reviews and more than half of all payments from diagnoses reported solely on HRAs. Further, almost all of its HRAs were conducted in beneficiaries' homes. Since in-home HRAs are often conducted by vendors hired by MA companies (and not likely conducted by beneficiaries' primary care providers), this raises particular concerns about the quality of care coordination for these beneficiaries and the validity of diagnoses that were reported om the HRAs.
WHAT WE RECOMMEND
CMS should (1) provide oversight of the 20 MA companies that had a disproportionate share of the risk-adjusted payments from chart reviews and HRAs; (2) take additional actions to determine the appropriateness of payments and care for the 1 MA company that substantially drove risk adjusted payments from chart reviews and HRAs; and (3) perform periodic monitoring to identify MA companies that had a disproportionate share of risk adjusted payments from chart reviews and HRAs. To assist CMS with its efforts, we will provide information on which companies had a substantially disproportionate share of risk adjusted payments from diagnoses that were reported only on chart reviews and/or HRAs. CMS neither concurred nor nonconcurred with our three recommendations and stated that it will take our recommendations under consideration as part of its ongoing process to determine policy options for future years.