MedPAC mulls standardizing Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits

The Medicare Payment and Advisory Commission is considering standardizing the supplemental benefits Medicare Advantage insurers can offer, to make it easier for beneficiaries to compare plans. 

At its Jan. 12 meeting, commission staff, which advises Congress on Medicare, put forth several options for standardizing Part A and B cost sharing and hearing, vision and dental benefits. The proposed standardizations would not apply to additional supplemental benefits, or employer-sponsored or special needs Medicare Advantage plans. 

Possible options put forward by the committee staff include creating standard services to be covered by supplemental dental, vision and hearing benefits and standard cost-sharing levels for part A and B services. The staff also proposed limiting the number of plans insurers can offer in a given area. 

CMS has standardized plans on the individual marketplace to prevent overwhelming enrollees with options. Medigap plans are also required to adhere to standard benefits. The average Medicare beneficiary has 43 plan options to choose from, according to MedPAC. 

Some commissioners said they were concerned standardized benefits or limiting the number of plans could limit competition in local markets and create hassles for beneficiaries who would have to switch from their current plan's benefits to standard options. 

Michael Chernew, PhD, chair of MedPAC, said at the meeting that for many of the commission's members, the current choice environment is "unbelievably burdensome."  

"It is not clear that we want that choice environment to be better through standardization, although many of you have expressed strong support for that approach," Dr. Chernew said.

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