Tag: Star Ratings

Comparison Is the New Key To Excellence: What Health Plans Can Do To Boost Enrollments

By Abhinav Shashank, CEO, Innovaccer

Abhinav Shashank

After the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, insurers had to cut down on the “cherry-picking” of members and not provide insurance to just low-risk individuals. To some extent, the scope for earning high-profit margins had decreased for health insurance companies. This rule created an imperative for them to look for ways to curb expenses in other ways.

As a result, influential insurers came up with an innovative idea to merge with their contemporaries. Mergers and acquisitions reduce the competition and empower payers to negotiate better with the providers.

However, a lot of Medicare Advantage (MA) markets are served by just one or a small number of insurers and the competition is already bleak. If the few existing insurers also lobby to negotiate contracts, the providers wouldn’t stand a chance to get a decent deal.

US healthcare dynamics are already far from ideal with costs soaring high and quality parameters below most developing nations. The lopsided power play between providers and payers can exacerbate the existing healthcare problems.

To prevent this, the government is making it a point to put brakes on major insurance mergers and acquisitions. At the beginning of 2017 U.S. District John D. Bates ruled against Aetna’s acquisition of Humana. Along with that, the Anthem–Cigna merger was also stopped from going through. It seems like it’s time for payers to think beyond this strategy of creating an oligopoly. It also means that insurers have to compete with each other instead of relying on their collective clout.

Gaining an edge over competitors with improved star ratings

Now that there is no way for insurers to earn strong profits other than by capturing increased market share, they need to look for ways to increase the number of enrollments. For MA plans, their best shot to grow their member enrollments is by achieving credible star ratings. Medicare’s Star Rating system was developed to provide Medicare beneficiaries some concrete insights about a plan’s performance. Every year, CMS evaluates the performance of each MA Plan on quality and cost measures and rates them on a scale of one to five stars. The more stars a plan gets, the more appealing it appears to the beneficiaries, which leads to increased enrollments.

Every health plan aims to achieve maximum operational and cost efficiency and tries to create lucrative offerings for the members. However, unless they are able to do it better than other health plans, their efforts will not bear fruit. The first step to improving their Star ratings is to assess the performance measures of other health plans.

Evaluating the performance of MA plans over the last few years 

In 2011, only 24 percent out of all MA Plans got 4+ Star Ratings. By 2018, this figure grew almost by a whopping 50 percent. In a bid to perform better, the health plans brought remarkable changes in their performance. As a result, member enrollments also increased by 17 percent in this tenure.

Since the inception of the Medicare Advantage, some measures were modified. However, there were 22 measures that remained consistent between 2009 and 2018. On calculating the average Star ratings of each measure, it was revealed that the average Star ratings had improved by 0.56. The average outcome measures had improved by 0.45 stars, the process measures by 0.49 stars, the patient experience measures by 0.55 Stars and the access measures by 1.12 stars.

Overall, most of the measures showed some improvement. Since 73 percent of the health plans have ratings above 4 Stars, it can be established anything below this can gravely impact the number of member enrollments. On top of that, to match the average performance scores of other health plans, health plans have to earn an average of at least 3.5 Stars.

Creating strategies to perform better than other health plans

An overarching picture of how all the MA plans in the country are performing can be helpful in revealing the measures you need to work on. However, understanding the area-specific operational nitty-gritty is important to find out what steps you need to take to improve the performance of your health plan.

Comparing your plan with top-performing health plans in your area and diving deeper into their measures can unveil what they are doing to perform better than others. This information can be instrumental in devising winning strategies to score star ratings that are better or at the very least at par with other high-performance plans.

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Improving HCAHPS Star Ratings: Insights From the Ascom HCAHPS Database

By Chris Talbot, senior vice president of marketing and business development, Ascom.

Chris Talbot

More than 4,900 U.S. hospitals participate in the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (HCAHPS), including 3,529 that received star ratings in the most recent quarterly update. These ratings reflect an effort by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to help consumers make informed choices about their care, putting more decision-making and purchasing power in their hands.

Because star ratings are expected to play an increasing role in helping consumers choose hospitals, it is important to understand these metrics and what hospitals can do to improve their performance.

Toward that end, Ascom created a comprehensive, time series database of hospital HCAHPS performance.

Changes to hospital Star Ratings over time

Leveraging our database, we conducted a year-over-year analysis of star ratings for all participating hospitals, providing insights into how star ratings change over time as well as clues to what it may take to improve performance.

As shown in the table below, our analysis revealed that star ratings tend to be sticky. In our year-over- year comparison across all hospitals, 61 percent of ratings remained unchanged. Overall, only 18 percent of ratings improved over a 12-month period, while 21 percent declined.

Why Star Ratings are slow to change

There are two main reasons that hospitals’ star ratings tended not to change over a 12-month period.

  1. Because the quarterly HCAHPS results include four quarters’ worth of survey data, it can take a while for improvements to show up in the ratings. Even if a hospital achieves significant improvements in its most recent quarter, that quarter’s results are combined with the previous three quarters’ poorer results when they are reported by CMS.
  2. There is also the difficulty of the task at hand. It’s not just a matter of providing excellent patient care – which is difficult enough; it’s also a matter of providing this level of care at the highest level of consistency.

Consistency is the key to improvement

Consistency is important at two levels. The first is across the HCAHPS domains. While HCAHPS monitors several different individual domains such as care transition, cleanliness, etc., they all add up to a total experience across each individual patient’s journey.

Our correlation analysis between all the linear mean scores for all HCAHPS domains found that if a patient’s satisfaction with one domain was high, then satisfaction with all domains tended to be high and vice versa. This in turn drove overall satisfaction with the hospital, and patient likelihood to recommend the hospital to others.

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