Insurance coverage for pest control and dog food? Anthem unveils 2020 MA supplemental benefits

With Medicare Advantage (MA) open enrollment on the horizon, Anthem unveiled its plans for expanded supplemental benefits in the 2020 plan year. 

Martin Esquivel, vice president of product management for Anthem’s Medicare business, told FierceHealthcare the team approached supplemental benefits with gusto from the start as the Trump administration allowed greater flexibility for coverage in MA for 2019. 

In 2020, those flexibilities were expanded further, and Anthem is looking to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Esquivel said. 

“We’re taking the experience that we’ve gained over the first nine months of this year and leveraging the experience of having rolled this out a year ago," he said.

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Broadly, Anthem’s slate of options targeting social determinants of health includes 10 benefits, and MA members in 12 states can select the benefit that fits their needs best when they enroll.

Those benefits include coverage for transportation and delivered meals, which were offered in 2019, and new options such as pest control and a stipend to help cover the cost of having a service dog. Additional new benefits for 2020 include coverage for a fitness tracker and dietary education alongside a monthly delivery of healthy, nonperishable food items. 

Esquivel said Anthem pitched the pest control and service dog benefits for the 2019 plan year but was rejected by CMS under the agency’s initially narrow focus for supplemental benefits. 

Anthem will cover quarterly preventive pest control under benefit or will offer a $500 annual allowance a beneficiary can use to cover expenses related to their service dogs such as leashes, vests and food if the dog is properly registered. 

“What we provide is similar to what you or I might buy,” Esquivel said. 

RELATED: Why supplemental benefits in MA mark a 'turning point' for Medicare policy 

For its beneficiaries in California and Arizona, Anthem offers a slightly different list of benefits, but all 10 offered are included in the coverage. Quite a few of the benefits on offer in these states overlap, but beneficiaries will have access to services such as pain management in place of the allowance for service dogs. 

Modified versions of the supplemental benefits options also apply to members in Ohio and New Jersey, Anthem said.  

Ohio beneficiaries will have the option of all 10 benefits, but the value may differ, and it will vary in New Jersey depending on the plan, as the state has regulations governing special needs plans for the dually eligible. 

Esquivel said that the insurer saw slow uptake for some of its 2019 benefit options early on, while transportation and alternative medicine options proved popular more quickly. However, over the past several months, the other benefits have made gains in use, which Anthem hopes is a sign of things to come. 

RELATED: Offering Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits is a 'long play,' experts say 

For 2019, it has about 165,000 members in plans providing these benefits, and the insurer projects that number will increase significantly to 360,000 in 2020, Esquivel said. 

“As part of the commitment to improve health and well-being we want the utilization to happen,” he said. “Every benefit that we offer is in place with the notion that it will be utilized.”