Humana's Broussard: Why COVID-19 is making a clear case for Medicare Advantage

Humana building
Humana released its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday morning. (Humana)

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the strengths of Medicare Advantage, Humana executives said Wednesday.

CEO Bruce Broussard told investors on the insurer's quarterly earnings call that the flexibility available in MA to be "highly innovative" helped these organizations react more quickly as the novel coronavirus began to spread stateside in the spring.

"Medicare Advantage plans were some of the first organizations to proactively identify and implement policy and benefit changes at the outset of the pandemic," Broussard said.

For example, MA plans can offer a laundry list of supplemental benefits targeting the social determinants of health, which was key in a COVID-19 response, he said. Humana began direct outreach to members early on to gauge their needs amid social distancing, and Broussard said its clinical teams have made calls to 1.2 million members so far.

Food insecurity and access to daily essentials was identified as a concern early on, and as such Humana has covered 900,000 delivered meals under the pandemic, including 750,000 in the second quarter, Broussard said.

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In addition, Humana has sent out 1 million preventative care test kits to its members, which identify certain high-risk conditions including colon cancer and diabetes, and to encourage them to seek necessary preventive care that they may have put on hold because of the virus.

Humana also provided members and employees with safety kits that included masks in the early days of the pandemic, Broussard said.

And that seniors see the value in Medicare Advantage is evidenced by growing enrollment, he said, which has nearly doubled over the past decade, reaching nearly 40% of the Medicare population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And that number is only expected to grow as more seniors age into Medicare.

Expanding membership means the ability to "meaningfully impact the health care system is significant," Broussard said.

Humana reported $1.8 billion in profit for the second quarter, nearly double its haul in Q2 2019 and a massive increase from the first quarter of this year.

The insurer earned $940 million in earnings for the second quarter of last year, according to its financial reports released Wednesday morning. That represents a 94.5% increase year-over-year, Humana said.

It brought in $473 million in profit for Q1 2020.

Revenues were also up compared to the second quarter of 2019, with Humana bringing in $19.1 billion in revenue in Q2 2020 versus $16.2 billion in the prior year quarter.

Humana's earnings are in line with the trends experienced by other major payers in Q2, with profits booming thanks in large part to significant utilization declines under COVID-19. Insurers and analysts caution, however, that their financial results could look far different in the latter half of the year as utilization stabilizes and elective procedures start up again.

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Through the first half of the year, Humana has earned $2.3 billion in profit, an increase of 52.8% year over year, and $38 billion in revenue, up 17.5% from the first half of 2019.

Medicare Advantage membership reached nearly 3.9 million at the end of June, up 11% compared to the first half of 2019 and up 8% from enrollment at the end of 2019. Humana has added 290,000 MA members in the first half of the year.

The insurer boosted its enrollment growth projections in MA as a result of its performance so far this year, projecting 330,000 to 360,000 new members by the end of 2020.

Humana also reaffirmed its earnings guidance for the year of between $18.25 and $18.75 per share.

In a release, Broussard highlighted the company's efforts so far to address the needs of its members amid COVID-19, which includes waiving cost-sharing for a slew of services, covering home testing and boosting access to drive-thru tests in partnership with Walmart.

“As we continue to navigate the global coronavirus pandemic, Humana is committed to ongoing investments in benefits and initiatives designed to improve access to care and ease the financial burden for our members, employer groups and providers,” Broussard said in a statement. “We remain focused on being responsive to our member and patient needs and providing convenient and safe choices of care."

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