Verma: CMS will mull which COVID-19 flexibilities may stick around post-pandemic

Seema Verma
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma spoke at Fierce Healthcare's virtual event Medicare Advantage's Evolution this week. (HIMSS)

The Trump administration has rolled out a slew of policies aimed at offering greater flexibility to payers and providers amid COVID-19. But what changes are likely to stick around long-term? 

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said the agency will comb back through its policymaking under the pandemic and consider which, if any, of the changes will stick around once the country emerges from that situation. 

The administration has heard plenty of positive feedback from payers and providers around the adjustments, particularly around easing access to telehealth, Verma said Monday during a fireside chat at Fierce Healthcare’s Virtual Series on Medicare Advantage. 

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“I think the reviews have been that the plans have really appreciated the flexibility, especially around telehealth and being able to have those midyear benefit changes,” Verma said. 

WATCH THE ON-DEMAND PLAYBACK: Fireside Chat with CMS Administrator Seema Verma 

While she didn’t offer a definitive list of where the administration intends to land on some of the flexibilities offered under COVID-19, she said that updates to ease reporting requirements for the Medicare Advantage star ratings are unlikely to stay in place long-term. 

Verma also addressed changes the agency has made to calculations for the star ratings, which will now include patient experience feedback and data such as their access to generic drugs and biosimilar products. 

The goal, Verma said, is to arm Medicare beneficiaries with as many data as they need to make informed choices about their care and about whether traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage is the right route for them. 

Providing them with additional plan-level specifics about supplemental benefits, provider networks and other key considerations is what drove the agency’s recent revamp of its Medicare Plan Finder, which was overhauled last summer ahead of open enrollment for the 2020 plan year. 

“I would say we want to build more transparency into the system,” she said. 

RELATED: CMS finalizes plan to allow Medicare Advantage plans to expand telehealth benefit 

Verma also said that the administration is expecting a strong open enrollment period for Medicare Advantage this year, bolstered by CMS’ efforts to increase competition and expand benefit choices for beneficiaries. 

She touted the fact that rates in the program have gone down over the past several years even as the agency has opened up new flexibilities for insurers to offer additional benefits. 

"[Medicare Advantage] really represents market based principles, where plans are competing on the basis of cost and quality for Medicare beneficiaries,” Verma said. 

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