2020 Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines and Updates

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) posted a memo regarding the Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines (MCMG), and yesterday, CMS published two memos: HPMS Marketing Module Updates and Model Notice Corrections and Updates. I’ll address today’s memo first.

In an interesting turn, CMS is instructing plans to refer to the 2019 MCMG guidance in conjunction with the updated guidance provided in today’s memo. Changes are designed to clarify scope and minimize burden. There are a number of clarifications that will affect your 2020 material review initiatives. It is also important to note CMS releases this noting it is “pending issuance of updated guidance,” which could be indicative of a delayed 2020 MCMG document.

Regarding the marketing module updates, the agency provides a comprehensive list of retired codes and provides new codes for benefit highlights and CMS-requested communications. CMS also provides additional operational clarifications and updates which should be incorporated into plan processes.

As it happens every year, the agency has published a list of corrections and updates to their model notices released in May. Some changes are run-of-the-mill clarifications to language. However, there are quite a few changes to support changes to the handling of Part B drug requests. In 2020, plans may start applying step therapy to Part B drugs, so additional instructions have been added to plans to disclosed a complete list of Part B drugs subject to these requirements. Furthermore, CMS modified Part C adjudication timeframes for organization determinations and appeals for Part B drugs as part of their Final Rule, so additional language was added to clarify the Part B prescription drug coverage decision and appeals decision timeframes. Since new models have not been posted, it is imperative for plans to ensure all materials take these changes into account.

Any Day Now: Waiting for the 2020 Marketing Guidelines

Hello August! New and established health plans are waiting for the 2020 Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines (MCMG) to come out. Over the past few years, the final MCMG, formerly known as the Medicare Marketing Guidelines, were dated as follows:

  • 2019 MCMG dated July 20, 2018
  • 2018 MMG dated July 20, 2017
  • 2017 MMG dated June 10, 2016
  • 2016 MMG dated July 2, 2015
  • 2015 MMG dated June 17, 2014
  • 2014 MMG dated June 28, 2013

See a pattern? I could go on, but the history shows more of the same. The industry has come to expect these guidelines be released around June or July, and health plans often schedule their marketing material initiatives around this time. With additional dependencies on third party reviews (such as state agency reviews or outside consultant reviews) and print vendors, this important sub-regulatory reference is necessary to finalize materials for submission (if needed), printing, and finalization.

I outlined some key changes in my post regarding the draft 2020 MCMG. Industry comments were due to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) by April 4. Like most of my colleagues, I’ll be hitting refresh on CMS’ MMG webpage until I see that magic term “CY2020” on a document!


New Guidance on Evaluating Compliance Programs

While most everyone I speak with these days relies on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Program Audit Protocol to review their compliance program effectiveness (CPE), it is imperative to review a compliance program through another lens.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) recently updated their guidance for prosecutors on the evaluation of a compliance program’s effectiveness. The three fundamental questions are as follows:

  1. Is the corporation’s compliance program well designed?
  2. Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith (implemented effectively)?
  3. Does the corporation’s compliance program work in practice?

For anyone new to reviewing a compliance program, or if you are a compliance professional performing a self evaluation, the DOJ provides key considerations and questions to ask in order to make solid determinations on these questions. Tracer samples are one way to identify patterns, and that is core to CMS’ current methodology. However, I have discussed many of these DOJ-identified additional factors with clients recently:

  • Risk Assessment: are resources devoted disproportionately to low-risk issues?
  • Third Party Management: What are the actions and consequences of third party (vendor or delegate) misconduct?
  • Culture: Do top leaders set the tone to encourage compliance? Does Compliance have sufficient seniority and autonomy to perform their duties, and has the organization allocated sufficient funds for the function?

I mentioned in a previous post that “we are most comfortable in roads we’ve traveled over and over, and therefore might be more susceptible to distraction.” If you are using the CMS CPE protocol every year, consider revising your methodology with some frequency. The industry’s methods and recommendations are evolving; make sure you change with the times.  Enforcement actions will tell a story soon enough – do not become part of that story.

Please Read then Act: PRA Redefined

A site any compliance or operations professional should be monitoring regularly is the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) listing. This page is a gold mine if you are looking to shape what you need to implement later. If I could change PRA to stand for something else to illustrate the importance, it would be Please Read, then Act!

Typically, this is where the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) posts proposed changes and requests for information or comment. For example, when the agency proposes to change Part D reporting technical specifications, the changes and supporting statements are posted on this site. This gives the public (you!) the opportunity to review and provide comment within a comment period. And it is not just Part D; you will find documents related to other programs such as Fee For Service Medicare, PACE, Exchange and Medicaid.

Let’s walk through an example. CMS posted their proposed changes and supporting statement for the Notice of Denial of Medical Coverage (or Payment) (NDMCP – those pesky denials). Upon review of the proposed changes, I identified two areas of opportunity. In one instance, there is room to further clarify language directed at a beneficiary filing an appeal, and in the other instance, there is opportunity to clarify the instructions to the plan. To submit comments electronically, I went to regulations.gov and found the document in question, hit the “Comment Now!” button and voilà – submitted.

Implementation is not simple. Do not get caught in a situation where you struggle with something confusing, arguably unreasonable, or impossible to complete. Take the opportunity to review this site often, or subscribe to the RSS feed to be notified more quickly. You may often find something the agency missed, or you may provide an improved solution that reduces burden on you, your organization, and your beneficiaries.

Draft 2020 Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines

On March 21, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the draft Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines for contract year 2020. The agency notes most changes and updates are clarifications based on feedback from stakeholders. Regulatory citations were also updated throughout the document.

Notable clarifications are outlined below. This year, CMS is seeking feedback on nine specific questions (outlined below the key changes). Circulate this summary to your key stakeholders so they can properly evaluate the impact of these draft changes. Comments are due on April 4, 2019 at 5:00 PM Eastern and must be entered through this link.

Key Changes

  • 30.3 Non-English Speaking Population: When translations are required for templates or model documents, the variable data must also be translated. For example, a coverage determination notice template cannot be in a non-English language and the custom denial populated in English.
  • 30.7 Prohibited Terminology/Statements: Clarification was made to provisions regarding what is prohibited for a Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan.
  • 60.1 Provider-Initiated Activities: CMS clarifies the list in this section are considered outside of the definition of marketing.
  • 70.1.3 Required Content: CMS requires a link to the provider directory on the Medicare Advantage landing page.
  • 80.1 Customer Service Call Center Requirements and Standards: CMS proposes hold time messages that’s promote the plan or include benefit information be submitted via HPMS, and clarifies hold time messages may not be used to sell other products.
  • 80.2 Customer Service Call Center Hours of Operations: CMS proposes separate phone lines or call centers established for the sole purpose of selling Plan products or enrollment are not required to comply with the customer service call center hours of operation standard. The standard is outlined in this section and is unchanged.
  • 90.1 Material Identification: MS provides clarification and notes if a third party, such as a PBM, creates member specific materials such as explanations of benefit on behalf of multiple organizations, it is acceptable to use the material ID for only one organization.
    • Point to ponder: This clarification would allow a PBM or other first tier, downstream or related entity (FDR) working with 15 plan sponsors to use the approved template of one plan sponsor. This may cause concern with confidentiality, whereby a plan sponsor may not want their contract number used as the template for all other FDR clients.
  • 90.2 Material Replacement: Clarification provided noting materials submitted as replacement files are subject to the same review period as the original material.
  • 100.3 Changes and Corrections to Existing Documents: Additional language has been added regarding delivery of hardcopy directories. Furthermore, CMS added the following: All providers listed in hardcopy or online provider directories must have current contracts with the organization to participate in the plan network. Directories provided during the AEP for the upcoming plan year must accurately and fairly represent the network for the upcoming plan year. If a provider is listed in a directory prior to the effective date of the contract, then the directory must note the effective date. Similarly, if a provider is confirmed to leave the network, then the directory must note the termination effective date.This is in addition to the organization’s responsibilities to provide individual, written notice under 42 CFR § 422.111(e) to patients when a provider is terminated from the network.
    • Point to ponder: Should organizations choose to list providers before their effective date, this could prove to be operationally burdensome as systems would require placement of a new date field. Furthermore, it is unclear how the agency would determine when a provider is “confirmed to leave the network”, therefore requiring a sponsor to note the termination effective date.
  • 110.7.1 Rapid Disenrollment: CMS clarified rapid disenrollment compensation recovery applies when a beneficiary uses OEP to make an enrollment change.
  • 110.8 Payments other than Compensation: CMS provides additional clarification on administrative payments, including examples of mileage or materials, but expects organizations to pay actual expenses when possible. Paid expenses must reflect a fair market value.

Specific Stakeholder Questions

  1. CMS is seeking feedback on marketing, as it relates to using the term “free” in marketing materials. CMS is also seeking comments on Plan/Part D Sponsor experience with product endorsements and testimonials.
  2. CMS is seeking comments on Plan/Part D Sponsor experience, as it relates to Plan Comparisons.
  3. CMS seeks your feedback on the changes made last year regarding Plan-initiated provider activities and marketing in a health care setting. Do you believe the current flexibilities are broad enough to allow beneficiaries to receive information about their plan choices while not disrupting health care services being provided?
  4. CMS seeks your feedback on the required disclaimers associated with the use of Star Ratings. Are there barriers associated with the current disclaimers that have prevented your organization from using the Star Ratings in your marketing materials in a manner you had desired?
  5. CMS has received feedback that our current marketing submission requirements may unduly impact organization that have a high degree of provider-plan integration. CMS welcomes your comments on provider-based activities and whether changes to our guidance are needed to better support co-branding relationships.
  6. CMS seeks comment on subsection 110.8 – Payments other than Compensation. Please provide comment on how our organization determines and pays the fair market value (FMV) of administrative costs to agents. CMS understands that a certain level of flexibility is needed in reimbursing administrative costs; however, we are concerned that too much flexibility may result in a rapid escalation of FMV amounts and/or result in administrative payment that are close to compensation levels. We welcome your feedback on how to address this potential outcome.
  7. CMS seeks comment on the impact, if any, of the January through March 31 Open Enrollment Period (OEP), on enrollment/disenrollment; the recoupment of agent/broker compensation based on rapid disenrollment; and if current guidance was clear regarding what marketing activities were allowable during the OEP.
  8. CMS seeks comment on the appropriateness of current Call Center timeliness requirements in subsection 80-1 – Customer Service Call Center Requirements and Standards. Specifically, CMS seeks feedback on the standards for average hold time, availability of TTY services, answering of incoming calls, and interpreter services.
  9. CMS seeks feedback on the Pre-enrollment checklist and welcomes any suggested changes.