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Recommendation: To help ensure appropriate payments to MA plans, the Administrator of CMS should take steps to improve the accuracy of the adjustment made for differences in diagnostic coding practices between MA and Medicare FFS. Such steps could include, for example, accounting for additional beneficiary characteristics, including the most current data available, identifying and accounting for all years of coding differences that could affect the payment year for which an adjustment is made, and incorporating the trend of the impact of coding differences on risk scores.
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Status: Open Priority recommendation
Comments: CMS indicated in October 2019 that it disagrees with our recommendation. CMS stated that, given the complexity of measuring coding changes attributable to plan behavior and the difficulty of measuring countervailing factors, there is not a single correct factor within the viable range of adjustment factors. In addition, the agency noted that there is policy discretion with respect to the appropriate adjustment factor for the payment year. In the Medicare Advantage Call Letter of April 2019, CMS stated that it will apply the statutory minimum adjustment of 5.90 percent for calendar year 2020. As of October 2019, CMS had not provided any documentation of its analysis and the basis for its determination. Although the application of the 5.90 percent adjustment and other recent changes CMS has made to its methodology for calculating the diagnostic coding adjustment (i.e., the exclusion of diagnosis codes that were differentially reported in Medicare fee-for-service and Medicare Advantage) likely brings CMS's adjustment closer to what GAO's analysis projects to be an accurate adjustment, a modified methodology that incorporates more recent data, accounts for all relevant years of coding differences, and incorporates the effect of coding difference trends would better ensure an accurate adjustment in future years. Until CMS shows the sufficiency of the diagnostic coding adjustment or implements an adjustment based on analysis using an updated methodology, payments to Medicare Advantage plans may not accurately account for differences in diagnostic coding between these plans and traditional Medicare providers.