Today’s Hot Topics in Medicare News

Alex Azar Health and Human Services Secretary

Senate Finance Backs Alex Azar HHS Nomination 

BY ALLISON BELL: Members of the Senate Finance Committee today voted 15 to 12 to support the nomination of Alex Azar II to be the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

President Donald Trump has nominated Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, to succeed Tom Price as HHS secretary. Price resigned after running into criticism over travel costs.

All Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve the Azar nomination.

Most Democrats present voted against Azar, but one Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., voted for the nomination.

The committee held the vote on the nomination without making a video available through the web. (read more)

Medicare cards will have new identifiers, replacing social security numbers   

BY LOREN BONNER: Beginning this April, upgraded identification cards will be in the hands of many Medicare beneficiaries as CMS begins the process of mailing new cards to individuals, which will no longer include social security numbers on them.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a written statement that the goal of the initiative to remove social security numbers from Medicare cards is to help prevent fraud, combat identity theft, and safeguard taxpayer dollars.

In lieu of a social security number, beneficiaries will see a new, unique Medicare number, called the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI), which contains a combination of numbers and uppercase letters. (read more)

Home Care Agencies Often Wrongly Deny Medicare Help To The Chronically Ill   

BY SUSAN JAFFE AND HEIDI DE MARCO, KAISER HEALTH NEWS: Colin Campbell needs help dressing, bathing and moving between his bed and his wheelchair. He has a feeding tube because his partially paralyzed tongue makes swallowing “almost impossible,” he said.

Campbell, 58, spends $4,000 a month on home health care services so he can continue to live in his home just outside Los Angeles. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” which relentlessly attacks the nerve cells in his brain and spinal cord and has no cure.

The former computer systems manager has Medicare coverage because of his disability, but no fewer than 14 home health care providers have told him he can’t use it to pay for their services. (read more)

Mutual of Omaha plans to sell Medicare Advantage health plans in 2019   

BY STEVE JORDON: Mutual of Omaha will begin selling its first Medicare Advantage health plans in 2019 in cooperation with Lumeris Inc., a St. Louis company that will arrange health provider networks and manage the plans.

It’s a big step for the Omaha-based insurer, which got out of the individual and small-group health insurance business more than a decade ago, although it has sold Medicare Supplement plans since 1966 and is the second-largest source of those plans.

But Medicare Supplement enrollment is declining and Medicare Advantage sales are increasing, said Brad Buechler, a Mutual executive vice president. (read more)

eHealth, Inc. Announces Acquisition of GoMedigap to Further Accelerate Expansion of Medicare Supplement Strategy  

BY BUSINESS WIRE: eHealth, Inc. (Nasdaq: EHTH), a leading private online health insurance exchange in the United States, announced today that it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Health, Wealth and Life Advisors, LLC, more commonly known as GoMedigap, a technology-enabled provider of Medicare Supplement enrollment services, for $20 million in cash and eHealth common stock, subject to purchase price and escrow adjustments. In addition, GoMedigap membership interest holders have the potential to earn up to an additional $30 million of cash and eHealth common stock subject to the attainment of certain milestones in calendar years 2018 and 2019. The agreement to acquire GoMedigap is subject to customary closing conditions. (read more)

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