An older coronavirus patient at a New York City hospital. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Federal payments to Medicare Advantage companies will increase by 1.66% in 2021, and several of the insurance program's policies are being waived or changed due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Monday.

The bottom line: Medicare Advantage continues to grow at a lofty rate, and the Trump administration is protecting those health insurers through the pandemic and into next year.

By the numbers: The 1.66% payment rate hike for 2021 plans was higher than the proposed rate, but lower than what the industry got for 2020.

  • Depending on how many medical codes Medicare Advantage insurers attach to their elderly and disabled members, the average rate increase could be as high as 3.6% next year.

Between the lines: New regulatory changes, issued due to the coronavirus, are arguably more important than the payment increase.

  • CMS is "reprioritizing" audits of Medicare Advantage plans that looked for exaggerated coding — a move that will temporarily give a reprieve to the industry that feared the audits would claw back billions of dollars.
  • Companies can expand telehealth options and waive copays this year for people who are affected by the outbreak.
  • The coronavirus is making it difficult for health plans and doctors to collect quality data; therefore, the federal government will be more lenient on data requirements for 2021 and 2022, which likely will protect bonus payments that plans receive.

Go deeper

Updated 17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: The swing states where the pandemic is raging — Pence no longer expected to attend Barrett confirmation vote after COVID exposure.
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day case records last week — U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for second consecutive day.
  3. Business: Where stimulus is needed most.
  4. Education: The dangerous instability of school re-openings.
  5. World: Restrictions grow across Europe.
  6. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine.
Dave Lawler, author of World
43 mins ago - World

U.S.-brokered ceasefire collapses in Nagorno-Karabakh

Volunteer fighters in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S.-brokered ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh crumbled within hours on Monday, leaving the month-old war rumbling on.

Why it matters: Nearly 5,000 people have been killed, according to Vladimir Putin’s rough estimate, including more than 100 civilians. Between 70,000 and 100,000 more are believed to have fled the fighting.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Japan's big new climate goal

Climate protest in Tokyo in November 2019. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Japan's new prime minister said on Monday the nation will seek to become carbon neutral by 2050, a move that will require huge changes in its fossil fuel-heavy energy mix in order to succeed.

Why it matters: Japan is the world's fifth-largest source of carbon emissions. The new goal announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is stronger than the country's previous target of becoming carbon neutral as early as possible in the latter half of the century.