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Two women over age 65 talk at a senior center. Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The federal government has proposed raising average payments to Medicare Advantage and Part D drug plans by 1.59% for the 2020 plan year, a tick down from what was proposed for 2019.

The bottom line: The final rate, which will come out April 1, will almost certainly be higher; the initial proposal usually lowballs certain factors within Medicare's complex payment formula. Regardless, more people are flocking to Medicare Advantage and Part D, which together will cost an estimated $350 billion this year and $383 billion in 2020.

Details: The feds also proposed other policies affecting the two programs.

  • Medicare is encouraging, but not requiring, plans to offer lower cost-sharing for drugs that reverse opioid overdoses, like naloxone.
  • Changes to how MA plans code the diseases of their members are expected to increase payments on average, even though there has been widespread concern plans are inflating codes to get higher payments.

Be smart: This year and next year are expected to be immensely profitable for MA and Part D plans, as the Trump administration has created "a friendly environment" for companies that participate in the programs.

Go deeper

6 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.