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Data: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Chart: Axios Visuals

Nine out of 10 Medicare Advantage members are enrolled in plans that earned the government's highest quality marks for 2022, according to new federal data.

Between the lines: Health insurers were quick to tout the quality scores in press releases. But the federal government went easy on the grades during the pandemic, and experts have long considered MA's quality system to be "flawed and inconsistent."

Driving the news: Medicare releases MA star ratings every year ahead of the program's open enrollment window, which starts Oct. 15 and runs until Dec. 7, as a way to help seniors shop for plans (versus enrolling in traditional Medicare).

  • Using a five-star system, Medicare grades MA plans on things like their customer service, members' access to drugs and services, and how well they help people get health screenings.
  • Insurers that attain at least four stars get additional bonus payments from the federal government. Those bonuses have almost quadrupled from $3 billion in 2015 to $11.6 billion in 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The big picture: It was a lot more difficult to be graded as a "high-quality" plan a decade ago.

  • In 2013, just 38% of MA enrollees were in plans with four or more stars.
  • A large chunk of that change can be attributed to insurance companies working the system.
  • Over the past several years, big insurers have merged lower-rated plans into higher-rated ones to get the bonus money, and with no discernible improvement in quality, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2018.

The bottom line: Just because a Medicare Advantage plan gets at least four stars doesn't mean quality is guaranteed.

Go deeper: Medicare Advantage continues growth despite longstanding problems

Go deeper

Focus group: Child tax credit expansion divides swing voters

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some swing voters say the most important elements to preserve in Democrats' massive social spending package are the ones that would lower prescription drug costs, reduce pollution and make childcare or pre-K free or more affordable.

Yes, but: Considerably less popular among Trump-to-Biden voters: Extending the expanded child tax credit to 2025.

Gaming CEO calls on industry to help fight climate change

"Catalyst Black." Screenshot: Super Evil Megacorp

Gaming CEO Kristian Segerstrale is calling on leaders in his industry to take action on climate change, after completing a $1.4 million fundraising campaign this summer.

Why it matters: Gaming's pandemic-fueled boom creates an opportunity, and maybe even an obligation, to do some good.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. releases updated vaccination, testing rules for foreign travelers

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Foreign travelers will be allowed entry to the U.S. beginning Nov. 8 if they can provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with a shot authorized by the World Health Organization and a negative test within three days of departure, the White House announced Monday.

Why it matters: The updated guidance, which exempts children under the age of 18 from the vaccine requirement, is intended to provide further clarity for airlines and foreign nationals who have been restricted from traveling to the U.S. since early 2020.