Dec 14, 2017

Medicare to scrutinize prescription drug plans

Seniors have cited many problems with Medicare drug plans. Photo: Rick Bowmer / AP

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services may hire a contractor to track whether the companies that sell Medicare prescription drug plans are doing a good enough job, according to a document that outlines potential contractor tasks.

Between the lines: Many Medicare drug plans have been reprimanded for some serious violations, and CMS wants to figure out what's going on. Seniors and disabled people who buy the plans often complain about bad service and inappropriate denials of drug coverage.

The details: There's no guarantee CMS will hire a contractor, but the agency is testing the waters to see if an outside company can help determine "whether the Part D formulary and benefit offerings are being administered as approved" by law.

Why now: A handful of Medicare Part D companies have faced federal penalties for lousy compliance.

  • CMS barred Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield from enrolling people in its 2018 Part D plans because the insurance company was profiting excessively. An Arkansas Blues spokesperson said the insurer is working on ways to make its Part D plans "more competitive by lowering premiums and reviewing benefits."
  • WellCare Health Plans was slapped with a $1.2 million fine earlier this year for a host of Part D violations, including unjustified denials of some members' drugs and an inadequate process to handle members' appeals.
  • UnitedHealthcare faced a $2.5 million fine in 2016 after the federal government discovered the insurer's Medicare drug lists were riddled with improper requirements that denied drug access.

Context: Taxpayers funneled $95 billion toward Medicare Part D plans in 2016. That's roughly 12 times the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Hungary's Viktor Orbán granted sweeping powers amid coronavirus crisis

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Hungary's parliament passed a law Monday to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán almost unlimited power, for an indefinite period, to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Why it matters: Hungary has taken a sharply authoritarian turn over the past decade under Orbán, and its likely that he and other strongman leaders around the world will seek to maintain powers they gain during the current crisis long after it's over.

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  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 a.m. ET: 143,055 — Total deaths: 2,513 — Total recoveries: 4,865.
  3. Federal government latest: The White House will extend its social distancing guidelines until April 30.
  4. Trump latest: The president brushed aside allegations that China is spreading misinformation about the origin of the coronavirus on "Fox & Friends."
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  6. World updates: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will self-isolate after an aide tested positive for coronavirus.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
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BIG3 to create a hybrid reality show about quarantine basketball

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Sports are on pause, and there's no timetable for their return. In the interim, leagues, teams and athletes are getting creative with ways to keep fans engaged.

The latest: A "quarantined reality show basketball tournament," courtesy of the BIG3, the upstart 3-on-3 basketball league founded by Ice Cube and his longtime business partner Jeff Kwatinetz.

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