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Humana’s Home Care Play Escalates Battle For Medicare Advantage Patients

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a rally for his Medicare for All Act at the 2017 Convention of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee on September 22, 2017 in San Francisco.  (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The battle for Medicare patients intensified this week with Humana’s agreement to spend $800 million for a stake in Kindred Healthcare’s home care business, which has “significant overlap” with enrollees in the insurer’s Advantage health plans.

Humana will acquire a 40% stake in Kindred Healthcare’s home care division as the insurer looks to integrate outpatient services with its Medicare Advantage health plans. Humana joins rivals including UnitedHealth Group, Anthem, Aetna and Cigna that are bolstering their ties to medical care providers in a way that should funnel more seniors from doctors and clinics to insurance companies.

Insurers are moving aggressively into the business of providing health benefits to seniors through Medicare Advantage plans, which insurers sell to seniors via contracts with the federal government. And insurers see acquisitions of providers who treat Medicare patients as a way to lock in more customers and lock out providers affiliated with other health plans.

Kindred at Home, the business Humana is buying, has “significant overlap” with Humana Medicare Advantage membership , Humana executives say. About 130,000 patients each day are cared for by 40,000 Kindred at Home medical care providers, Humana says.

“The acquisition of a minority interest in Kindred at Home . . . brings us an experienced, well-respected home health provider with robust access to extensive clinical capabilities that will allow us to accelerate our strategy to more deeply integrate with our members’ lifestyles,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said.

Medicare Advantage plans provide extra benefits and services to seniors, such as disease management and nurse help hotlines, with some even providing vision and dental care and wellness programs. Humana had 2.8 million seniors enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans as of Sept. 30 of this year, its third quarter earnings report showed.

Increasingly, seniors are choosing Medicare Advantage. Currently, just under 35% of Medicare beneficiaries, or about 20 million Americans, are enrolled in MA plans.

But talk in Washington of entitlement reform that would include reductions in Medicare spending has insurers salivating at the prospect that insurers will be called upon to take on a greater role in administering the nation’s health insurance program for the elderly.

Even before the GOP took control of Congress, UnitedHealth Group executives earlier this year predicted it would not be long before more than half of U.S. seniors would be in private plans. And some analysts are predicted Medicare Advantage enrollment to rise even higher.

L.E.K Consulting’s “county-level projection model” projects Medicare Advantage enrollment to rise to 38 million, or 50% market penetration, by the end of 2025.

“Nor will it stop there,” L.E.K. said in a November report. “We make the case for why we believe Medicare Advantage’s march forward will continue apace until its penetration rate hits 70%.”

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