January Release of the Draft MMG – Perfect Timing

It’s still January, and, yes, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the draft 2018 Medicare Marketing Guidelines (MMG). Perfect timing! The Annual Election Period (AEP) has come and gone, and here we are once again, having post-mortem discussions on what went right, what went wrong, and where to go from here. Once you have gathered all the necessary data, the next logical step is to begin planning for 2018 and revising your sponsor and organization strategies for Sales and Marketing. Don’t forget to review and provide feedback to CMS on the draft MMG changes. Although there weren’t many major updates (CMS provides mostly clarifications this year), there are a few key items that we highlight below:

  • 30.5.1 – Multi-Language Insert
    CMS essentially removed the standard Multi-Language Insert (MLI) section we have all become familiar with and defers to the requirements under Section 1557 and all questions to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Given the many interpretations of Section 1557 compliance and the confusion we saw around implementation of these requirements, it should be interesting to follow industry updates now that CMS is deferring sponsors to consult with OCR. Now more than ever, make sure your organization understands the requirements, documents the implemented process adopted within your organization, and consistently and compliantly operationalizes this process.
  • 50.4 – Disclaimer on Availability of Non-English Translations
    Previously, sponsors which met the five percent threshold for language translation were required to include the applicable disclaimer on all marketing materials. In the MMG draft, CMS updates the disclaimer and simplifies the requirement to a set list of documents only: Annual Notice of Changes/Evidence of Coverage (ANOC/EOC) or EOC, Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) Rider, Formularies, Star Ratings, Summary of Benefits (SB), and the Part D Transition letter. In addition, CMS proposes requiring the non-English translation of the disclaimer only – the English version is no longer required. Consider this draft change as you prepare marketing materials for 2018.
  • 70.11.2 – Provider Affiliation Announcements
    Here, CMS clarifies sponsors and/or contracted providers may not announce new or continuing affiliations until the contractual agreement has been approved. If implemented in the final MMG, organizations will need to ensure contractual agreements are complete and approved before any announcements of the relationship are published. CMS removed some announcement parameters from the section as well. For example, CMS previously stated announcements could be made once within the first 30 days of new contract agreement. Since this implied the contracts needed to be in place, clarification was needed to the section since they removed the sentence which limited the number of announcements. Also, CMS reminds sponsors affiliation announcement materials that contain benefits, premiums, or cost sharing are considered marketing materials. It is up to the sponsor to ensure providers adhere to distribution and mailing guidance.
  • 100.7 – Third-Party Websites
    Brand new section to the MMG! Sponsors are now required to submit third-party marketing websites that contain plan names or logos, even if there is no benefit information included, to CMS’ Health Plan Management System (HPMS). This includes any online forms that need to be filled out to receive more information about Medicare Advantage (MA) or Part D plans, including generic forms used to obtain information about non-MA or Part D plans. CMS includes that third-party websites may not:

    1. Request health status information, such as pre-existing conditions, weight, and whether a beneficiary smokes;
    2. Provide misleading information, such as identifying a Medicare Supplement plan as an MA plan;
    3. Use prohibited terminology, including unsubstantiated absolute superlatives.

This list looks like it is made up of no-brainers and is consistent with requirements, but chances are, CMS has included this in the draft MMG because it is occurring in the industry. When preparing your website development, review, and submission schedule for 2017, don’t forget to include your third-party marketing websites. This will be on CMS’ radar, and it is up to the plan sponsors to ensure compliance of their third-party marketing website vendors.

  • 120.4.1 – General Rules Regarding Compensation
    CMS adds new language to this section indicating that plans may not pay agents/brokers who have not been trained and tested. If implemented in the final MMG, organizations will need to update payment processes to ensure agents who have not passed the training and testing are not paid.

The above is not an exhaustive list of the draft 2018 MMG updates. CMS is specifically requesting comments and questions from plan sponsors on proposed updates on provider affiliation announcements and third-party websites. Consider how this will impact your organization, and be sure to take advantage of CMS’ request for comments!

In addition to the release of the draft MMG, another hot topic we must also consider for our 2018 planning is provider directory accuracy. Last week, 21 Medicare health plans were warned to fix their provider directories – 18 warning letters and 3 warning letters with a request for a business plan to outline efforts to correct errors. In addition, 31 notices of non-compliance were delivered. Plan sponsors must have compliant directories. As recently as January 17, CMS released a memo titled “Provider Directory Policy Updates,” reiterating existing policy but also providing additional guidance. Don’t fall short on this – it’s no easy task and cannot be taken lightly. Spend time on this topic and develop robust data gathering techniques to keep your directories accurate.

Not sure how best to plan for 2018 or decide which strategies are best for you? This is not a one-size-fits-all industry, and we are here to help. Let us partner with you in developing appropriate, compliant, and effective sales and marketing strategies.



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