The Federal Program Authorizing Special Needs Plans (SNPs) Turns 10 This Month

December 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Our Senior Care Options Program is one example of its success

By Melissa Shannon, Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs

As the nation embarks on the greatest health care coverage expansion of our generation, it is also celebrating the 10-year anniversary of another federal health care expansion milestone, the Medicare Modernization Act. The Medicare Modernization Act is best known for bringing prescription drug coverage to millions of seniors nationwide with the creation of Medicare Part D, but it is also the law that created Special Needs Plans (“SNP’s”) within Medicare Advantage. SNPs is a distinct classification of Medicare Advantage plans that serve people with specific diseases or characteristics.

Commonwealth Care Alliance’s Senior Care Options (SCO) program operates federally as a SNP, so this program is approaching its 10-year anniversary as well.  Federal recognition as a SNP, and authorization and support from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2004, has enabled us to care for thousands of low income seniors with complex medical conditions using a model of care that ensures that these individuals receive appropriate primary care and care coordination along with needed support services to enable them to live as healthy and independent as possible.

Coinciding with this 10-year anniversary comes the need for Congress to reauthorize the SNP program. This will allow us and the other SNP’s across the country to continue to operate past 2014. Since its inception, Congress has been reauthorizing the program in short increments.  Our partner, the Association of Community Affiliated Health Plans, ACAP, has been advocating with us and others for a longer-term reauthorization of the program, which would allow for better and more secure long-term planning.

As part of their advocacy, ACAP offered the story of one of Commonwealth Care Alliance’s members as an example of why SNPs work so well for the people they serve. Follow this link to learn more about ACAP’s advocacy, and read the story of our member Sharon told from the perspective of her grateful family member: www.communityplans.net.

In a rare bit of good news coming out of Washington these days, the initial indicators on SNP re-authorization are good.  An important committee in the deliberations, the Senate Finance Committee voted last week to extend our type of Special Needs Plan for 6 additional years through 2020.  The committee also voted to make some improvements to the program that will serve us and our members better, including a proposal to compare SNPs like our Senior Care Options program to  true peers in quality evaluations.  We are hopeful that the House of Representatives will take a similar action early in the new year.  In the meantime, both the House and the Senate voted to extend the SNP program for one year, through 2015, as part of its recent budget compromise.

So, as we take time to relax with our families during this holiday season, we can take comfort in knowing that families like Sharon’s will be able to continue to rely on Commonwealth Care Alliance’s SCO program in the years ahead to help their family members live lives that are as healthy and independent as possible.

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