Congress Delays Medicare Managed Care 'Lock-In' for 3 Years

Congress has passed, and President Bush has signed, legislation that will allow Medicare beneficiaries to drop out of Medicare managed care or change plans at any time during the course of a year for at least the next three years.

Previously, Congress had said that starting in 2002, enrollees in Medicare managed care (Medicare+Choice) plans would be able to make changes only during certain times of the year. But advocates for Medicare beneficiaries were concerned that this restriction, known as 'lock-in,' would harm beneficiaries because the Medicare+Choice marketplace is so volatile, with HMOs continuing to drop out of the program.

Congress finally responded to the concerns and suspended the lock-in provisions for three years. The delay is included in bioterrorism legislation signed by the President June 12.

In addition to delaying the lock-in, the legislation also provides that during 2002, 2003 and 2004:

  • the annual period for Medicare beneficiaries to select a Medicare+Choice plan will be November 15 to December 31;
  • Medicare+Choice plans will have until the second Monday in September to submit their proposals on the premiums they would charge and the benefits they would offer. The previous deadline had been July 1.

The Medicare provisions are included in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, H. R. 3448, in § 532 (modifying Section 1851(e) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395w-21(e))).