Trump Budget Brings Bad News for Private Safety-Net Hospitals

The FY 2020 federal budget proposed by the Trump administration this week would bring pain for private safety-net hospitals if adopted.

Highlights of the proposed spending plan include:

  • More than $135 billion in cuts in Medicare uncompensated care payments (Medicare DSH) and Medicare bad debt reimbursement over the next 10 years.
  • Continued extension of Medicare site-neutral payment outpatient policies.
  • $48 billion in cuts in graduate medical education spending over the next 10 years.
  • $26 billion in new Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) cuts.
  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and all funding to pay for that expansion.
  • Support for legislation to introduce Medicaid block grants and limits on spending per recipient.
  • New restrictions on the 340B program.

Responsibility for adopting a budget rests with Congress, not the president, and this proposed budget is considered unlikely to gain much support in Congress.

As appropriate, NASH will engage in advocacy in support of the needs of the nation’s private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about the administration’s proposed budget from numerous media reports or by going directly to the source:  fact sheets the White House has prepared offering budget highlights and the budget document itself.

 

Hospital Groups Join NASH in Calling for Delay of Medicaid DSH Cuts

Seven hospital trade groups have written to congressional leaders asking them to delay Affordable Care Act-mandated cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicaid DSH) that are scheduled to take effect in October of this year.

Their letter echoes a long-time advocacy priority of the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals.

In their letter the groups, led by the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, write of the underlying rationale for the Affordable Care Act mandate for Medicaid DSH cuts that

…the coverage rates envisioned under the ACA have not been fully realized, and tens of millions of Americans remain uninsured. In addition, Medicaid underpayment continues to pose ongoing financial challenges for hospitals treating our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

NASH has long advocated such delaying Medicaid DSH cuts, most recently in comments to Congress in response to the proposed State Accountability, Flexibility, and Equity for Hospitals Act.

Delaying Medicaid DSH cuts also is identified as an advocacy priority of private safety-net hospitals in NASH’s 2019 policy and advocacy agenda.

States Taking Different Paths to Pay for Medicaid Expansion

With the federal share of Medicaid expansion falling to 90 percent next year, states that expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act are now exploring new ways to raise the money to pay for the 10 percent for which they will soon by responsible.

Some are implementing hospital or insurer taxes while others are increasing existing taxes on hospitals and health insurers.  New Hampshire is directing part of the proceeds from a liquor tax for this purpose and other states have introduced cigarette taxes.  Some are charging premiums to Medicaid beneficiaries and introducing Medicaid work requirements so they can reduce overall enrollment.  Many are using money from their general revenues.

This all comes at a time when many states are finding that their budget situations have improved and are better than they have been in years.

Learn more about how states are dealing with this challenge, and whether they are finding that it is worth it, in the Washington Post article “States scramble to head off future Medicaid shortfalls.”

MACPAC: Slow Medicaid DSH Cuts

Slow the pace of scheduled cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicaid DSH), the non-partisan agency that advises Congress and the administration will tell Congress in its next report of policy recommendations.

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission voted 16-1 recently to recommend to Congress that Medicaid DSH cuts, mandated by the Affordable Care Act but delayed three times by Congress, be reduced in size and spread out over a longer period of time.

Currently, Medicaid DSH allotments to the states are scheduled to be reduced $4 billion in FY 2020 and then $8 billion a year in FY 2021 through FY 2025.  MACPAC recommends that the cuts be reduced to $2 billion in FY 2020, $4 billion in FY 2021, $6 billion in FY 2022, and $8 billion a year from FY 2023 through FY 2029.

MACPAC commissioners also voted to urge Congress to restructure the manner in which Medicaid DSH allotments to the states are calculated based on the number of low-income individuals who reside in the states.

Most private safety-net hospitals receive Medicaid DSH payments and consider them a vital resource in helping to underwrite the uncompensated care they provide to uninsured patients.  NASH supports delaying the implementation of Medicaid DSH cuts and reducing the size of the cuts once implementation begins, doing so most recently in a letter to Senator Marco Rubio in response to Mr. Rubio’s introduction of Medicaid DSH legislation.

MACPAC is a non-partisan legislative branch agency that provides policy and data analysis and makes recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the states on a wide array of issues affecting Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Learn more about MACPAC’s actions on Medicaid DSH in the Fierce Healthcare article “MACPAC calls for Congress to delay cuts to safety-net hospitals.”

NASH Comments on Proposed Medicaid DSH Revamp

In mid-December, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the State Accountability, Flexibility, and Equity (SAFE) for Hospitals Act, which seeks to restructure the federal Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payment program (Medicaid DSH).  Hospitals that care for especially large numbers of Medicaid, low-income, and uninsured patients often receive supplemental payments, called Medicaid DSH payments, from their state government to help underwrite costs associated with such patients for which they are not reimbursed.  Medicaid DSH payments are funded in part by the federal government and in part by the individual states.

As part of his introduction of his bill, Senator Rubio contacted many stakeholder groups and invited them to review and comment upon his proposal.

Among the groups contacted was the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals, and last week, NASH wrote to Senator Rubio to convey its views.

Instead of addressing specific aspects of the proposal, NASH offered three principles it believes should guide any effort to modify the Medicaid DSH program.  Those principles are:

  • Delay the scheduled Medicaid DSH cuts. (Significant reductions of Medicaid DSH allotments to states, mandated by the Affordable Care Act but delayed three times by Congress, are scheduled to take effect in FY 2020.)
  • Any changes in Medicaid DSH must reflect the role Medicaid DSH plays in state Medicaid programs.
  • Any changes in Medicaid DSH must preserve states’ flexibility to use Medicaid DSH resources in the manner they believe best serves their individual Medicaid programs.

Learn more about the SAFE Hospitals Act from Senator Rubio’s news release outlining the proposal and learn about NASH’s response to his request for stakeholder input from the letter NASH sent to Senator Rubio last week.

 

CMS Introduces New Waivers

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has introduced four new “state relief and empowerment waivers” that are widely viewed as new vehicles for states to circumvent Affordable Care Act requirements to implement their own new approaches to health care.

  • Through “account-based subsidies” waivers, states may direct public subsidies into defined-contribution, consumer-directed accounts that individuals use to pay for health insurance premiums or other health care expenses.
  • “State-specific premium assistance” waivers enable states to create their own subsidy programs.
  • “Adjusted plan options” authorizes states to provide financial assistance for different types of health insurance plans, including short-term and other health insurance policies that do not meet Affordable Care Act benefits and coverage requirements.
  • “Risk stabilization strategies” waivers give states greater flexibility to implement reinsurance programs or high-risk pools.

These waiver options have been introduced not through regulations but through guidance published in the Federal Register.  States must apply for these waivers, which must meet section 1332 federal standards for  comprehensiveness, affordability, coverage, and federal deficit neutrality.

Learn more about state relief and empowerment waivers in this CMS fact sheet and this guidance that was published in the Federal Register.

Medicaid Birthing Model Improves Outcomes

A federal program to improve birth outcomes among Medicaid-covered women has produced positive results:  lower rates of pre-term births, fewer low birthweight babies, fewer C-sections, lower delivery costs, and lower first-year health care spending.

The “Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns” program was a four-year initiative established by the Affordable Care Act and developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to employ patient education, nutrition, exercise, preparation for childbirth, breast-feeding, and family planning rather than strictly medical interventions and was delivered through three evidence-based prenatal care models:  Birth Centers, Group Prenatal Care, and Maternity Care Homes.

The program, operated in 219 separate sites in 32 states, served participants with especially challenging socio-economic risk factors:  unemployment, lack of a high school degree or GED, food insecurity, transportation challenges, chronic health problems, and previous poor birth outcomes.  The objective of the program was to find ways to overcome these social determinants of health and produce better birth outcomes and now, a new, independent evaluation has found that it did.

Learn more about Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns and what it has produced in the official program evaluation document.

Election Brings Good News for Medicaid

Medicaid came out on top in elections throughout the country last week.

With the arrival of a Democratic majority in the House, attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including its Medicaid expansion, appear to have come to an end – at least for now.

Voters in three states approved ballot questions to expand their states’ Medicaid programs.

And two states elected governors likely to expand their states’ Medicaid programs.

Learn more about what the mid-term elections meant to Medicaid and its future in this Washington Post story.

 

Medicaid Expansion Helping Diabetics

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion has led to a 40 percent increase in the number of prescriptions for diabetes medicine filled in the 30 states that expanded their Medicaid programs.

Meanwhile, there was no change in the number of diabetes-related prescriptions filled in states that did not expand their Medicaid programs.

This is considered important because it suggests that many low-income people who either could not afford their diabetes medicine or whose illness was undiagnosed are now being treated for the disease – a significant development because every diabetic who is treated for the condition represents a cost savings of $6394 a year, mostly because of fewer hospitalizations.

Because diabetes is especially prevalent in the low-income communities urban safety-net hospitals serve, these hospitals have played a major role in bringing much-needed treatment to their communities, improving their health of their residents, and helping to reduce health care costs.

Learn more about how Medicaid expansion is improving the health of low-income people with diabetes and lowering health care spending in this California Healthline report or go here to see the Health Affairs study “Medicaid Eligibility Expansions May Address Gaps in Access to Diabetes Medications” on which that report is based.

Pay Raise Didn’t Lead More Docs to Participate in Medicaid

The temporary rate increase that the Affordable Care Act provided as means of encouraging more doctors to serve Medicaid patients did not work, according to two new studies published in the journal Health Affairs.

According to the studies, the increase in the number of physicians who decided to begin serving Medicaid patients as a result of the fee increase was negligible.

Among the reasons the studies’ authors offer for the lack of growth in the participation of doctors are the limited nature of the pay raise and the documentation required to receive it.

Despite this, the authors note, access to care did improve as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.

Learn more about the studies, their results, and their significance by going here to see the Health Affairs report “No Association Found Between The Medicaid Primary Care Fee Bump And Physician-Reported Participation In Medicaid and here for the study “Physicians’ Participation In Medicaid Increased Only Slightly Following Expansion.”