CMS Proposes Easing Medicaid Access Protections

States would have to do less to ensure access to Medicaid-covered services for their Medicaid population under a new regulation proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In 2015, CMS required states to track their Medicaid fee-for-service payments and submit them to the federal government as part of a process to ensure that Medicaid payments were sufficient to ensure access to care for eligible individuals.  Now, CMS proposes rescinding this requirement, writing in a news release that

This proposed rule is designed to help streamline federal oversight of access to care requirements that protect Medicaid beneficiaries.  CMS anticipates that the proposed rule would, if finalized, result in overall cost savings for State partners that could be redirected to better serve the needs of their beneficiaries.

The proposed regulation itself explains that

While we believe the process described in the current regulatory text is a valuable tool for states to use to demonstrate the sufficiency of provider payment rates, we believe mandating states to collect the specific information as described excessively constrains state freedom to administer the program in the manner that is best for the state and Medicaid beneficiaries in the state.

CMS also notes that the current requirement applies only to Medicaid fee-for-service payments even though most Medicaid beneficiaries now receive care through managed care plans, the payments for which are not subject to the same process.

The agency adds that it intends to

…replace the ongoing access reviews required by current regulations with a more comprehensive and outcomes-driven approach to monitoring access across delivery systems, developed through workgroups and technical expert panels that include key State and federal stakeholders.

Because they care for so many Medicaid patients, the adequacy of the rates states pay for Medicaid services is especially important to private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about CMS’s proposal in its news release on the subject or see the proposed regulation itself.  Learn about the process CMS intends to employ to replace its current approach to monitoring access to Medicaid services in this CMS informational bulletin.

 

The Role of Medicaid in Addressing Social Determinants of Health

Medicaid can play a major role in addressing the social determinants of health.

Or so argues a recent post on the Health Affairs Blog.

According to the post, social determinants of health – income, education, decent housing, access to food, and more – significantly influence the health and well-being of individuals – including low-income individuals who have adequate access to quality health care.  Medicaid, the post maintains, can play a major role in addressing social determinants of health.

The post outlines the role state Medicaid programs can play in addressing social determinants of health; describes tools for such action such as section 1115 Medicaid demonstration waivers; offers examples of efforts currently under way in some states; and presents suggestions for steps the federal government can take to facilitate such efforts.

Addressing social determinants of health is an especially important issue for private safety-net hospitals because they care for so many more Medicaid-covered low-income patients than the typical American hospital.

Learn more from the Health Affairs Blog post “For An Option To Address Social Determinants Of Health, Look To Medicaid.”

 

Study Finds Surprise in Sources of Medicaid, CHIP Growth

While enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP has been greatest among low-income families working full-time for small businesses, growth in Medicaid and CHIP enrollment among low-income families employed full-time by big businesses has been rising faster in recent years.

According to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs, Medicaid and CHIP enrollment among low-income families employed full-time by large companies rose from 45 percent to 69 percent between 2008 and 2016.  The driving force behind this growing reliance on public insurance appears to be the shift of health insurance costs from companies to employees:  employee share of health insurance premiums rose 57 percent during that same period, leaving many families unable to afford even employer-subsidized health insurance.

Learn more about the growing Medicaid and CHIP participation rates among different economic groups in the Health Affairs report “Growth Of Public Coverage Among Working Families In The Private Sector.”

CMS Outlines New Medicaid Program Integrity Activities

The federal government will introduce a number of initiatives to combat Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse in the coming months.

In an article on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ blog, CMS administrator Seema Verma outlined her agency’s major Medicaid program integrity efforts of the past year, including:

  • Oversight of state Medicaid claiming and program integrity
  • Disallowing unallowable claims of federal funding
  • Increased audits and oversight
  • Data sharing and partnerships
  • Education, technical assistance, and collaboration
  • Reducing improper payments

Initiatives to be introduced in the coming months include (as described in the blog post):

  • A proposed comprehensive update to Medicaid’s fiscal accountability regulations, to increase states’ accountability for supplemental payments. The update includes additional state reporting, clearer financial definitions, and stronger federal guidance to ensure that states use supplemental payments properly.
  • A proposed regulation to further strengthen the integrity of the Medicaid eligibility determination process, including enhanced requirements around verification, monitoring changes in beneficiary circumstances, and eligibility redetermination.
  • Additional guidance on the Medicaid Managed Care Final Rule from 2016 to further state implementation and compliance with program integrity safeguards, such as reporting overpayments and possible fraud.
  • Release of improvements to the Medicaid and CHIP Scorecard—a dashboard of program measures that increases public transparency about the programs’ administration and outcomes. The improvements include two program integrity measures to enhance transparency and continue to provide states with performance measures related to their Medicaid programs. Examples of such program integrity measures may include measures based on state initiation of collaborative investigations with their UPIC, state participation in the HFPP at any level, and performance data derived from improper payment drivers.
  • Conduct provider screening on behalf of states for Medicaid-only providers to improve efficiency and coordination across Medicare and Medicaid, reduce state and provider burden, and address one of the biggest sources of error as measured by PERM.
  • Medicaid provider education through Targeted Probe and Educate—which identifies providers who have high error rates and educates them on billing requirements—to reduce aberrant billing, as well as education provided through Comparative Billing Reports—which show providers their billing patterns compared to their peers.
  • Audit state claiming of federal matching dollars to address areas that have been identified as high-risk by GAO and OIG, as well as other behavior previously found detrimental to the Medicaid program.

Learn more in the CMS blog article “Medicaid Program Integrity: A Shared and Urgent Responsibility.”

ACA Tied to Reduced Disparities in Cancer Care

Improved access to health insurance has led to reduced racial disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

As reported by the Washington Post,

According to researchers involved in the racial-disparity study, before the ACA went into effect, African Americans with advanced cancer were 4.8 percentage points less likely to start treatment for their disease within 30 days of being given a diagnosis.  But today, black adults in states that expanded Medicaid under the law have almost entirely caught up with white patients in getting timely treatment, researchers said.

Another study found that since the reform law’s implementation in Medicaid expansion states, women are being diagnosed and treated earlier for ovarian cancer than they were in the past.

Many of these patients receiving more timely care are served by private safety-net hospitals, which care for more Medicaid patients than most community hospitals.

Researchers also note that disparities, so often viewed from a racial and socio-demographic perspective, are now being seen on a geographic basis depending on whether individual states expanded their Medicaid program.  As one observer explained,

We are moving from black-white disparities to Massachusetts versus Mississippi disparities.

Learn more from the Washington Post article “ACA linked to reduced racial disparities, earlier diagnosis and treatment in cancer care.”

 

Administration Ramps Up Scrutiny of Immigrants’ Use of Public Benefits

Immigrants’ sponsors could be more likely to be held financially responsible for the cost of public benefits those immigrants receive under a new memorandum issued by the White House.

The requirement itself is not new; the purpose of the memorandum is to encourage federal agencies to enforce existing laws that state that, according to the memorandum,

…when an alien applies for certain means-tested public benefits, the financial resources of the alien’s sponsor must be counted as part of the alien’s financial resources in determining both eligibility for the benefits and the amount of benefits that may be awarded.  Financial sponsors who pledge to financially support the sponsored alien in the event the alien applies for or receives public benefits will be expected to fulfill their commitment under law.

Among the means-tested public benefits programs at which this new directive is aimed are Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

While the law already requires agencies to enforce immigrants sponsors’ legal financial responsibilities, the White House memorandum notes that it is not being enforced and directs the federal agencies involved to review and update their enforcement procedures.

Enforcement of this directive could result in fewer people applying for and being found eligible to receive Medicaid. If this occurs, it could be especially harmful to many private safety-net hospitals that serve large immigrant communities, potentially leaving them unpaid for care they provide to such patients.

Learn more from the administration’s “Memorandum on Enforcing the Legal Responsibilities of Sponsors of Aliens.”

Medicaid Expansion Helps Pregnant Women and Their Babies

An intuitive assumption now has evidence to support it:  Medicaid expansion has improved the health of pregnant women and their babies.

According to a new study from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families,

…states that expand Medicaid improve the health of women of childbearing age:  increasing access to preventive care, reducing adverse health outcomes before, during and after pregnancies, and reducing maternal mortality rates.

Better health for women of childbearing age also means better health for their infants.  States that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act saw a 50 percent greater reduction in infant mortality than non-expansion states.

Learn more, including specific health benefits enjoyed by pregnant women and their babies, in the Georgetown study “Medicaid Expansion Fills Gaps in Maternal Health Coverage Leading to Healthier Mothers and Babies.”

Proposed Immigration Rule Discouraging Medicaid Enrollment

A proposal by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is discouraging participation in Medicaid and other government safety-net programs.

A proposed Homeland Security regulation would establish new criteria for determining whether individuals seeking admission into the U.S. might eventually become “public charges”:  people who would depend on public resources to meet their needs rather than the resources of friends, family, sponsors, or private organizations or be able to provide for themselves or their families.  Among those criteria are past use of government aid programs and current income and health status.

Since the regulation was proposed last October, many legal immigrants, including those who already have green cards, have grown fearful of its implications and have shied away from seeking assistance from public aid programs and have even chosen to withdraw from programs in which they were already participating.  Among the survey’s findings:

  • 13.7 percent of adults in immigrant families reported family members dropping out of non-cash aid programs.
  • 17.4 percent of adults in immigrant families with children under the age of 19 were more likely to avoid public benefit programs.
  • Among those who reported avoiding public aid programs, 46 percent reported choosing not to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), 42 percent reported someone in their household not participating in Medicaid even though they were eligible for the program, and 33.4 percent did not participate in housing subsidies.

Any withdrawal of legal residents from Medicaid or unwillingness to enroll in the program when eligible could leave hospitals with increased uncompensated care when serving low-income patients who otherwise lack the means to pay for their care.  This could pose a particular challenge for private safety-net hospitals because they serve communities with especially large numbers of low-income residents.

Learn more about the proposed public charge regulation and its apparent impact on participation in government safety-net programs among legal immigrants in the Urban Institute report “With Public Charge Rule Looming, One in Seven Adults in Immigrant Families Reported Avoiding Public Benefit Programs in 2018.”

Medicaid Waiver Process Often Lacks Transparency, GAO Finds

States’ applications for federal Medicaid waivers often lack transparency, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

According to the GAO, the chief problem with the transparency of state applications for Medicaid waivers arises when states either seek to amend waivers they have already obtained or amend waiver applications currently under review by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  Too often, the GAO found, states neither subject such amendments to public review and comment nor adequately explain to stakeholders the implications of the amendments they are proposing.

To address this problem, the GAO recommends that CMS address these shortcomings.  CMS agrees with these recommendations.

States often use section 1115 Medicaid waivers to seek exemptions from selected aspects of federal Medicaid law so they can employ new approaches to the delivery of Medicaid services and to payment for those services. Because they serve so many more Medicaid patients than most hospitals, private safety-net hospitals have a much greater stake in changes in state Medicaid programs than other hospitals.

Learn more about why the GAO undertook this analysis and what it found in its report Medicaid Demonstrations:  Approvals of Major Changes Need Increased Transparency.

More Medicaid Matching Funds for Only Partial Medicaid Expansion?

The federal government is considering providing an unusual amount of federal Medicaid matching funding for only partial state Medicaid expansion.

At least that’s what Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma told a health care conference in Georgia last week.

The state of Georgia has proposes partially expanding its Medicaid population.  Under the Affordable Care Act, states that fully expand their Medicaid programs under the terms established by the 2010 health care law receive nine dollars in federal matching funds for every one dollar they spend on their Medicaid expansion population.  States that only partially expand their Medicaid programs, on the other hand, currently are eligible to receive only their usual federal matching rate:  generally one federal dollar for every state dollar, with states with higher poverty rates receiving as much as slightly more than three dollars for every state dollar they spend.

Last week, however, CMS’s Verma said that when Georgia submits its Medicaid waiver application to CMS seeking only partial expansion of its Medicaid program, the federal agency will consider providing Affordable Care Act-level Medicaid matching funds rather than the traditional federal Medicaid matching rate.

Such a policy shift could be very beneficial for private safety-net hospitals in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, extending coverage to some of the currently uninsured, low-income residents of the communities in which those hospitals are located.

Learn more about the Georgia plan for partial Medicaid expansion and the possibility of CMS treating it like an Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article “Trump official open to increased funding for Georgia Medicaid waiver.”