Could Medicaid Buy-In Push Aside Medicare for All?

Officials in ten states are giving consideration, in one form or another, to permitting uninsured low-income residents to buy into their Medicaid programs.

So while Washington considers the possibility of Medicare for all, the ten states – Nevada, New Mexico, California, Delaware, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin – are tackling the many issues they must address if they intend to pursue such a ground-breaking option.  Among them:

  • Who would be eligible to participate?
  • What benefits would be offered?
  • Would health plans be available on Affordable Care Act health exchanges, and if so, would ACA subsidies be available to potential purchasers?
  • How would cost-sharing, such as premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, be addressed?
  • In the absence of federal matching funds, how would the states pay for their share of Medicaid benefits purchased by those not eligible for Medicaid?
  • Would such as effort be approved by the federal government?

To the extent that Medicaid buy-in would turn uninsured patients into insured patients, Medicaid buy-in would be beneficial for private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about what the states are considering and the potential obstacles they face in the Stateline article “Medicaid ‘Buy-In’ Could Be a New Health Care Option for the Uninsured.”

 

NASH Comments Proposed Medicaid Managed Care Reg

 

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has submitted formal comments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in response to CMS’s proposed changes in federal Medicaid managed care regulations.

NASH’s letter addressed three aspects of the proposed regulation:  payment rate ranges, directed Medicaid payments, and Medicaid pass-through payments.  The overall theme underlying NASH’s comments was that the proposed changes represent positive steps but could be taken further to provide additional flexibility for state Medicaid programs to take stronger steps to ensure the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve their communities.

NASH expressed support for CMS’s restoration of the use of actuarial rate ranges in setting Medicaid managed care rates but urged CMS to make those rate ranges even broader or even eliminate them provided that negotiated rates still meet formal criteria for actuarial soundness.

NASH endorsed CMS’s expanded parameters for the use of Medicaid directed payments through managed care but encouraged CMS to expand those parameters even further than it has proposed.

And NASH called on CMS to restore the ability of states to use pass-through payments in Medicaid managed care programs, as they can do through Medicaid fee-for-service programs, so long as those payments remain actuarially sound.  In 2016 a new Medicaid managed care regulation called for the phase-out of such payments over a period of ten years but NASH asked CMS to suspend that phase-out.

Learn more about NASH’s perspective by reading NASH’s comment letter to CMS in response to the proposed Medicaid managed care regulation.

End Run Around Congress for Medicaid Block Grants?

The Trump administration reportedly is considering introducing Medicaid block grants through regulations rather than legislation, according to published reports.

Those reports explain that the administration may seek to offer states an opportunity to apply to the federal government to use Medicaid block grants by obtaining section 1115 Medicaid waivers, a commonly used tool for states seeking exemptions from federal legislative or regulatory requirements.

As reported by the online publication The Hill,

…the Trump administration is now considering issuing guidance to states encouraging them to apply for caps on federal Medicaid spending in exchange for additional flexibility on how they run the program, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Proposals to implement Medicaid block grants have arisen periodically over the past decade but have never gotten beyond the discussion stage because of how difficult it would probably be to gain congressional approval for such a program.  This latest proposal would seek to circumvent that problem by making Medicaid block grants optional for states and permitting those states interested in using them to apply for a Medicaid waiver from Centers for Medicaid & Medicaid Services to do so.

It is not clear whether such an approach would be legal.

NASH has long been skeptical about Medicaid block grants, concerned that the manner in which such block grants are implemented could impose artificial limits on state Medicaid spending that could be especially harmful during economic downturns when Medicaid enrollment typically rises and the demand for Medicaid-covered services falls especially heavily on private safety-net hospitals.  NASH’s advocacy agenda for 2019 addresses this very issue, explaining that

Block grants, whether based on individual states’ Medicaid enrollment or on their past Medicaid spending, could impose unreasonable limits on Medicaid spending that could potentially leave private safety-net hospitals unreimbursed for care they provide to legitimately eligible individuals. NASH will work to ensure that any new approach that involves Medicaid block grants continues to give states the ability to pay safety-net hospitals adequately for the essential services they provide to the low-income residents of the communities in which those hospitals are located.

Learn more about this latest proposal in The Hill article “Trump officials consider allowing Medicaid block grants for states.”

Medicaid MCOs Skimping on Care?

Medicaid MCOs may be skimping on care, according to a recent Kaiser Health News report.

According to Kaiser, for-profit companies that sub-contract with Medicaid managed care organizations to review requests for services often deny care to Medicaid patients to save money for the MCOs that employ them and to benefit themselves financially.

The Kaiser article presents examples of companies that have been identified engaging in such practices, explains how they go about their work, and outlines the dangers to Medicaid recipients posed by such practices.

Because they serve so many more Medicaid patients than the typical hospital, private safety-net hospitals, their patients, and the communities they serve can be greatly affected by such practices.

Learn more in the Kaiser Health News article “Coverage Denied: Medicaid Patients Suffer As Layers Of Private Companies Profit.”

Feds Urge States to Do More for Dually Eligible

In a formal guidance letter to state Medicaid directors, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has outlined ten ways that states can better serve individuals who are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid.

Noting that such dually eligible individuals represent 20 percent of Medicare enrollees but 34 percent of Medicare spending while also constituting 15 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries but 33 percent of Medicaid spending, the letter from CMS administrator Seema Verma to state Medicaid directors explains that

This letter describes ten opportunities – none of which require complex demonstrations or Medicare waivers – to better serve individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, including through new developments in managed care, using Medicare data to inform care coordination and program integrity initiatives, and reducing administrative burden for dually  eligible individuals and the providers who serve them. A number of these opportunities are newly available to states through Medicare rulemaking or other CMS burden reduction efforts. We are happy to engage with you and your staff on one, many, or all of the items described in this letter. The CMS Medicare-Medicaid Coordination Office (MMCO) works across CMS and with states to better serve dually eligible individuals, including through efforts to better align the Medicare and Medicaid programs and demonstrations to test new approaches to integrated service delivery and financing.

Those ten ways are:

  • state contracting with dual eligible special needs plans (D-SNPs)
  • default enrollment into a D-SNP
  • passive enrollment to preserve continuity of integrated care
  • integrating care through the Program of All-inclusive Care (PACE)
  • reducing the administrative burden in accessing Medicare data for use in care coordination
  • program integrity opportunities
  • Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 file timing
  • state buy-in file data exchange
  • improving Medicare Part A buy-in
  • opportunities to simplify eligible and enrollment

Private safety-net hospitals serve especially large numbers of dually eligible, Medicare-Medicaid patients and will be interested to see whether CMS’s recommendations translate into action at the state level.

To see the entire letter, including additional information about these ten opportunities, go here.

CBO Targets Health Care in Options for Reducing Deficit

Every year the Congressional Budget Office publishes a menu of options for reducing federal spending and the federal budget deficit.  As in the past, this year’s compendium includes a number of options to reduce federal health care spending and raises federal revenue through health care initiatives.

The cost-cutting options include:

  • establish caps on federal spending for Medicaid
  • limit states’ taxes on health care providers
  • reduce federal Medicaid matching rates
  • change the cost-sharing rules for Medicare and restrict Medigap insurance
  • raise the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67
  • reduce Medicare’s coverage of bad debt
  • consolidate and reduce federal payments for graduate medical education at teaching hospitals
  • use an alternative measure of inflation to index social security and other mandatory programs

Options to raise additional revenue include:

  • increase premiums for Parts B and D of Medicare
  • reduce tax subsidies for employment-based health insurance
  • increase the payroll tax rate for Medicare hospital insurance

Many of these proposals, if implemented, would be damaging for private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about the CBO’s recommendations, how they might be implemented, and their potential implications in the CBO report Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028.

 

Medicaid to Help Pay for Food, Heat, Rent?

Maybe.

At least that is what Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar hinted during a recent symposium held in Salt Lake City.

During the event, Azar said that HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation seeks

…solutions for the whole person, including addressing housing, nutrition, and other social needs.

Azar hinted at future CMMI action, saying that

What if we gave organizations more flexibility so they could pay a beneficiary’s rent if they were in unstable housing, or make sure that a diabetic had access to, and could afford, nutritious food? If that sounds like an exciting idea … I want you to stay tuned to what CMMI is up to.

CMMI currently operates one major program that seeks to address social determinants of health:  the Accountable Health Communities model, which screens participants based on social determinants of health metrics, identifies those it considers to be at risk, and then works to link those individuals to local and community services that can help them address their health-related needs.

Significant numbers of the patients served by private safety-net hospitals face challenges posed by social determinants of health.

Learn more about Secretary Azar’s comments and the federal government’s outlook on using Medicaid to help address social determinants of health in this article in Becker’s Hospital Review.

HHS Gives States New Options for Medicaid-Covered Behavioral Health Treatment

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has informed state Medicaid programs that it is giving them new opportunities to pay for hospitalization to care for recipients with behavioral health problems.

For years Medicaid has greatly limited the ability of state Medicaid programs to pay for inpatient care for many behavioral health problems – a limit commonly known as the IMD (institution of mental disease) exclusion.  Earlier this year the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services eased this long-time limit, announcing that it would make it easier for states to secure waivers from it.  CMS has announced in a formal guidance letter to state Medicaid directors that it is extending this policy, according to a CMS news release, which explains that the agency offers

…both existing and new opportunities for states to design innovative delivery systems for adults with serious mental illness (SMI) and children with serious emotional disturbance (SED).  The letter includes a new opportunity for states to receive authority to pay for short-term residential treatment services in an institution for mental disease (IMD) for these patients.  CMS believes these opportunities offer states the flexibility to make significant improvements on access to quality behavioral health care.

Under this new approach, states are invited to develop new delivery systems for serving patients with behavioral problems, and especially substance abuse disorders, that make greater use of inpatient behavioral health services and to receive federal Medicaid matching funds for pay for this care – something that has been greatly limited in the past.  In offering this opportunity, CMS notes that a number of states that have already obtained waivers from the IMD exclusion since its easing of the limit on such waivers earlier this year and are already showing encouraging results in their battle against opioid abuse.

Learn more about this new policy, its intentions, and how it will work in this CMS news release or go here to see the CMS guidance letter to state Medicaid directors.

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.

CMS Proposes New Medicaid Managed Care Regulation

Just two years after a major overhaul of Medicaid managed care regulations, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is again proposing changes in how the federal government regulates the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries.

Under the newly proposed regulation, states would:

  • be free to implement more changes in their managed care programs without seeking federal permission;
  • have slightly more flexibility in how supplemental payments are made to hospitals through managed care plans and implement some such changes without federal approval;
  • be permitted to redefine what constitutes an adequate provider network for managed care plans; and
  • not be required to publicize beneficiary grievance and appeals processes as prominently as they currently do.

Overall, the proposed regulation appears to help managed care insurers a great deal, states a little, and hospitals barely at all.  It also could have serious implications for private safety-net hospitals, most of which are located in states that employ managed care in their Medicaid programs.

Stakeholders have until January 14 to submit formal comments about the proposal to CMS.

To learn more about the proposed Medicaid managed care regulation, go here to see CMS’s news release presenting the regulation, go here to see a more detailed CMS fact sheet, and go here to see the proposed regulation itself.