Court Halts Medicare Site-Neutral Payment Changes

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services did not have the authority to implement the site-neutral payment system for Medicare-covered outpatient services that it introduced last year, a federal court has concluded.

According to the court, CMS exceeded its authority because it

…was not authorized to ignore the statutory process for setting payment rates in the Outpatient Prospective Payment System and to lower payment rates only for certain services provided by certain providers.

In general, hospitals oppose the movement toward site-neutral payments and independent physician groups support it.

The court did not order CMS to reimburse affected physician practices for lost revenue.  Instead, it directed CMS to develop an appropriate remedy.

CMS is likely to appeal the ruling.

Meanwhile, CMS has proposed continuing its phase-in of the site-neutral payment policy in its proposed 2020 outpatient prospective payment system regulation that will take effect on January 1, 2020.  It is not clear how or if – the court ruling might affect CMS’s decision to move ahead with this proposal.

NASH opposed the 2019 change in a formal regulatory comment letter to CMS last year (see pages 2 and 3) on behalf of private safety-net hospitals and next week will submit another comment letter expressing the same view about year two of the proposed changes in Medicare outpatient payment policy.

Learn more about the case, the court decision, and what might happen next in the Healthcare Dive article “Hospitals score victory as judge tosses CMS site neutral rule.”

 

MedPAC Meets

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. to discuss a number of Medicare payment issues.

Among issues on MedPAC’s September agenda were:

  • context for Medicare payment policy
  • the effects of Medicare Advantage “spillover” on Medicare fee-for-service spending and coding
  • evaluation of the hospital readmissions reduction program
  • Medicare indirect medical education (IME) policy, concerns, and considerations for revising

These issues are important to most private safety-net hospitals.

MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues involving the Medicare program.  While its recommendations are not binding on either Congress or the administration, MedPAC is highly influential in governing circles and its recommendations often find their way into legislation, regulations, and new public policy.

Go here for links to the policy briefs and presentations that supported MedPAC’s discussion of these issues.

New Public Charge Rule Could Affect Immigrants, Providers

Legal immigrants may become reluctant to seek government-sponsored health care and providers may find themselves delivering more uncompensated care in the wake of the adoption of a new federal “public charge” regulation that seeks to define more narrowly the kinds of individuals who should be granted entry to the U.S. in the future.

The new Department of Homeland Security regulation, while focused on applicants for entry into the U.S., could have the unintended effect of discouraging legal immigrants from enrolling in Medicaid, CHIP, and other government programs and even lead them to disenroll from such programs out of a mistaken concern that participating in such programs could jeopardize their status as legal immigrants.  The Kaiser Family Foundation, in fact, estimates that two to three million people will leave Medicaid and CHIP because of the new regulation.

More than a quarter of a million interested parties responded to the proposed regulation, which was published last October, and since its release last week a wide variety of groups, ranging from the American Hospital Association and America’s Essential Hospitals to the American Council of Pediatrics, have noted the new regulation’s potential impact with alarm.  Hospitals, in particular, are concerned that if people disenroll from Medicaid and CHIP, they will end up providing more uncompensated care to patients who previously had health insurance through those two public programs.

This could be especially challenging for private safety-net hospitals because many are located in communities with large numbers of low-income legal immigrants.

Learn more about the new public charge regulation and health care providers’ reaction to it in the Fierce Healthcare article “Healthcare industry groups warn final ‘public charge’ rule could impact immigrant health, drive up costs.”

Can Medicare Feed its Way Out of Some Readmissions?

Feeding some Medicare patients after they are discharged from the hospital could reduce readmissions and save taxpayers millions, a new study has concluded.

According to the new Bipartisan Policy Center report Next Steps in Chronic Care:  Expanding Innovative Medicare Benefits, providing a limited number of free meals to certain Medicare patients could eliminate nearly 10,000 readmissions a year and save more than $57 million.

Participating patients would be those with more than one of a limited number of chronic medical conditions and the meals would be for one week only.  According to the report, more than 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries would be eligible to participate in such a program, with their meals costing $101 million a year, or $176 a person for one week, but the nearly 10,000 Medicare readmissions that would be prevented would reduce Medicare spending more than $158 million a year.

Such a program, if implemented, would be yet another approach to addressing the social determinants of health in many communities.

Such a program would undoubtedly benefit the low-income communities most private safety-net hospitals serve because food insecurity is one of many social determinants of health that challenge the health of the residents of those communities.

Learn more about how such an approach would work and whom it would serve in the Bipartisan Policy Center report Next Steps in Chronic Care:  Expanding Innovative Medicare Benefits.

New Bill Would Address Social Determinants of Health

The federal government would provide funding to help address social determinants of health within Medicaid populations under a new bill introduced in the House of Representatives last week.

According to a legislative summary prepared by one of the bipartisan bill’s sponsors,

Economic and social conditions have a powerful impact on our health and wellness. Stable housing, reliable transportation and access to healthy foods are all factors that can make a difference in the prevention and management of many health conditions like diabetes, asthma and heart disease. Known as social determinants of health, a focus on these non-medical factors can improve health outcomes and wellbeing. States are increasingly looking to deploy social determinants of health interventions to manage costs and improve health outcomes within their Medicaid programs. However, one of the greatest challenges to high-impact interventions is the difficulty in navigating and coordinating fragmented and complex programs aimed at addressing healthcare needs, food insecurity, housing instability, workforce supports, and transportation reliability, among others.

To address these challenges, the bill would

help states and communities devise strategies to better leverage existing programs and authorities to improve the health and well-being of those participating in Medicaid. The legislation will provide planning grants and technical assistance to state, local and Tribal governments to help them devise innovative, evidence-based approaches to coordinate services and improve outcomes and cost-effectiveness.

Such legislation could be especially beneficial to the communities served by private safety-net hospitals, which generally can be found in low-income communities whose residents’ health is often shaped in large part by social determinants of health.

Learn more about the Social Determinants Accelerator Act by reading a summary of the bill’s key provisions and an FAQ on the bill.

ACA’s Medicaid Pay Bump Helped But Benefits Now Lost, Study Says

Health status and access to care improved for Medicaid patients when the Affordable Care Act mandated a temporary rate increase for physicians serving newly insured patients covered through that law’s Medicaid expansion.

But when the mandate for increased physician payments ended and state Medicaid programs reverted to their previous, lower payments, many of those benefits were lost.

Or so reports a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

According to the study, even a $10 rate increase improved access to care enough to reduce by 13 percent Medicaid recipients’ complaints about not being about to find a doctor.  Utilization also increased.  The temporary Medicaid pay increase has even been credited with improving school attendance and reducing chronic absenteeism.

Despite the benefits of the temporary increase in Medicaid payments to physicians, most states returned to lower payments when the mandated ended, most of the gains resulting from the better pay for treating Medicaid patients disappeared, and the disparities between privately insured individuals and Medicaid patients returned to their pre-Affordable Care Act levels.

Researchers estimate that increasing Medicaid payments to physicians by an average of $26 a visit would eliminate disparities in access to care.

These findings are especially relevant to private safety-net hospitals because the communities they serve have so many more Medicaid patients than the typical American community.

Learn more from the National Bureau of Economic Resarch study “The Impacts of Physician Payments on Patient Access, Use, and Health” and from the Healthcare Dive report “Even $10 increase in Medicaid payments helps erase disparities in care access, study says.”

Groups Seek to Block Medicaid Block Grants

Do not permit states to adopt block grants for their Medicaid programs, more than two dozen groups have asked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

A letter signed by the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, COPD Foundation, March of Dimes, United Way, and others states that

Simply put, block grants and per capita caps will reduce access to quality and affordable healthcare for patients with serious chronic health conditions and are therefore unacceptable to our organizations.

The letter explains that

Per capita caps and block grants are designed to reduce federal funding for Medicaid, forcing states to either make up the difference with their own funds or make cuts to their programs that would reduce access to care for the patients we represent…  States under a block grant or per capita cap would struggle to respond to changes in standards of care, such as the development of ground-breaking but expensive treatment, and would have a greater incentive to impose additional barriers for treatments to manage their overall costs…  Additionally, per capita caps and block grants would cut Medicaid most deeply when the need is greatest, as these financing structures do not protect either states or patients from financial risk as the result of an economic downturn or other expected event.

NASH has long been skeptical about the use of block grants in state Medicaid programs.  The organization’s advocacy agenda for 2019 explains 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 grant 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 the groups that signed this letter and their objections to Medicaid block grants and per capita caps by reading their letter to CMS.

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.

 

Medicaid DSH Delay Advances in Energy and Commerce Committee

Medicaid disproportionate share cuts would be delayed for two years under a proposal advanced last week by the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Medicaid DSH cuts, mandated by the Affordable Care Act, have already been delayed three times by Congress and could be on their way to a fourth delay if the proposal advanced by the Health Subcommittee is endorsed by the Energy and Commerce Committee and works its way to the full House of Representatives, where such a proposal is thought to enjoy wide support.

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has long endorsed the delay and even the repeal of cuts in Medicaid DSH payments, doing so most recently in a letter earlier this year to Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley in which it argues that those cuts would be especially harmful to private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about the possibility of another delay of Medicaid DSH cuts in the HealthLeaders article “House Panel Advances Surprise Bill Package.”

 

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.”