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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.

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.”

Verdict: Medicaid Expansion Improved Care and Access

A new review of studies published since the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion has concluded that expansion improved care, access to care, and coverage in states that expanded their Medicaid programs.

Among the improvements cited by studies are:

  • greater use of primary care
  • more preventive health visits
  • more behavioral health care
  • shorter hospital stays
  • fewer avoidable hospital admissions
  • reduced access problems
  • reduced reliance on hospital ERs as a primary source of care
  • improved monitoring and compliance rates for patients with diabetes and hypertension
  • higher rates of screening for prostate cancer and Pap smears

In addition, hospitals provided less uncompensated care and had better margins.

Learn more in the Health Affairs study “The Effects Of Medicaid Expansion Under The ACA:  A Systematic Review,” which can be found here, or go here for a Healthcare Dive summary of the study.

ACA Has Increased Primary Care Utilization

A new study found that the increase in the number of insured Americans as a result of the Affordable Care Act has resulted in increased utilization of primary health care services.

According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, primary care utilization rose 3.8 percent, mammograms 1.5 percent, HIV tests 2.1 percent, and flu shots 1.9 percent over a three-year period.  The study suggests that preventive care increased between 17 and 50 percent.

The study attributes all of the gains to improved access to private insurance and none to Medicaid expansion.

These results are based on self-reported information gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Learn more about these and other study findings in the National Bureau of Economic Resarch report  “Effects of the Affordable Care Act on Health Behaviors after Three Years” or see this summary on the Healthcare Dive web site.

Study Looks at Medicaid and Managed Care

A new Commonwealth Fund study examines how managed care plans have tackled serving new members in Affordable Care Act-authorized Medicaid expansion states.

According to the report, these managed care organizations have

…focused on identifying and helping high-risk populations and addressing the social determinants of health. MCOs are testing value-based payment strategies that link payment with performance and are increasingly focused on engaging patients in their care. Leaders report common challenges: setting appropriate payment rates; managing members whose needs differ from traditional Medicaid beneficiaries; ensuring access to specialty care; and effectively implementing payment reform and practice transformation.

Learn more about how managed care plans have served the Medicaid expansion population in the Commonwealth Fund report “Medicaid Payment and Delivery Reform:  Insights From Managed Care Plan Leaders in Medicaid Expansion States,” which can be found here.

NAUH Asks Congressional Leaders to Delay Medicaid DSH Cut

Delay cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allotments to states, NAUH has asked congressional leaders.

Medicaid DSH payments, which help private safety-net hospitals with the cost of caring for their low-income and uninsured patients, were slated for cuts under the Affordable Care Act in anticipation of a steep decline in the number of uninsured Americans.  While the reform law has helped millions obtain insurance, safety-net hospitals continue to serve large numbers of low-income and uninsured patients.  Recognizing this, Congress has twice delayed this Medicaid DSH cut but its moratorium on the cut ended on December 31.

Now, NAUH has asked the leaders of Congress to restore the Medicaid DSH cut delay as part of their current budget deliberations.

See NAUH’s letter to congressional leaders here.

ACA Improves Access to Surgical Services

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion has improved access to surgical services for Medicaid patients.

Or so says a new study published in JAMA Surgery, which reports that

In this study of patients with 1 of 5 common surgical conditions, Medicaid expansion was associated with a 7.5–percentage point increase in insurance coverage at the time of hospital admission. The policy was also associated with patients obtaining care earlier in their disease course and with an increased probability of receiving optimal care for those conditions.

As a result, the study found,

The ACA’s Medicaid expansion was associated with increased insurance coverage and improved receipt of timely care for 5 common surgical conditions.

This development is especially relevant to private safety-net hospitals because they serve so many more Medicaid patients in the predominantly low-income communities in which they are located.

Learn more about the study, its findings, and the implications in the JAMA Surgery report “Association of the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion With Access to and Quality of Care for Surgical Conditions,” which can be found here.

Medicaid Expansion Helps Save Hospitals

Hospitals in states that took advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand their Medicaid programs are six times less likely to close than hospitals in non-expansion states.

And the impact of Medicaid expansion is even more beneficial for hospitals that serve rural communities.

These are among the new findings in a new study that examines the effect of Medicaid expansion on hospital finances and hospital closures.  Among those findings,

We found that the ACA’s Medicaid expansion was associated with improved hospital financial performance and substantially lower likelihoods of closure, especially in rural markets and counties with large numbers of uninsured adults before Medicaid expansion.

According to the study, these hospitals, as a result of Medicaid expansion, served fewer uninsured patients and provided less uncompensated care than they previously had, thereby improving their financial health.  This effect has been especially pronounced in communities with especially large numbers of uninsured patients – communities like those served by urban safety-net hospitals.

For this reason, the study’s authors conclude that

Future congressional efforts to reform Medicaid policy should consider the strong relationship between Medicaid coverage levels and the financial viability of hospitals. Our results imply that reverting to pre-ACA eligibility levels would lead to particularly large increases in rural hospital closures. Such closures could lead to reduced access to care and a loss of highly skilled jobs, which could have detrimental impacts on local economies.

 To learn more, go here, to the Health Affairs web site, to see the study “Understanding The Relationship Between Medicaid Expansions And Hospital Closures.”

The Continued Need for Medicaid DSH

While the Affordable Care Act has greatly increased the number of Americans with health insurance and reduced the demand for uncompensated care from hospitals, many hospitals still see significant numbers of uninsured patients.

Some of those patients simply have not taken advantage of the health reform law’s creation of easier access to affordable insurance while others live in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs.

Hospitals that care for especially large numbers of such uninsured patients qualify for Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments, commonly referred to as Medicaid DSH.  The purpose of these payments is to help these hospitals with the unreimbursed costs they incur caring for such patients.

The Affordable Care Act calls for reducing Medicaid DSH payments to hospitals.  Many hospitals and hospital groups – including the National Association of Urban Hospitals – oppose this cut and are asking Congress to block its implementation.

The Commonwealth Fund recently published a commentary calling for delaying scheduled Medicaid DSH cuts.  Go here to see the article “Keep Harmful Cuts in Federal Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Payments at Bay.”

 

NAUH Urges House to Delay Medicaid DSH Cuts

The House of Representatives should delay the proposed implementation of major cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allotments to the states.

The reduction of Medicaid DSH allotments, mandated by the Affordable Care Act, has already been delayed twice by Congress, and now, a bipartisan letter is being circulated among House members asking House Speaker Paul Ryan and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi to move legislation to delay the Medicaid DSH cuts again for another two years.

In its message, NAUH has asked House members to sign onto the letter, which is being circulated by Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), John Culberson (R-TX), and Steve Palazzo (R-MS).

All private safety-net hospitals receive Medicaid DSH payments and all consider them a vital source of revenue to help them serve the low-income residents of the communities in which they are located.

Go here to see NAUH’s message to House members.