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GAO: Feds Need Better Oversight of 340B Eligibility

The federal government needs to do a better job of ensuring that non-government hospital participants in the 340B prescription drug discount program are eligible for that program, the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in a recent report.

With growing numbers of non-government hospitals now participating in the 340B program, the GAO found that the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the program, is not doing enough to ensure that these hospitals meet the criteria for inclusion in the program.  In particular, the GAO found, HRSA needs to do more to ensure that such hospitals have valid contracts with state or local governments to care for low-income patients who qualify for 340B assistance with the cost of prescription drugs.  In particular, the GAO believes HRSA relies too much on hospitals’ own attestations that they have such contracts.

The GAO recommended a number of steps to ensure that hospitals truly are eligible to participate in the 340B program, including better and more frequent review of hospitals’ contracts with state or local governments.

Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and consider it an essential tool in serving the low-income residents of the communities in which they are located.

Learn more about the problems the GAO found with HRSA’s management of non-government hospitals’ eligibility for the 340B program and how it recommends that HRSA address those problems in the GAO report “340B Drug Discount Program:  Increased Oversight Needed to Ensure Nongovernmental Hospitals Meet Eligibility Requirements

Medicaid DSH Cut Delayed

Scheduled cuts in Medicaid DSH payments to hospitals will be delayed until at least late May under new federal spending legislation.

The cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share allotments to the states, mandated by the Affordable Care Act and delayed several times by Congress – including twice in FY 2020 alone under continuing resolutions to fund the federal government – are among a number of so-called “extenders” included in spending bills passed by Congress this week and sent to the president for his signature.

Authorization for delaying the cut in allotments to the states, which would have resulted in reduced Medicaid DSH payments for many hospitals – including private safety-net hospitals – would expire on May 22.  Congress is expected to address Medicaid DSH, along with surprise medical bills, the price of prescription drugs, and other health care matters, before that time.

NASH has argued against Medicaid DSH cuts for a number of years, doing so most recently in this September 2019 position statement in which it observed that

The conditions that led Congress to believe Medicaid DSH payments could be reduced significantly without harming the health care safety net have not unfolded entirely as anticipated. While many Americans have taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act to obtain health insurance, millions remain uninsured…

NASH also noted that

…any decline now in Medicaid DSH payments could lead to an increase in the provision of charity care, possibly forcing hospitals to reduce services, limit community outreach, and even reduce staff. Such measures could jeopardize access to care not only for hospitals’ uninsured and low-income patients but also for their privately insured, Medicare, and Medicaid patients as well.

Learn more about the delay in Medicaid DSH cuts and other aspects of this recent health care spending legislation in the Becker’s Hospital Review article “Congress unveils $1.3T spending deal: 5 healthcare takeaways.”

 

NASH Conveys End-of-Year Priorities to Congress

Preventing Medicaid DSH cuts, a fair approach to protecting patients from surprise medical bills, and reducing prescription drug costs are among the policy positions that the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals recently shared with Congress.

In its message to Congress, NASH also asked lawmakers to protect 340B prescription drug discounts for private safety-net hospitals and to preserve dedicated funding for community health centers, the National Health Service Corps, and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education.

Learn more about NASH’s end-of-year policy priorities from the message “Protect Safety-Net Hospitals and the Communities They Serve in Upcoming Budget and Legislative Deliberations” that NASH delivered yesterday to all 535 members of Congress.

Prescription Drug Bill Would Kill Two Years of Medicaid DSH Cuts

Two years of Medicaid DSH cuts would be eliminated under a new prescription drug bill released last week by the Senate Finance Committee.

The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act includes a provision that would eliminate two years of Affordable Care Act-mandated cuts in the allocation of federal money to the states for Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicaid DSH).  Those cuts have been delayed several times by Congress but were scheduled to begin in October of 2019 and run through federal FY 2025, only to be delayed again twice by continuing resolutions adopted by Congress to fund the federal government in the absence of enacted appropriations bills.

Under this proposal, the first two years of Medicaid DSH cuts would be eliminated entirely and the cut then would take effect from FY 2022 through FY 2025 – only four of the six years worth of cuts anticipated by the Affordable Care Act.

The legislation also would bring other changes to the Medicaid DSH program, including new reporting requirements on the non-Medicaid DSH supplemental payments hospitals receive from their state governments; changes in Medicaid shortfall and third-party payment policies; and a GAO study and report on hospital uncompensated care costs.

All private safety-net hospitals receive Medicaid DSH payments and consider them critical to serving the many Medicaid-covered and uninsured residents of the low-income communities in which they are located.

Go here to see the proposed legislation.

High-Deductible Plans Driving Rise in Hospital Bad Debt

Hospital bad debt rose in 2018 after several years of decline, and according to Moody’s, high-deductible health insurance is one of the major drivers of that increase.

According to the bond rating agency, non-profit hospitals are seeing growing amounts of bad debt as they struggle, often unsuccessfully, to collect from patients whose high deductibles leave them on the hook for meaningful amounts of care.

Kaiser Health News reports that 28 percent of covered workers, nearly half of them working for companies with fewer than 200 employees, now have health plan deductibles of at least $2000.  That proportion of individuals with such high deductibles has nearly quadrupled in the last decade.

Bad debt can be an especially challenging problem for private safety-net hospitals because they care for so many low-income patients who, even when they have health insurance, often struggle to find the money to pay their share of the costs their plans do not cover.

Learn more about the bad debt challenge facing hospitals in the Healthcare Dive article “Nonprofit bad debt climbs again amid steeper deductibles, Moody’s says.”

Medicaid DSH Cut Delayed

Cuts in Medicaid DSH payments to hospitals will be delayed for another month after Congress passed, and the president signed, a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 20.

A cut in federal Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allotments to the states is mandated by the Affordable Care Act and has been delayed several times by Congress.  If implemented, Medicaid DSH allotments to the states would be slashed $4 billion in FY 2020 and then $8 billion a year through FY 2025.

Cuts in allotments to the states would result in reductions of Medicaid DSH payments to DSH-eligible hospitals.

Medicaid DSH payments are a vital tool for helping private safety-net hospitals care for the low-income residents of their communities.  All private safety-net hospitals receive such payments.

The current cut is only temporary and expires when the continuing resolution expires after December 20.

Medicaid Expansion Brings Improvements to Expansion States

States that expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act have experienced fewer hospital admissions, shorter lengths of stays in the hospital, and lower hospital costs, according to a new Health Affairs study.

Specifically, they experienced:

  • a 3.1 percent decline in inpatient days
  • a 3.5 percent decrease in discharges for conditions considered “ambulatory care-sensitive,” such as diabetes, chronic respiratory problems, and pneumonia
  • a reduction of nearly three percent in hospital costs.

NASH has long supported Medicaid expansion, which has enabled private safety-net hospitals to serve their communities more effectively.

Learn more about how Medicaid expansion has improved the health of the population in states that expanded their Medicaid programs in the Health Affairs study “Medicaid Expansion Associated With Reductions in Preventable Hospitalizations.”

Safety-Net Hospitals Gird for Loss of Medicaid DSH Money

Safety-net hospitals and others will lose a significant portion of their Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) payments on November 22 unless Congress delays implementation of the cut in those payments that was mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

And hospitals that receive these payments are now preparing for the worst.

The Medicaid DSH cut was included in the 2010 health care reform law in anticipation of a great reduction in the number of uninsured people leaving hospitals providing much less uncompensated care and therefore not in need of as much DSH money.  The law’s reach has not proven to be as great as anticipated, however, and two developments since the law’s passage have put a damper on the expected rise in the number of insured Americans:  a court decision that made it optional for states to expand their Medicaid program and the repeal of the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance.

Four times Congress has voted to delay the Medicaid DSH cut because so many people remained uninsured.  Now, however, the most recent delay in implementation of the cut, via a provision in the continuing resolution currently funding the federal government, expires on November 21, and hospitals – many of them already with razor-thin margins – are preparing for the worst:  a major reduction of their federal Medicaid DSH money.

NASH has asked Congress to delay the implementation of Medicaid DSH cuts on numerous occasions, citing their potential impact on the ability of private-safety-net hospitals to serve their communities.  NASH most recently made this request in September, urging members of Congress to support the continuing bipartisan effort to delay the cut.

Learn more about the prospect of a major Medicaid DSH cut later this month, how it might affect safety-net hospitals – including the kinds of private safety-net hospitals represented by NASH – and what some hospitals are doing to prepare for the possibility in the Stateline article “Rural and Safety Net Hospitals Prepare for Cut in Federal Support.”

High-Deductible Plans Losing Luster Amid Low Unemployment

The competition for employees is leading more businesses to offer more generous health insurance plans in addition to high-deductible plans.

As health insurance premiums rose in recent years, more and more companies were offering their employees more high-deductible insurance options to help keep down the cost of premiums.  Now, however, with some workers clamoring for more conventional plans and businesses finding themselves in competition for workers at a time of low unemployment, more businesses are offering those conventional plans to their workers.

2020, in fact, will mark the third consecutive year during which the percentage of companies offering only high-deductible health insurance plans will fall.

Serving patients with high-deductible health insurance can pose a special challenge for private safety-net hospitals.  Often, patients in the low-income communities these hospitals serve cannot afford to pay their deductibles, leaving such hospitals to absorb the cost of this uncompensated care.

Learn more about how businesses are adjusting their health insurance offerings in response to employee demand and competitive concerns in the Kaiser Health News article “Employers are Scaling Back Their Dependence on High-Deductible Health Plans.”

Verma Hints at More Medicaid Changes, Deregulation

Stay tuned for more Medicaid changes, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma told a Las Vegas health care gathering last week.

CMS, she told her audience, will

…soon outline new opportunities for states to flip the Medicaid paradigm and free themselves from federal micromanagement.

While Verma offered few details, one idea clearly emerged:  there will be more deregulation.  She insisted, for example, that Medicaid work requirements are not dead.  While such requirements have run into trouble in the courts in recent months, she explained that CMS is developing new implementation guidelines to address some of the challenges states have faced when introducing such requirements and made it clear that CMS would continue to approve state requests to require their Medicaid population to work or engage in volunteer activities.

Because they care for more Medicaid patients than the typical hospital, private safety-net hospitals could be disproportionately affected by any changes in the Medicaid program.

Learn more about Verma’s remarks and the context in which they were offered in the Healthcare Dive article “CMS chief Verma teases more Medicaid deregulation.”