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New Poverty Level Standards to Jeopardize Medicaid Eligibility?

The Trump administration is considering changing how the federal government measures inflation for the purpose of calculating the federal poverty level.

Such a change, if implemented, could potentially reduce inflation-related increases in the federal poverty level, which in turn could limit the ability of some individuals and families to qualify, or continue to qualify, for a variety of public safety-net services – including, potentially, Medicaid.

Among the possible alternatives to the current methodology for calculating inflation is the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.  The Obama administration also explored substituting this index for the current inflation factor.

Any change that makes it more difficult for people to qualify for Medicaid could be particularly damaging to private safety-net hospitals, which are generally located in communities with especially large numbers of low-income residents.  If patients lose their Medicaid eligibility because the criteria for participating in the program change, that could leave such hospitals serving even more uninsured patients and providing even more uncompensated care than they already do.

The federal Office of Management and Budget has issued a request for comment about various inflation factor calculation alternatives.  Go here to see OMB notice Request for Comment on the Consumer Inflation Measures Produced by Federal Statistical Agencies.  Comments are due in late June.  Learn more from the New York Times article  “Trump Administration Seeks to Redefine Formula for Calculating Poverty.”

Delay Medicaid DSH Cuts, Pelosi Says

Medicaid DSH cuts should be delayed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told a gathering of hospital officials.

According to Speaker Pelosi,

DSH cuts threaten to erode the health of community hospitals, safety-net hospitals and rural hospitals, [affecting] the health of not only the families that rely on Medicaid, but any person who relies on these hospitals for care.

NASH has long urged Congress to delay or even eliminate Affordable Care Act-mandated cuts of Medicaid disproportionate share payments, doing so twice in the past week: first in a letter to Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and then in a message to all House members. NASH believes this cut would be especially harmful for the nation’s private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about Speaker Pelosi’s remarks in the Becker’s Hospital Review article “House speaker urges Congress to ease Medicaid payment cuts to hospitals serving low-income patients.”

Medicare Advantage Permitted to Address Non-medical Needs

Starting in 2020, Medicare Advantage plans will be permitted to provide non-medical benefits to their chronically ill members.

As described in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ “final call letter’ for 2020,

MA [Medicare Advantage] plans are not prohibited from offering an item or service that can be expected to improve or maintain the health or overall function of an enrollee only while the enrollee is using it.  In other words, the statute does not require that the maintenance or improvement expected from an SSBCI [special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill] result in a permanent change in an enrollee’s condition.  Items and services may include, but are not limited to:  meals furnished to the enrollee beyond a limited basis, transportation for non-medical needs, pest control, air quality equipment and services, and benefits to address social needs, so long as such items and services have a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function of an individual as it relates to their chronic condition or illness.

The CMS final call letter offers permission to Medicare Advantage plans to offer such services; it does not require them to do so.

Such a policy change could be highly beneficial to many of the low-income patients served by private safety-net hospitals, which have long sought help with addressing the social determinants of health that often bring patients to them but limit their ability to recover from their illnesses and injuries.

Learn more from the Commonwealth Fund report “New Medicare Advantage Benefits Offer Social Services to People with Chronic Illness” and see CMS’s “Announcement of Calendar Year (CY) 2020 Medicare Advantage Capitation Rates and Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment Policies and Final Call Letter.”

 

NASH Asks House to Support Delay of Medicaid DSH Cut

Working to prevent the scheduled October 2019 reduction of Medicaid DSH allocations to the states, NASH has reached out to the House of Representatives for help.

In a message delivered to all House members, NASH asked those members to sign onto a bipartisan letter being circulated by two of their colleagues, Representatives Eliot Engel (D-CA) and Pete Olson (R-TX), that asks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to advance legislation to delay an Affordable Care Act-mandated reduction of Medicaid disproportionate share allocations to the states.  Congress has already delayed this cut three times.

In its letter, NASH explains that

If implemented, this cut would be harmful for private safety-net hospitals and the communities they serve throughout the country.

See the Engel-Olson letter here and see NASH’s message to House members here.

NASH Asks Grassley, Senate Finance Committee to Delay Medicaid DSH Cut

Delay or eliminate the FY 2020 Medicaid disproportionate share payment cut, NASH has asked Senator Charles Grassley in a recent letter.

The cut, mandated by the Affordable Care Act but delayed three times by Congress, was envisioned as an appropriate response to what was expected to be a significant decrease in the number of uninsured Americans as a result of the 2010 health reform law.  In his news release, Senator Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, notes that Congress has delayed implementing this Medicaid DSH cut three times and needs to address the issue definitively.

In its letter, NASH maintains that the Affordable Care Act has not reduced the number of uninsured Americans as much as anticipated, leaving private safety-net hospitals and others still to provide significant amounts of uncompensated care to their low-income and uninsured patients and therefore still in need of their full Medicaid DSH payments.

NASH also argues that uncertainty in the health care arena today – legislative and judicial challenges to the Affordable Care Act, states changing the eligibility criteria and benefits of their Medicaid programs, the instability of health insurance marketplaces, and more – makes this an inappropriate time to reduce payments to safety-net hospitals, possibly jeopardizing access to care in low-income areas as a result.

Learn more by reading Senator Grassley’s news release and NASH’s letter to him.

Hospital Groups Join NASH in Calling for Delay of Medicaid DSH Cuts

Seven hospital trade groups have written to congressional leaders asking them to delay Affordable Care Act-mandated cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicaid DSH) that are scheduled to take effect in October of this year.

Their letter echoes a long-time advocacy priority of the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals.

In their letter the groups, led by the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, write of the underlying rationale for the Affordable Care Act mandate for Medicaid DSH cuts that

…the coverage rates envisioned under the ACA have not been fully realized, and tens of millions of Americans remain uninsured. In addition, Medicaid underpayment continues to pose ongoing financial challenges for hospitals treating our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

NASH has long advocated such delaying Medicaid DSH cuts, most recently in comments to Congress in response to the proposed State Accountability, Flexibility, and Equity for Hospitals Act.

Delaying Medicaid DSH cuts also is identified as an advocacy priority of private safety-net hospitals in NASH’s 2019 policy and advocacy agenda.

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.”

Court Rejects 340B Cuts

A federal court has ruled that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services overstepped its authority in reducing Medicare payments for prescription drugs covered by the section 340B prescription drug discount program.

While the court conceded that CMS has the authority to address 340B payments, it found that CMS’s drastic payment cuts, introduced in FY 2018, “…fundamentally altered the statutory scheme established by Congress…” for determining 340B payment rates.

The court suggested that CMS either change its methodology for determining 340B payments to justify the specific cuts it proposes or raise its objections with Congress, which created the program and has the authority to change it.

According to documents submitted to the court by the parties that filed the suit, eligible hospitals have seen their 340B payments reduced $1.6 billion since the cuts began in FY 2018.  The court asked the federal government and those who filed the suit to suggest remedies for compensating participating hospitals for their losses.

The ruling has major implications for the country’s private safety-net hospitals, most of which participate in the 340B program.

Learn more about the 340B litigation, the court’s ruling, and its impact in the New York Times story “Court Rejects Trump’s Cuts in Payments for Prescription Drugs.”

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.