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Tackling Social Determinants of Health

Two states are working to address social determinants of health through their Medicaid programs.

In California and Oregon, the state Medicaid programs are using care coordination and funding from multiple sources, including traditional Medicaid funding, alternative payment approaches, and savings from care coordination to provide services such as housing, food, and legal assistance while also building the capacity of health care and community groups to support such efforts.  Both states obtained federal Medicaid waivers to enable them to expend Medicaid resources on non-Medicaid-covered services.

Learn more about how California and Oregon are using their Medicaid programs to address social determinants of health in the Health Affairs report “Medicaid Investments To Address Social Needs In Oregon And California.”

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.”

 

Groups Work to Create New Codes for Social Determinants

Social determinants of health could have their own ICD-10 codes if a new initiative from the American Medical Association and United Healthcare succeeds.

The two are working together to develop new ICD-10 codes that would take into consideration social determinants of health such as housing and food security, access to transportation, and ability to pay for medicine.

The project launches at a time when research suggests that social determinants of health can affect nearly 80 percent of health care outcomes.

Private safety-net hospitals struggle more than other hospitals, and must work harder to address, the social determinants of health that play such a major role in the health and well-being of the residents of the low-income communities they serve.

Learn more in the Health Analytics IT article “AMA, UnitedHealth Partner for Social Determinants ICD-10 Project.”

 

New Report Looks at Medicaid and Social Determinants of Health

A new report outlines how state Medicaid programs can improve the health of Medicaid beneficiaries through a more concerted approach to addressing social determinants of health.

The report, from the Institute for Medicaid Innovation, focuses on how state Medicaid programs, through alternative payment models and especially through managed care organizations, have implemented new programs designed to address social determinants of health such as inadequate social supports and housing, food insecurity, lack of transportation, and others.  It also highlights federal regulations that facilitate the implementation of new ways to address social determinants of health and presents brief case studies in which states, state Medicaid programs, and Medicaid managed care organizations tackle social determinants of health.

Such approaches are especially relevant to private safety-net hospitals because they care for so many more Medicaid patients than the typical community hospital.

Learn more from the Institute for Medicaid Innovation report “Innovation and Opportunities to Address Social Determinants of Health in Medicaid Managed Care.”

Medicare Advantage to Address Social Determinants of Health

Beginning next year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will authorize Medicare Advantage plans to pay for some health-related but non-medical benefits for their members – benefits that will help address social determinants of health that affect the health status of many Medicare beneficiaries.

As explained by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a recent event in Salt Lake City,

These interventions can keep seniors out of the hospital, which we are increasingly realizing is not just a cost saver but actually an important way to protect their health, too.  If seniors do end up going to the hospital, making sure they can get out as soon as possible with the appropriate rehab services is crucial to good outcomes and low cost as well. If a senior can be accommodated at home rather than an inpatient rehab facility or a [skilled nursing facility], they should be.

According to Azar, HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will be looking for new ways to address social determinants of health that have an impact on Medicare beneficiaries’ health.

What if we provided more than connections and referrals?  What if we provided solutions for the whole person including addressing housing, nutrition and other social needs all together?  What if we gave organizations who work with us more flexibility so they can pay beneficiaries’ rent if they are in unstable housing or make sure that a diabetic has access to and can afford nutritious food?  If that sounds like an exciting idea, then stay tuned to what CMMI is up to.

During the gathering, Azar made similar comments about Medicaid, suggesting that in the near future, federal Medicaid funds might soon be used for non-health-related benefits as well.

Learn more about Secretary Azar’s plans for addressing social determinants of health in this Fierce Healthcare article.

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.

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.

HHS Seeks Feedback on Social Determinants of Health

Following up on a requirement from the Improving Medicare Post-Acute Transformation (IMPACT) Act of 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued a request for information seeking feedback from providers and insurers about what they do to improve health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries with social risk factors.

The RFI seeks to learn more about how insurers and providers identify Medicare patients with social risk factors, address those factors, and determine how much their efforts cost and whether they were effective.

The information HHS gathers will be part of a report due to Congress by October of 2019.  It will be the second such report resulting from the IMPACT Act:  the first, submitted to Congress in 2016, focused on socioeconomic information already available in Medicare data and relied heavily on work performed by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine under contract with HHS.

Comments are due to HHS by November 16.

Go here to see the RFI “IMPACT Act Research Study:  Provider and health plan approaches to improve care for Medicare beneficiaries with social risk factors.”

MACPAC Meets

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, a non-partisan legislative branch agency that advises Congress, the administration, and the states on Medicaid and CHIP issues, met publicly in Washington, D.C. last week.

The following is MACPAC’s own summary of its two days of meetings.

The April 2018 meeting began with session on social determinants of health. Panelists Jocelyn Guyer of Manatt Health Solutions, Arlene Ash of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Kevin Moore of UnitedHealthcare Community & State discussed state approaches to financing social interventions through Medicaid. In its second morning session, the Commission reviewed a draft chapter of the June 2018 Report to Congress on Medicaid and CHIP on the adequacy of the care delivery system for substance use disorders (SUDs) with a special focus on opioid use disorders.

In the afternoon, the Commission discussed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) March 2018 proposed rule changing the process by which states verify that Medicaid fee-for-service provider payment is sufficient to ensure access to care and agreed to submit comments to the agency. The first day of the meeting concluded with a review of the draft June chapter describing the status of managed long-term services and supports programs across the country. June chapters on Medicaid drug rebate policy and federal regulations governing confidentiality of SUD patient records were approved at the previous Commission meeting in March.

On Friday, the Commission heard from panelists Susan Barnidge, of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Judith Cash of CMS’s Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, who discussed GAO’s report on Section 1115 demonstration evaluations and CMS’s efforts to improve the evaluation process. In the final session of the day, the Commission examined issues related to upper payment limit (UPL) hospital payments, which included findings from MACPAC’s recent review of state UPL demonstrations.

MACPAC members addressed a number of policy issues during the sessions using the following presentations to guide their discussion:

  1. State Approaches to Financing Social Interventions through Medicaid
  2. Draft Chapter: Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Medicaid
  3. Proposed Rule on Exemptions to Monitoring Access in Fee for Service
  4. Draft Chapter: Managed Long-Term Services and Supports Programs
  5. Panel Discussion on Section 1115 Waiver Evaluations
  6. Uses and Oversight of Upper Payment Limit Supplemental Payments to Hospitals

MACPAC’s deliberations are especially important to private safety-net hospitals because they care for so many Medicaid and CHIP patients.

Eat! You’ll Feel Better

And maybe need to spend less on health care.

That is the lesson learned from a program in Massachusetts that provided home delivery of food to dually eligible Medicare/Medicaid recipients who were struggling with their meals.

In a limited experiment, selected individuals received home delivery of food:  some received general meal deliveries while others received food tailored to their individual medical conditions.  The purpose:  address a major social determinant of health in this difficult-to-serve population.

The result, according to a report published in the journal Health Affairs, was that

Participants in the medically tailored meal program also had fewer inpatient admissions and lower medical spending. Participation in the nontailored food program was not associated with fewer inpatient admissions but was associated with lower medical spending. These findings suggest the potential for meal delivery programs to reduce the use of costly health care and decrease spending for vulnerable patients.

This type of approach might be especially beneficial for private safety-net hospitals because they care for so many patients who participate in both Medicare and Medicaid.

Learn more about the program and its results in the Health Affairs article “Meal Delivery Programs Reduce the Use of Costly Health Care in Dually Eligible Medicare and Medicaid Beneficiaries,” which can be found here.