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Azar: More Value-Based Care Coming

Medicare may add more value-based care initiatives and alternative payment models to those it already operates, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar suggested at a recent event in Washington, D.C.

During his remarks, Azar spoke about population health benefits, global budgeting for Medicare patients, more primary care programs, and new models that address kidney care and opioid use and hinted at future efforts that address social determinants of health.

Learn more about Azar’s remarks about Medicare value-based purchasing and alternative payment models and other current federal health policy matters in the Healthcare Dive article “HHS chief keeps focus on alternative payment models.”

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.

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.”

 

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.