Appeals court sides with hospitals in latest challenge of DSH payment calculations


lady justice

A federal appeals court upheld a ruling that would allow hospitals to calculate their disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments using Medicaid patients as well as patients eligible for treatment under experimental Medicaid “demonstration projects” approved by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The opinion, issued Friday, upheld the decision of a lower court that sided with 10 Florida hospitals seeking to include days of care funded by Florida’s Low Income Pool, an approved Medicaid demonstration project. Through the pool, the state and federal governments jointly reimbursed hospitals for care provided to uninsured and underinsured patients.

HHS argued against allowing the hospitals to include those patients in their Medicaid fraction on the ground that the patients were treated out of charity rather than as designated beneficiaries of a demonstration project.

“The district court found the Secretary’s arguments to the contrary unpersuasive. The Secretary argued the text of the regulation allows hospitals to include days of care provided under a demonstration project only if the project entitles specific patients to specific benefit packages,” the judges said (PDF). “As the court noted, however, this is not what the regulation says. Rather, a patient must have been ‘eligible for inpatient services,’ meaning the demonstration project enabled the patient to receive inpatient services, regardless whether the project gave the patient a right to these services or allowed the patient to enroll in an insurance plan that provided the services.”

DSH payments have traditionally been calculated using the costs incurred to treat Medicaid and uninsured patients. However, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid’s 2017 rule says costs incurred treating other patients are applicable. For example, a dually eligible patient who’s admitted to the hospital will likely have their stay paid for by Medicare, the agency said, as Medicaid is treated as the “payer of last resort.” As such, those costs would be eligible to be subtracted from DSH payouts.

In backing the hospitals on the DSH dispute, the judges pointed to a similar case considered by the Fifth Circuit last year in which the agency sought to exclude from the Medicaid fraction days of care funded through an “uncompensated care pool” created by a demonstration project. That pool reimbursed hospitals in Mississippi for services provided to uninsured patients affected by Hurricane Katrina but did not entitle specific patients to specific services.

In that case, the Fifth Circuit held “plain regulatory text demands that such days be included—period.”

“We see no flaw in Judge Collyer’s analysis and therefore embrace the district court’s opinion as the law of this circuit,” the judges said.

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