How hospital capacity varies dramatically across the country

POPULATION                                    BED COUNT 

20M                      10M people                            0                          0                         25k beds                     50k

LUMEDX (@Lumedx) | Twitter

Healthcare Dive analyzed data to paint a picture of hospital capacity, pinpointing areas with a higher ratio of people to beds and signaling where there is a risk for capacity issues.

Fewer hospital beds in select regions make them especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus as it’s expected to spread from big city hot spots to other areas of the country.

As the U.S. has become the next epicenter of the outbreak, hospitals are preparing for the worst. The pathogen threatens to overwhelm their facilities and resources, especially if mitigation efforts fail to blunt a surge of COVID-19 patients.

The latest figures from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center report more than 143,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. and more than 2,500 deaths as of Monday.

The New York City metro area has the most beds compared to the rest of the country. Still, that is not enough capacity to meet the crushing demand.

To illustrate hospital capacity across the country, Healthcare Dive sought to compare bed counts to population, and found population size isn’t always indicative of the number of beds available.

Population size is not always indicative of bed capacity in the top 20 metro areas

Below are the 20 most populated metro areas in the U.S., sorted by population. As you move down the chart, population size decreases, but bed counts do not always. Areas like D.C. and Seattle have fewer beds relative to population size, while Miami and Philadelphia have more beds relative to population.

Some areas like Washington, D.C., have relatively fewer beds compared to their population, while others like Miami, Philadelphia and St. Louis have more beds relative to the number of people in the region.

Some hospitals are turning to hotels and tents, and Vice President Mike Pence has said he’s working with the Department of Defense to get field hospitals and other options online.

Still, researchers cautioned there is a long way to go to meet projected demands. If America’s healthcare system was able to free up half of its beds by discharging patients, the country would still need three times as many beds, Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told reporters during a call on Tuesday. That projection assumes 40% of Americans get infected over the next six months.

“What we know right now is that capacity to manage patients varies dramatically from community to community,” Jha said.

Areas with the highest ratio of people per bed

To paint a picture of hospital capacity across the country, Healthcare Dive used CMS cost reports and population data to calculate the ratio of people per bed in metropolitan areas and regions. In other words, how many residents are there for a single bed? It’s a way to pinpoint areas with a higher ratio of people to beds, signaling areas potentially at risk for capacity issues.


Hospitals certified by Medicare are required to submit annual cost reports to CMS, which include a vast array of information from bed counts to financials. Hospital beds analyzed in this report do not include all the beds a hospital may have reported to CMS.

Healthcare Dive excluded nursery, labor and delivery beds and psychiatric hospitals. In addition, due to the inconsistent reporting in ICU beds, Healthcare Dive did not highlight areas with higher ratios of people per ICU bed. It’s also important to note that some hospitals may have opened or closed since these latest CMS cost reports were published.

Healthcare Dive analyzed specific geographic areas, in this case metropolitan CBSAs, or core-based statistical areas, which are geographic areas that consist of an urban center of 50,000 people or more.

In the U.S., about 42% of the more than 143,000 cases are concentrated in New York, overwhelming available resources. Still, case counts are swelling in areas outside of New York including Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans. Indicating the outbreak is likely to be widespread in America.

Healthcare Dive found the Bloomsburg-Berwick, Pennsylvania, area has the lowest ratio in the nation with 86 people for each bed. Most areas have much higher ratios, the median being around 400 people per bed when comparing CBSAs. The metro area of New York City sits in the middle with 405 people per bed.

The Greeley, Colorado area has the nation’s highest ratio of people per bed, according to the data. About 60 miles northeast of Denver and with a population of more than 314,000, there are 1,397 people for every one hospital bed in the Greeley area.

The CMS data shows a total of 225 hospital beds in the Greeley area, operated by Banner Health’s North Colorado Medical Center.

However, a new 50-bed hospital opened recently and was not included in the most recent cost reports. It is operated by UCHealth.

Still, while those numbers may seem grim, Colorado’s hospital leaders cautioned that the state can and is working to tap into additional resources, citing freestanding emergency rooms and ambulatory surgical centers.

It’s imperative to look beyond just one locale or one hospital and consider the resources of the state as a whole, Colorado’s hospital leaders told Healthcare Dive.

Colorado has a total of 10,293 hospital beds (12,558 licensed beds) and at least 973 ICU beds, the Colorado Hospital Association said.

“It’s going to take the whole system for us to get through this,” Julie Lonborg, senior vice president at the Colorado Hospital Association, told Healthcare Dive.

There are only one or two hospitals in almost all of the 10 regions with the highest ratio of people per bed. Rounding out the top 10 areas with the highest ratio of people per bed following Greeley, include Albany, Oregon; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Merced, California; California-Lexington Park, Maryland; Bremerton-Silverdale, Washington; Lawrence, Kansas; Monroe, Michigan; Provo-Orem, Utah; and Ogden-Clearfield, Utah.

The data shows the total bed capacity in a region, but does not take into account the patients currently occupying those beds. However, in an effort to free up existing beds, many hospitals have halted elective surgeries, including in Greeley to free up resources and staff to be able to respond to a potential surge.

“UCHealth Greeley Hospital is caring for a large number of patients at this time, and by working together as a large system, UCHealth is able to redirect patients and admissions to other facilities to help even out our capacities at this and other hospitals,” Kelly Tracer, a spokesperson for the hospital, told Healthcare Dive.

In fact, many hospitals plan to lean on the larger systems they’re a part of to shuffle resources to respond to the pandemic.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, there are 76 hospital beds and 1,353 people per hospital bed. WellSpan Health, which operates Gettysburg Hospital, said it plans to coordinate its response by using its eight other hospitals in different areas and some 200 locations.

“We are taking a comprehensive approach to this issue, developing a network of more than 10 outdoor testing locations across our five-county region and temporarily repurposing several of our outpatient medical practices to care locations dedicated solely for the treatment of patients who are suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 and have non-emergency medical needs,” according to a statement WellSpan Health provided Healthcare Dive.

Other locations with the highest people per bed ratio are converting existing space into dedicated areas to treat COVID-19 patients to prepare for a crush of patients, including in Lawrence, Kansas, with 893 people for every bed.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Lawrence, Kansas, about 40 miles west of Kansas City, is prepared to up its capacity to 205, LMH said in a statement. The hospital reported 136 beds to CMS but said it is licensed for 174.

“At any given time we have upwards of 100 patients,” Traci Hoopingarner, vice president of clinical care and chief nursing officer for LMH Health, said in a statement.

As New York continues to grapple with mounting cases, leaders are issuing dire warnings to the rest of the country.

“New York is the canary in the coal mine. What happens to New York is going to wind up happening in California and Washington state and Illinois. It’s just a matter of time,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Below is an interactive table of hospital bed availability in different metros across the country. Search for your metro area to find the corresponding hospital capacity.


Trump rejects Obamacare special enrollment period amid pandemic

Trump rejects opening ObamaCare special enrollment period amid ...

Before the coronavirus outbreak, nearly 30 million Americans were uninsured and as many as 44 million were under-insured, paying for bare-bones plans with soaring deductibles and copays. Today, millions more Americans will begin losing their employer-based health insurance because they’ve lost their jobs during this pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is still actively trying to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act in court, which would cause an additional 20 million people to lose insurance *in the middle of a pandemic*.

And today, Trump refused to reopen ACA enrollment to those millions of uninsured Americans for a special enrollment window, leaving them without any affordable options to get covered. People are going to die because they can’t afford to seek treatment or end up saddled with thousands of dollars of medical debt if they do. Remember this the next time someone tries to tell you Medicare for All is too radical.

What do you think?

The Trump administration has decided against reopening Obamacare enrollment to uninsured Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, defying calls from health insurers and Democrats to create a special sign-up window amid the health crisis.

President Donald Trump and administration officials recently said they were considering relaunching, the federal enrollment site, and insurers said they privately received assurances from health officials overseeing the law’s marketplace. However, a White House official on Tuesday evening told POLITICO the administration will not reopen the site for a special enrollment period, and that the administration is “exploring other options.”

The annual enrollment period for closed months ago, and a special enrollment period for the coronavirus could have extended the opportunity for millions of uninsured Americans to newly seek out coverage. Still, the law already allows a special enrollment for people who have lost their workplace health plans, so the health care law may still serve as a safety net after a record surge in unemployment stemming from the pandemic.

Numerous Democratic-leaning states that run their own insurance markets have already reopened enrollment in recent weeks as the coronavirus threat grew. The Trump administration oversees enrollment for about two-thirds of states.

Insurers said they had expected Trump to announce a special enrollment period last Friday based on conversations they had with officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs enrollment. It wasn’t immediately clear why the Trump administration decided against the special enrollment period. CMS deferred comment to the White House.

Trump confirmed last week he was seriously considering a special enrollment period, but he also doubled down on his support of a lawsuit by Republican states that could destroy the entire Affordable Care Act, along with coverage for the 20 million people insured through the law.

People losing their workplace coverage have some insurance options outside of the law’s marketplaces. They can extend their employer plan for up to 18 months through COBRA, but that’s an especially pricey option. Medicaid is also an option for low-income adults in about two-thirds of states that have adopted Obamacare’s expansion of the program.

Short-term health insurance alternatives promoted by Trump, which allow enrollment year-round, is also an option for many who entered the crisis without coverage. Those plans offer skimpier coverage and typically exclude insurance protections for preexisting conditions, and some blue states like California and have banned them or severely restricted them. The quality of the plans vary significantly and, depending on the contract, insurers can change coverage terms on the fly and leave patients with exorbitant medical bills.

Major insurers selling Obamacare plans were initially reluctant to reopen the law’s marketplaces, fearing they would be crushed by a wave of costs from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. But the main insurance lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, endorsed the special enrollment period roughly two weeks ago while also urging lawmakers to expand premium subsidies to make coverage more affordable for middle-income people.

Congress in last week’s $2 trillion stimulus passed on that request, as well as insurers’ petition for an open-ended government fund to help stem financial losses from an unexpected wave in coronavirus hospitalizations.

Democrats pushing for the special enrollment period are also grappling with the high costs facing many people with insurance despite new pledges from plans to waive cost-sharing. Obamacare plans and a growing number of those offered by employers impose hefty cost-sharing and high deductibles that could still burden infected Americans with thousands of dollar in medical bills.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) on a press call Monday contended that “we also need to have free treatment” after Congress eliminated out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus tests.

“We did the testing, which is now free, and everybody, regardless of their insurance, gets it,” Pallone said. “But that has to be for the treatment as well.”





Justice Department sues Anthem, alleging Medicare fraud

Justice Department sues Anthem alleging Medicare Advantage fraud ...

The Department of Justice has sued Anthem, alleging that the health insurance company knowingly submitted inaccurate medical codes to the federal government from 2014 to 2018 as a way to get higher payments for its Medicare Advantage plans and turned “a blind eye” to coding problems.

Why it matters: This is one of the largest Medicare Advantage fraud lawsuits to date, and federal prosecutors believe they have more than enough to evidence to claim that Anthem bilked millions of dollars from taxpayers.

Background: DOJ has been probing the “risk adjustment” practices of all the major Medicare Advantage insurers for years, but hadn’t pulled the trigger on a lawsuit against a major player.

  • Risk adjustment is the process by which Medicare Advantage companies assign scores to their members based on the health conditions they have. Patients who have higher risk scores lead to higher payments from the federal government to the companies that insure them.
  • Insurers are required to review patients’ medical charts to verify the health conditions, and if insurers find any inaccurate diagnoses, they have to be deleted — which also would require the companies to pay back money to the federal government.

The Department of Justice is alleging that Anthem reviewed medical records, but only focused on finding “all possible new revenue-generating codes” while purposefully ignoring all erroneous diagnoses.

  • For example, according to the DOJ’s lawsuit, Anthem coded one member in 2015 as having active lung cancer.
  • “Anthem’s chart review program did not substantiate the active lung cancer diagnosis,” the DOJ alleges. Instead of deleting that diagnosis, Anthem allegedly added another three codes — leading to a $7,000 overpayment just for that member that year.

The other side: Anthem said in a statement that it intends “to vigorously defend our Medicare risk adjustment practices” and that “the government is trying to hold Anthem and other Medicare Advantage plans to payment standards that CMS does not apply to original Medicare.”

The big picture: Medicare Advantage continues to enroll seniors and people with disabilities at high rates, even as more allegations of fraud come out against the insurers that run the program.

Read the lawsuit.





Another week on the exponential curve

Image result for coronavirus response plan

As efforts to increase testing for COVID-19 ramped up this week, the number of cases in the US rose exponentially, and the number of deaths increased sharply as well. Early but incomplete data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that the virus was impacting younger people in greater numbers than had been seen in China and Italy, and concerns grew that asymptomatic but infected people could be spreading the virus to those with compromised health status. In response, many cities and states moved aggressively to put in place stricter measures to keep people in their homes to mitigate spread.

Several flashpoints have emerged across the healthcare system. Supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) are in short supply, raising concerns about putting healthcare workers at risk. Testing supplies—particularly collection swabs—are also running low in many places, forcing some newly-launched testing locations to close after just a few days. Hospitals across the country began to gear up for a wave of patients, with the number of potential cases likely to far exceed existing capacity of hospital beds, intensive care beds, and, in particular, ventilators.

In response, the President invoked the Defense Production Act, which will allow the government to direct private sector production of critically needed equipment. Hospital leaders have been advised by the government to cancel elective surgeries and minimize non-emergency utilization of healthcare resources, to preserve supplies and capacity for the coming wave of cases.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) loosened several key regulations to allow more care to be delivered virtually, in an attempt to relieve pressure on the system (more on that below). By week’s end, hospitals in several areas—including Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and New Orleans—were reporting that they were perilously close to being overwhelmed.

As many have pointed out, we are faced with a decision of which curve we want to be on: one that looks like Italy, which responded late with mitigation and suppression efforts and has found their healthcare system collapsing under the volume of hospitalizations; or one that looks like South Korea, where aggressive measures to suppress spread, including extensive testing, strict social distancing, and isolation of infected people, seem to have “flattened the curve”.

The next two weeks will be critical in determining what the next year looks like in America.




ACOs seek flexibility from CMS to mitigate losses due to coronavirus


Accountable care organizations (ACOs) are seeking flexibility from the Trump administration on mitigating any financial losses that could arise from treating the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. 

The concerns come as the coronavirus has spread to more than 1,200 people across the country and has healthcare facilities worried about being overwhelmed. ACOs are in a particularly difficult situation as they are on the hook for paying back Medicare if healthcare costs skyrocket.

ACOs participating in either the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) or the Next-Gen ACO program agree to take on some form of financial risk. If they meet spending targets, they get a share of the savings, but if that spending accelerates they must pay back the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for a share of the losses. 

CMS does have a policy in place for “extreme and uncontrollable” circumstances that could impact the shared savings and losses.

Under the policy, CMS agrees to mitigate the amount of shared losses that an ACO has to pay back to Medicare. The amount is determined by looking at the duration of the circumstance and the percentage of an ACO’s beneficiaries are in the affected area.

CMS also has a policy in place to account for how an unforeseen circumstance could affect an ACO’s quality score.

If an ACO can’t report quality then its quality score, which impacts whether the ACO saved or lost money, will be pegged to the mean score for all ACOs in the MSSP.

The policy has usually been applied for natural disasters like wildfires or hurricanes but never for a pandemic. But ACOs are worried about whether the policy goes far enough.

For one thing, the policy does not address ACOs that otherwise would have gotten shared savings without the outbreak.

“Many ACOs, especially those new to accountable care models and smaller and rural ACOs that don’t have reserves rely on those shared savings to invest in the care coordination programs, IT, infrastructure that is necessary to rely no high-quality care,” said Allison Brennan, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of ACOs.

It would also be helpful for the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), which oversees ACOs, to outline some scenarios on what applying the policy would look like, said Ashley Ridlon, senior vice president of health policy at Evolent Health, a value-based care consulting and services company.

ACOs are also concerned about the calculation of the benchmark, which is what ACO healthcare expenditures are measured against. The financial benchmark is calculated based on the previous three years of medical spending.

If the medical spending spins out of control due to the coronavirus, then spending would go well beyond the benchmark.

The CMMI could only take action, though, if the national spending is affected.

But ACOs worry CMMI, which oversees the MSSP and the Next-Gen Program, will only take action if the benchmark is changed on a national basis.

“The way CMMI will look at this is only if the national trend comes exceptionally off projections,” said Donna Littlepage, senior vice president of accountable care strategies for Carilion Clinic, a Virginia-based healthcare system with seven hospitals and more than 200 physician practices. “If this happens in small pockets and not nationally then ACOs will be hit hard and there won’t be a fix.”

However, if the benchmark is completely off the actual spending trend, then CMMI will have to step in, said Littlepage.

“It doesn’t do CMMI good to drive all ACOs into the red,” she added.

CMS said that it has the authority to retroactively modify the benchmark for ACOs in the Next-Gen program if the national spending trend is affected by the coronavirus or other factors such as a natural disaster.

“We are monitoring events and will determine at a later date if we need to make any modifications to our benchmarking methodology,” the agency said.

CMS said it can also update the benchmark for the MSSP after a performance year to adjust for any national or regional trends regarding spending and healthcare utilization.

The agency did not say if it will employ the “extreme and uncontrollable” circumstances policy.

The application cycle for MSSP opens April 20. 

“We encourage ACOs to apply since applicants have multiple opportunities throughout the summer to update and revise their application,” the agency said.





US Supreme Court Agrees to Review Affordable Care Act — for the Third Time

US Supreme Court Agrees to Review Affordable Care Act — for the Third Time

Image result for US Supreme Court Agrees to Review Affordable Care Act — for the Third Time

The fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is once again in the hands of the US Supreme Court. On March 2, the court announced that it would hear a case challenging the health law, a wide-ranging measure that “touches the lives of most Americans, from nursing mothers to people eating at chain restaurants,” wrote Reed Abelson, Abby Goodnough, and Robert Pear in the New York Times. This will be the third time the court will rule on the ACA since President Barack Obama signed it on March 23, 2010.Essential Coverage

“The justices will review a federal appeals court decision that found part of the law . . . unconstitutional and raised questions about whether the law in its entirety must fall,” reported Robert Barnes in the Washington Post. He noted that it is one of the first cases accepted for the Supreme Court term beginning October 5, which means a decision is not likely until spring or summer of 2021.

Should the court overturn the ACA, many Americans would lose the benefits afforded under the law. As Dylan Scott wrote in Vox, “everything would go: protections for preexisting conditions, subsidies that help people purchase insurance, the Medicaid expansion.”

Let’s break down each of those categories.

Protections for Preexisting Conditions

Before the ACA, people with preexisting conditions, which included common medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer, were denied health insurance or charged higher insurance premiums. Important benefits like maternity care and mental health services frequently were carved out of the benefit packages in health plans sold in the individual market — that is, outside of employer-sponsored coverage. An issue brief (PDF) by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that up to 133 million nonelderly Americans have a preexisting condition.

As Andy Slavitt, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Obama, wrote on Twitter, examples of being charged more included “$4,270 more for asthma, $17,060 for pregnancy, and $160,510 for metastatic cancer.”

Under the ACA, insurers are no longer allowed to deny coverage or charge higher prices to people with preexisting conditions. But if the Supreme Court rules against the ACA, these protections would vanish.

Medicaid Expansion

A key provision of the ACA is expanded eligibility for enrollment in Medicaid, a federally funded state option adopted so far by 36 states and the District of Columbia. More than 12 million adults with low incomes have gained Medicaid coverage through this provision, and research comparing expansion and nonexpansion states has linked expanded Medicaid access to better health outcomes.

According to the Urban Institute, if the ACA is repealed, “the uninsurance rate across all expansion states would increase from 9% of the nonelderly under current law to 17% under repeal. In nonexpansion states, the uninsurance rate would increase from 15% of the nonelderly to 21%.” Many of the newly uninsured would be the result of losing the Medicaid coverage the ACA provided.

“The uninsured rate for Black Americans would increase from 11% to 20% without Obamacare,” Scott reported. “There would also be a dramatic spike in uninsurance among Hispanics.”

Subsidies to Help People Purchase Insurance

To expand access to affordable health insurance for those who can’t get it through their jobs, the ACA offers federal subsidies to people with low and moderate incomes who buy insurance through the ACA insurance exchanges. The subsidies take the form of premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

Approximately 9.2 million Americans receive federal subsidies, reported Abelson, Goodnough, and Pear. “On average, the subsidies covered $525 of a $612 monthly premium for customers in the 39 states that use the federal marketplace,” they wrote.

If the ACA is overturned and the subsidies are eliminated, the cost of health insurance would become unaffordable for many of those 9.2 million people, and the uninsured population would soar.

Polls Show Public Support for the ACA

According to the February 2020 KFF Health Tracking Poll, 55% of Americans say they now favor the ACA, a new high compared to approval ratings below 40% as recently as 2016. Today 85% of Democrats express favorable views of the law, compared to 53% of independents and 18% of Republicans.

Though overall support for the health law remains partisan, many of its provisions have broad bipartisan support, KFF staff wrote in Health Affairs. For instance, large majorities of Democrats (94%), independents (88%), and Republicans (77%) have a favorable view of the ACA’s health insurance exchanges, and most Democrats (80%), independents (71%), and Republicans (54%) view the Medicaid expansion favorably.

Rising Health Costs Worsen California’s Coronavirus Threat

The global spread of the novel coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 puts threats to the ACA into perspective. Despite the coverage gains made under the ACA, nearly 28 million Americans remain uninsured, and that number would rise if the law were overturned. As Chris Sloan, associate principal at the consulting firm Avalere Health, told Caitlin Owens in Axios, we “could see uninsured or underinsured patients . . . skipping necessary treatment because they believe they can’t afford it.”

“Some lawmakers are concerned that the tens of millions who are underinsured — Americans with high deductibles or limited insurance — may also be at risk of unexpected expenses as more and more people are exposed to the virus,” Reed Abelson and Sarah Kliff reported in the New York Times.

Kristof Stremikis, director of CHCF’s market analysis and insight team, wrote in a recent blog post, “In an era when the average deductible facing a working family in California now exceeds $2,700, it’s not hard to imagine how many people missed detection and treatment opportunities because they could not afford to pay for them.”

To address some of these concerns, the California Department of Insurance (PDF) and the Department of Managed Health Care (PDF) directed all commercial health plans and Medi-Cal plans to “immediately reduce cost-sharing (including, but not limited to, co-pays, deductibles, or co-insurance) to zero for all medically necessary screening and testing for COVID-19, including hospital, emergency department, urgent care, and provider office visits where the purpose of the visit is to be screened and/or tested for COVID-19.”

Similar policies have been announced by state regulators in Washington and New York, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.




Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings

Image result for Medicaid cuts

Republicans and Democrats alike are warning that a recent proposal from the Trump administration could lead to billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, forcing states to eliminate benefits, reduce enrollment or cut payments to health providers.

In a rare sign of unity, hospitals, insurers, patient advocates and members of both political parties are on the same page in their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan, and most have urged the administration to withdraw a proposal they say would “cripple” Medicaid, the federal-state partnership that provides health care for the poor.

The proposal hasn’t received as much attention as the administration’s other efforts to reform Medicaid, such as implementing work requirements, but it could have the most damaging effect because of how far-reaching it is, experts argue.

“This is high stakes,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, whose board urged the administration to completely withdraw the proposal.

Trump allies have also voiced their concerns.

“The Medicaid fiscal accountability rule is a concern to my governor, and the stakeholders are worried the rule as proposed could lead to hospital closures, problems with access to care and threaten the safety net,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar last week during a hearing on the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget request.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) warned during the same hearing that the proposal could “dramatically affect Medicaid eligibility” and “wreak havoc on budgets in red states and blue states all across the country.”

The proposal would overhaul the complex payment arrangements states use to raise money for their Medicaid programs — funding that is then matched by the federal government.

The administration argues some states use questionable methods of raising funds so they can leverage more money from Washington. One approach used by states consists of taxing providers who stand to benefit from more Medicaid funds flowing into the state.

But governors and state Medicaid directors argue those long-standing arrangements are both legal and necessary as states look for ways to keep up with escalating health care costs.

The proposal would allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to limit the extra payments from states to providers serving high numbers of uninsured patients or Medicaid patients. Opponents say such changes could result in providers deciding not to accept Medicaid patients.

Dozens of states wrote public comments to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, urging her to withdraw the proposal, including conservative states that are typically supportive of her work.

“If the rule is finalized as proposed, it will immediately disrupt the Medicaid program in Alabama and we believe across the country,” wrote Stephanie McGee Azar, commissioner of the Alabama Medicaid Agency, who is not related to Alex Azar. She added that it would have “unintended consequences that will affect access to care in Alabama to our most vulnerable populations.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) administration warned the effect of the proposal would be “immediate and crippling.”

Meanwhile, a letter signed by state Medicaid officials in Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Louisiana, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington argued the proposal would likely “force states to cut Medicaid eligibility, benefits and/or provider payments, which would have the effect of decreasing low-income individuals’ access to important health care services.”

The public comment period closed Jan. 31. CMS now needs to go through the 4,000 comments before deciding whether to finalize the rule.

Verma and her supporters argue the proposal is not intended to cut Medicaid but instead aims to improve transparency and accountability in the $600 billion a year program.

“It’s not surprising providers and the states are objecting when they are getting federal money for free,” argued Brian Blase, who previously served on President Trump’s National Economic Council, where he worked on health care issues. “They don’t want transparency and they don’t want their financing gimmicks checked.”

Blase predicted the rule, if implemented as proposed, would reduce Medicaid spending by a “very small amount.”

Verma also pushed back on opponents, criticizing a study commissioned by the American Hospital Association that estimated the rule could reduce Medicaid funding by as much as $49 billion annually.

“This proposed rule is not intended to reduce Medicaid payments, and alarmist estimates that this rule, if finalized, will suddenly remove billions of dollars from the program and threaten beneficiary access are overblown and without credibility,” she wrote in a blog post last week.

Some experts disagree with her, pointing to other actions the administration has taken on Medicaid, including work requirements.

“I think one should view this rule not in isolation, but in combination with the broader agenda of this administration on Medicaid,” said Edwin Park, a research professor at Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. “Their ultimate agenda is about cutting the Medicaid program, changing the Medicaid program as it currently stands.”

State officials have complained that they were not asked for their input before the proposal was released, nor did CMS conduct a regulatory analysis of potential effects.

A nonpartisan agency that advises Congress on Medicaid policy wrote to Alex Azar advising he not implement the rule because CMS has not fully assessed the possible effects.

“The Commission is concerned that the proposed changes could reduce payments to providers in ways that could jeopardize access to care for Medicaid enrollees,” the advisory group wrote.

For example, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has planned to make $86 million in supplemental payments to hospitals in fiscal 2020, which began July 1.

The rule “would require significant changes to MaineCare and could force the State to cut back on eligibility or services,” Jeanne Lambrew wrote in the department’s public comment.

The administration hasn’t given any signals that it plans to back down from the proposal, despite considerable pushback from stakeholders, states and bipartisan members of Congress.

“We will work with states to help them recreate their practices in ways that are in conformity with the statute and try to be fair and equitable in all our dealings with states,” Alex Azar told lawmakers last week on Capitol Hill.