5 biggest health care provisions inside the House reconciliation bill

House to consider modified reconciliation bill with health care provisions  | AHA News

After months of negotiations, House Democrats on Friday passed their version of the Build Back Better bill—an expansive $1.7 trillion package that contains some of the largest health reforms since the Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2010.

While the overall scope of the bill is roughly half the size of President Biden’s original $3 trillion proposal, many of Democrats’ key health care provisions made it in, albeit with some modifications. What’s more, the Congressional Budget Office projected that while the overall bill would add $367 billion to the deficit over the 10 year period, the health care provisions would all be largely paid for by provisions aimed at lowering drug prices.

Below, I round up the five biggest health care changes included in the House bill.

Find out where the states stand on Medicaid expansion

1. Health care coverage expansions

The House bill leverages the ACA’s exchanges and federal tax credits to expand access to coverage in two ways. First, the bill would extend the American Rescue Plan’s enhanced ACA tax credits through 2025. The enhanced tax credits, which are currently slated to expire in 2023, fully subsidize coverage for people with annual incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and have enabled people above 400% FPL to qualify for subsidies and capped their premium costs at 8.5% of their incomes.

While Democrats had originally proposed to permanently expand those subsidies, they ultimately had to scale back this—and other proposals—to ensure they could cover the costs. But as we’ve seen in the past, it is much harder to take away an existing benefit or subsidy than it is to create a new one—so while the current bill was able to cover the cost of the health care provisions by making them temporary, lawmakers will have to revisit the tax credits before 2025 and find new money to either further extend them or permanently authorize them. This is one of several health care provisions we could see the Senate take a closer week at in the coming weeks.

Second, the House bill takes aim at the so-called Medicaid coverage gap. The bill would enable residents below 138% FPL who live in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs to qualify for fully subsidized exchange plans through 2025. While an earlier version of the House bill included language for a new federal Medicaid program covering those below 138% FPL who live in non-expansion states to begin in 2025, the final House bill contains no such program.

Instead, the bill aims to encourage non-expansion states to expand their Medicaid programs by reducing their Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments by 12.5% beginning in 2023—a significant cut that the American Hospital Association (AHA) estimates would reduce DSH payments in those states by $2.2 billion over five years and $4.7 billion over 10 years. At the same time, expansion states would see their federal match for spending on the Medicaid expansion population rise from 90% to 93% from 2023 through 2025.

While the AHA and others are pushing back against the proposed DSH payment cuts—the move addresses the moral hazard component that critics raised about earlier versions. It no longer rewards holdout states for not expanding their programs—effectively punishing those who did and are now on the hook for 10% of their expansion population’s costs. It’s a clever move, and one we’ll be watching to see if it survives the Senate.

2. New Medicare benefits.

The House bill adds a hearing benefit to Medicare beginning in 2023. The hearing benefits would cover hearing aids and aural rehabilitation, among other services. While this is certainly a win for many Medicare beneficiaries who do not have or cannot afford private Medicare Advantage plans, this is significantly scaled back from the original proposal to add hearing, as well as dental and vision benefits.

However, given that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has named Medicare benefit expansions as one of his top priorities, it’s possible we could see this topic revisited in the Senate. But any meaningful change would mean Democrats need to find more money to cover the costs—and so far, that has proved challenging.

3. Medicaid home and community care.

The House bill allocates $150 billion for home- and community-based care. The funding would be used to help increase home care provider reimbursement rates and help states bolster home- and community-based care infrastructure.

While the funding is down from an original proposal of $400 billion, the Biden administration—and the Covid-19 pandemic—have made it clear that home-based health care will continue to grow and be a key player in the U.S. health care delivery system. Providers looking at their offerings should keep an eye on how states are investing these funds and building out home-based health care delivery in their areas.

4. Lowering the costs of prescription drugs.

Democrats scored a huge win in the House bill, and that is securing Medicare authority—albeit narrower authority than they sought—to negotiate prices for some of the highest-priced Part B or Part D drugs. Under the bill, HHS would be able to select 10 drugs to negotiation in 2025, up to 15 drugs in 2026 and 2027, and then up to 20 drugs per year in 2028. To be eligible for negotiation, a drug could no longer be subject to market exclusivity.

Drug manufacturers that do not negotiate eligible drug prices could be subject to an excise tax. This was perhaps one of the most contentious provisions debated in the health care portions of this bill. Democrats for years have been seeking to give Medicare drug pricing authority, but intense lobbying and Republican—and some Democrat—objections have kept this proposal on the shelf. While it’s not the first time the House has passed a bill with drug price negotiation—it is the first time we are in a place where the Senate could reasonably pass either this or a modified version of the proposal.

The bill also would redesign the Medicare Part D benefit to create an annual cap of $2,000 on seniors’ out-of-pocket drug costs, and impose an inflation rebate on drug manufacturers’ whose drug prices rise faster than inflation (based on 2021) in a given year.

5. Other notable provisions.

The House bill also includes provisions to permanently fund CHIP, bolster the country’s pandemic preparedness and response, and bolster the health care workforce through new training and workforce programs, the nation’s first permanent federal paid family and medical leave program, investments in childcare, and more.

What’s next?

While the health care provisions in the House bill are notable, it’s important to remember that this is not the end of the road. The House bill now goes to the Senate, where the Senate parliamentarian will check provisions against the Byrd rule—a Senate rule requiring reconciliation bills to meet certain budgetary requirements.

Democrats also will enter a new round of negotiations, and industry groups—including PhRMA and AHA—are expected to launch a new round of lobbying. PhRMA objects to the bill’s drug price negotiation provision and AHA is fighting the provision to reduce DSH payments in non-Medicaid expansion states by 12.5%. Any Senate-passed reconciliation bill will need to go back to the House for final approval before it can go to Biden’s desk.

But this is not the only thing on lawmakers’ plates in December. Members of Congress also face several other deadlines, including addressing looming physician payment cuts and passing end of the year spending bills. The short-version is, while there’s a lot to learn from the House-passed bill, it’s possible the Senate version could look very different—and it may take several weeks before we see that bill take shape.

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.

Nonprofit hospitals get bump in Moody’s ratings for 2020

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/nonprofit-hospitals-get-bump-in-moodys-ratings-for-2020/568739/

UPDATE: Dec. 11, 2019: Fitch Ratings also changed its sector outlook for the U.S. nonprofit health systems market to stable from negative for 2020 in a report released Tuesday.

Dive Brief:

  • Next year should be kinder to nonprofit hospitals and health systems, with Moody’s Investors Service forecasting a 2% to 3% growth in operating cash flow next year, driven by stronger provider revenue due to Medicare and commercial reimbursement raises and growth in patient volumes.
  • Moody’s revised its 2020 outlook for the not-for-profit provider sector from negative to stable as a result, and expects to see increased consolidation as hospitals bid to gain “negotiating leverage with commercial insurers, achieve savings through economies of scale, and ensure a foothold in emerging offerings such as urgent care and telemedicine,” analysts wrote.​
  • That’s not to say health systems won’t continue to contend with sharp industry headwinds like rising labor costs and the aging population, along with uncertainty from up-in-the-air legislation, regulation and lawsuits.

Dive Insight:

High Medicare reimbursement rates should, along with slightly more favorable commercial reimbursements, drive sector revenue to jump 4% to 5%, Moody’s predicts. Medicare payment rates in 2020 are the most industry-friendly in a while, analysts say, at 3.1% for overall inpatient rates and 2.6% for outpatient.

Fitch Ratings, which also revised its sector outlook from negative to stable, noted balance sheet measures for the providers are now at levels not seen since before the Great Recession in 2007.

Expense management is also forecast to improve cash flow, though provider shortages will cause labor costs to grow.

A growth in the number of uninsured is projected to curb some of the gains expected under this positive forecast, however. The uninsured rate reached 13.7% at the end of 2018, ticking up from 12.2% in 2017 and a low of 10.6% in 2016, according to Gallup. Policy experts blame the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, along with other Trump administration policies destabilizing the market.

Other regulatory waves could also impact hospital margins next year.

Cuts to Medicaid disproportionate share payments are likely to be postponed until late 2020 at least, which will help hospitals serving a large number of low-income patients. The $4 billion payment reduction was supposed to go into effect in 2014, but lawmakers have delayed the unpopular cuts annually since.

On Nov. 21, the Senate approved a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through Dec. 20. The CR once again pushed back the trims to the Medicaid payments.

Trump administration policy requiring payers and providers to post secret negotiated rates online could help some hospitals and hurt others, with some health experts arguing it would stimulate competition through transparency and others warning it could cause prices across the board to rise.

Hospital lobbies filed a lawsuit Dec. 4 to stop the rule, arguing it violates the First Amendment and would put overly onerous administrative burdens on providers.

Cuts to the 340B Drug Discount program, meant to prop up hospitals with a large amount of uncompensated care, could also hurt the sector. The program generated an average savings of almost $12 million across all U.S. hospitals last year.

In May, a federal judge struck down planned HHS cuts to 340B, arguing the change was outside of the agency’s authority. However, CMS has said it plans to go through with the payment reductions in the final outpatient rule for 2020.

On the legislative side, the Republican state-led initiative to find the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional would shear an estimated 20 million Americans from coverage and raise premiums on millions more, hitting both hospitals and the consumer hard. ​

“The fate of the ACA will likely again rest with the Supreme Court,” Moody’s analysts said. “An adverse ruling there would have painful implications for hospitals if millions of individuals lose insurance,” and “coverage gains from Medicaid expansion would likely be lost.”

 

 

 

Where the AHA is focusing its lobbying efforts in September

https://www.aha.org/news/perspective/2019-08-16-perspective-gearing-busy-september-capitol-hill

Image result for american hospital association headquarters

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the important role AHA member hospitals and health system leaders play in advocating for the field. This week, I’ll tell you exactly what we’re advocating for when Congress returns in September … and how you can help.
 
Here’s where things stand: There will be three issues before Congress next month that could greatly affect our field: surprise medical billing, the planned Medicaid disproportionate share hospital cuts and prescription drug pricing.
 
The AHA and its members strongly support protecting patients from surprise medical bills. However, we have concerns about the proposals in the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, which both contain a rate-setting approach for settling out-of-network claims.
 
We believe providers and insurers should continue to be permitted to negotiate payment rates for services provided … and we strongly oppose approaches that would impose arbitrary rates on providers. Hospitals and health systems work hard to align physician networks, but we cannot compromise independent physicians’ abilities to negotiate fair contract terms with payers. These approaches would add unnecessary complexity and burden to the system.
 
On Medicaid DSH, legislators need to act before Oct. 1 or $4 billion in automatic cuts to hospitals and health systems will go into effect. This will be followed by another $8 billion the following year. If these cuts proceed, they will threaten our ability to care for the most vulnerable members of society. The good news is that there’s strong support in the House for preventing these cuts from kicking in: The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed legislation last month that would eliminate the Medicaid DSH cuts for the next two fiscal years and reduce the cuts by half in the following year. So let’s make sure the Senate acts on this.
 
In addition, on drug pricing, legislators recognize that skyrocketing drug prices — as well as shortages for many critical medicines — are hurting patients and the hospitals and health systems that care for them each day. The Senate Finance Committee has taken an important step forward by advancing a drug pricing package to the full Senate. More work needs to be done, though … especially in the House.
 
Here’s where you come in: Your legislators need to hear from you. Urge them to protect patients while rejecting proposals such as rate-setting or setting a “reference” or “benchmark” price. Keep encouraging them to prevent the Medicaid DSH cuts from kicking in so we can make sure the most vulnerable can access care. And tell them how important it is to rein in the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs.
 
You can read our latest Action Alert here, which includes key resources for talking with your legislators over the congressional recess.
 
On Sept. 10, we’re holding an advocacy day on Capitol Hill … so please make plans to join us if you can and add your voice to those of your colleagues.
 
At the same time, as we all know, the recent tragic events in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy have increased the focus on addressing gun violence. Be certain: We will continue to give voice to the fact that violence is a serious health problem, as hospitals and health systems are on the front lines of taking care of the victims and serving their communities. Beyond supporting research and education and highlighting the innovative actions taken by our members to address all forms of community violence, we’ll also continue to closely monitor evolving efforts to develop bipartisan, consensus legislation in regard to more specific approaches to address this serious problem. 
 
You are leaders in your communities. You are the experts on health care. And when you speak up, your senators and representatives listen. Together, it’s time to engage with them so we can ensure every hospital and health system has the tools they need to always be there, ready to care.

 

Federal appeals court limits hospitals’ disproportionate-share funding

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/payment/federal-appeals-court-limits-hospitals-disproportionate-share-funding?utm_source=modern-healthcare-daily-finance-wednesday&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190814&utm_content=article1-headline

Hospitals that care for a large share of Medicaid, low-income and uninsured patients stand to receive less funding from the federal government after the D.C. Circuit reconsidered how Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital reimbursement is calculated.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a lower court and reinstated a 2017 rule establishing that payments by Medicare and private insurers are to be included in calculating a hospital’s DSH limit, ultimately lowering its maximum reimbursement.

In Tuesday’s ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson opined that the rule aligns with the intent of the Medicaid Act.

“By requiring the inclusion of payments by Medicare and private insurers, the 2017 rule ensures that DSH payments will go to hospitals that have been compensated least and are thus most in need,” Henderson wrote.

The case, brought by four children’s hospitals in Minnesota, Virginia and Washington and an association representing eight children’s hospitals in Texas, concerns the calculation of the uncompensated costs of treating Medicaid beneficiaries known as the “Medicaid shortfall.

For instance, if a hospital spends $1 million on treating Medicaid patients who have no other healthcare coverage and Medicaid pays $600,000, then the Medicaid shortfall is $400,000. In some instances, Medicaid patients have additional third-party coverage such as Medicare or private insurance.

Hospitals cannot receive more money in Medicaid DSH payments than they spent to treat Medicaid beneficiaries or the uninsured. Part of the motivation behind that stipulation was to prevent hospitals from double dipping by collecting DSH payments to cover costs that had already been reimbursed. Previous cases also revealed that some states have made DSH payments to state psychiatric or university hospitals that exceed the net costs, or even total costs, of operating the facilities.

Providers successfully fought the 2017 rule that limited hospitals’ reimbursement. A federal judge sided with the hospitals that claimed the CMS overstepped its authority and essentially ignored payments by commercial insurers and Medicare. That was overturned Tuesday.

The Children’s Hospital Association of Texas said in a statement that it is exploring its options.

“We are disappointed with the result because it will reduce critical Medicaid funding to safety net providers like children’s hospitals,” the association said. “These hospitals are heavily reliant on Medicaid payments because between 50% and 80% of their inpatient days are covered by Medicaid. Children’s hospitals care for all children, and are, in fact, often the only place that children with complex conditions can get life-saving care.”

 

 

 

House committee to discuss DSH cut repeal next week

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/government/house-committee-discuss-dsh-cut-repeal-next-week?utm_source=modern-healthcare-daily-dose-thursday&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190530&utm_content=article1-readmore

The House Energy and Commerce Committee next week will consider a full repeal of the Medicaid disproportionate share hospital cuts, a sign that hospitals are getting closer to securing the top lobbying priority for safety net providers and academic medical centers.

The committee will hold a hearing next Tuesday on proposed legislation from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), whose home state gets the single largest so-called Medicaid DSH allotment in the country. In fiscal 2018, New York received $1.8 billion of the roughly $12 billion in annual federal payments.

Engel has pitched a full repeal of the cuts mandated by the Affordable Care Act, which are set to take effect Oct. 1. Should those cuts move forward, they would reduce federal DSH payments to states by $4 billion in fiscal 2020 and $8 billion in fiscal 2021. An aide to Engel said that a full repeal “provides the long-term solution.”

Medicaid DSH is the second-largest federal program to boost hospital Medicaid funding, representing about $12 billion in federal spending annually. It has been the subject of a political fight over proposed reforms to the program.

Last week, 300 of the 435 U.S. House of Representatives lawmakers sent a letter to the chamber’s leadership urging a two-year delay to the DSH cuts, and hinted that some in Congress believe the Medicaid DSH formulas need to be reconfigured, calling for a “sustainable, permanent” solution.

“This delay will ensure that hospitals can continue to care for the most vulnerable in our communities,” the lawmakers wrote, led by Engel and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas).

The amount the federal government pays out for DSH varies enormously across states and is mostly arbitrary, reflecting the caps set by Congress in 1992 instead of a relevant benchmark.

Florida, where about 3.3 million people are uninsured, gets the exact same federal DSH allotment as Connecticut, where about 245,000 people are uninsured.

Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has said he wants to see a reset. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose state has a strong vested interest in a formula change, has used the Sept. 30 deadline to push a proposal that would base the federal dollar allotment on a particular state’s share of U.S. citizens living below the poverty level.

But the major trade groups representing DSH hospitals continue to push for a simple delay, since their constituents include hospitals in all the states. Dr. Bruce Siegel, CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, said at a briefing to House staff earlier this month that he’d be open to a formula change as long as hospitals don’t see cuts to existing funding. That means Congress would have to allocate even more money to the program.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she backed another delay when she addressed American Hospital Association’s annual meeting in April. She noted that she wouldn’t back a program overhaul.

“We cannot support efforts that will reward states for not expanding Medicaid or simply take DSH money from some other state and give it to others,” she said. “Who thought that was a good idea?”

The DSH debate doesn’t fall along the lines of which states expanded Medicaid or not. Alabama and Missouri haven’t expanded Medicaid but receive high federal DSH allotments, and would likely lose money if Congress decided to redistribute the existing payments.

Although the policy rationale behind the ACA-mandated cuts was that Medicaid expansion would shrink hospitals’ need for DSH money, high-DSH expansion states such as New York and New Jersey aren’t giving an inch.

Siegel framed the debate over expansion states’ need as being “a little more complicated now” than in the early years of the ACA.

“I think the market has changed in the last eight years or nine years when we started down the road of Medicaid expansion,” he said at the Capitol Hill staff briefing.

He pointed to the slight rise in the uninsured rate recently, as well as the increase of high-deductible plans that put more fiscal burden on enrollees.

“We are frankly concerned about any moves to move us toward skinny health plans,” he added.

Enrollment in more bare-bones commercial plans doesn’t really affect the Medicaid enrollment, but he argued that expansion still brings Medicaid shortfall — which is the difference between Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement.

“If you have 70% Medicaid patients which some of our hospitals do, you are in a terrible disadvantage in terms of payment streams, with the shortfall becoming enormous for you,” he said.

There is another Medicaid program that can help hospitals with shortfall: the “upper payment limit” supplement for Medicaid fee-for-service. States can deploy UPL payments to hospitals in order to increase their reimbursement based on rates Medicare would have paid for the same treatment.

UPL is the largest Medicaid supplemental funding program, with about $13 billion in annual spending according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission data from fiscal 2017.

The UPL program is also under scrutiny by MACPAC, whose analysts found that 17 states have overspent billions of these payments.