About 64% of adults in a Medicaid-enrolled family in December said they did not know they may lose coverage once pandemic-era policy ends and eligibility checks resume on April 1, according to a survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The percentage of respondents who said they heard nothing about upcoming Medicaid renewals rose from June, when 62% said they knew nothing about the changes, the survey found.
Awareness was low across the board regardless of geographic region or a state’s Medicaid expansion status, according to the survey.
The federal government barred states from resuming Medicaid eligibility checks amid widespread job losses and other challenges during the pandemic.
Once eligibility checks resume, as many as 18 million people are expected to lose coverage, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
About 7 million of those people are expected to gain coverage through the individual markets or employer-sponsored plans, though 8 million will not and will likely become uninsured, according to a report from Moody’s Investor Services.
Awareness levels regarding looming redetermination checks remained low and varied only slightly regionally, the report found.
Similarly, above 60% of respondents reported unawareness of Medicaid redeterminations both in Medicaid expansion states and those that haven’t expanded Medicaid, “which suggests the need for widespread outreach and education efforts,” the report said.
“Reducing information gaps about the change is a critical first step,” the report said.
In non-expansion states, people will need help learning about navigating marketplace options, while in expansion states they’ll need information on how to stay enrolled, the report said.
The suspension of eligibility checks led Medicaid membership to rise substantially during the pandemic, growing from 70.7 million members in February 2020 to 90.9 million in September, according to the Moody’s Investor Services report.
The end of the policy is expected to deal a blow to payers that have touted recent enrollment growth while hospitals could see more self-pay patients and “higher bad debt” for facilities, the Moody’s report said.
New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health began 2023 with a low, but positive operating margin, but labor costs are expected to increase again this year on the back of recent union activity in the state.
To offset such increases that were not anticipated in the 2023 budget, Northwell is evaluating opportunities to reduce expenses and increase revenue across the health system, which includes 21 hospitals and about 83,000 employees.
Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell, spoke to Becker’s Hospital Review about the health system’s biggest challenge this year, how it approaches cost-cutting and why outpatient care is its biggest growth area.
Editor’s note: Responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
Question: Many health systems saw margins dip last year amid rising inflation, increased labor costs and declining patient volumes. How have you led Northwell through the challenges of last year?
Michael Dowling: We ended 2022 with a low, but positive margin. We’ve been coming back from COVID quite successfully, and we’re back pretty much in all areas to where we were prior to the pandemic. Volumes have returned and we’re very busy. We came into 2023 with a positive budget and a positive margin. We anticipate that you’re always going to have challenges and disturbances, but it’s important to stay focused and deal with it. We have a very detailed strategic plan, which outlines our various goals, and we stick to it.
Q: What is your top priority today?
MD: The biggest issue for us today is labor costs. We have lots of union activity in New York at the moment. There were various nurse strikes in New York City at the beginning of the year. None of our hospitals were involved in those deliberations, but some of those hospitals agreed to contracts that have increases that were not anticipated in anybody’s 2023 budget. That’s going to have an effect on us. We have negotiations ongoing with the nurses’ union, and have 10 unions overall. About 90 percent of Northwell’s facilities have unions, so the bottom line is we are going to have expenses as a result of these contracts that were not anticipated in the budget. I don’t know the final number on these contracts yet, but it’s definitely going to be more than what we anticipated.
The unions in New York get a lot of government support and have become very empowered and quite aggressive. The bottom line is there’s more expense than we anticipated in our budget, so we need to figure out how to address that. We’re looking at everything across our health system to find expense reductions or revenue enhancements to be able to make up for the increased labor costs and be optimistic about ending the year with a positive margin. But we’re in a good place and are not like some other health systems that are struggling financially.
Q: Where are the biggest opportunities to reduce expenses or increase revenue to offset the increased labor costs?
MD: It’s a combination of a lot of things. We have a detailed capital plan that we may slow down. We hire about 300 people a week, so maybe we’ll target that hiring into specific areas and not be as broad based as we thought we could be. We will examine if we have specific programs or initiatives we can curtail without doing any damage to our core mission. It will end up being a portfolio of items; it won’t be one big thing. On the revenue side, we’re working very hard to increase our neurosurgery, cardiac, cancer and orthopedic businesses. Over the next couple of months, all of those things will be taken into consideration. The bottom line is we are going to come out of this winning.
Q: Looking three or four years down the line, where do you see the biggest growth opportunities for Northwell?
MD: Our biggest growth is in outpatient care. A lot of surgeries are moving outpatient, so we have to get ahead of that. Some think we are only a hospital system, but only about 46 percent of our business is from our hospital sector today. Home care is going to grow phenomenally, especially given the new technology that’s available. Digital health will also dramatically expand.
We’re also looking at expanding into new geographic areas and markets. It’s about positioning your offerings in places close to where people live, so you reduce the inconvenience of people having to travel long distances for care when it should be available to them closer to home. When you do that, you increase market share. We’re constantly increasing our market share by being very aggressive about going to where the customer is and providing the highest quality care that we can. Part of that is also being able to recruit top-line, quality physicians. When you do that, you attract new business because you have competencies that you didn’t have before. It’s a combination of all of these things, but there’s certainly no limit to the opportunities in front of us. We’re not in a world of challenges; we’re in a world of opportunity. The question is are we aggressive enough and do we have enough tolerance for some risk? We need to be as aggressive as we possibly can to take advantage of some of those opportunities.
Q: What is the biggest challenge on the horizon for Northwell?
MD: The biggest challenge is the huge growth in government payer business — Medicare and Medicaid. The problem with Medicaid — especially in a union environment — is it doesn’t cover your costs. The government is a big part of a potential future issue there. By increasing Medicaid, the more of your business becomes Medicaid and the worse you end up doing, unless you can increase your commercial payer business to continue to cross-subsidize. We also have a lot of union negotiations over the next couple of months, which will put a strain on our 2023 budget, but we will resolve it.
Q: How do you see hospitals and health systems evolving as CMS, commercial payers and patients continue to push more services to outpatient settings, where they can arguably be performed at a higher quality and lower cost?
MD: I think it’s going to continue to grow. For example, Northwell has 23 hospitals — 21 of which it owns — yet it has 890 outpatient facilities. We’ve been ahead of this curve a long time. Our primary expansion is in ambulatory care, not in-hospital care. Like I said, only 46 percent of Northwell’s total business is its hospital business. If you’re relying on the hospital to be the core provider of the future, you’re going to lose. You’ve got to take a little bit of a hit by going out and expanding your ambulatory presence. But the more you expand ambulatory and grow in the right locations, the more you increase market share, which brings more of the necessary inpatient care back to your hospitals. Our hospitals are growing and getting busier in addition to our outpatient centers because we are growing market share. If we enter a new community and see 100 people, five of them will need to be hospitalized. That’s a new market. Ambulatory cannot be disassociated from its connection to the inpatient market.
Q: Many financial experts are projecting a recession this year. How might that affect hospitals and health systems, and how can they best prepare?
MD: Even if we do have a recession, it doesn’t mean that people don’t get sick. In fact, people’s problems increase. Our business does not slow down if we have a recession; our business will probably increase. On the revenue side, it won’t necessarily affect our government reimbursement, which we don’t do well on anyway. The things you worry about during a recession is if employers give up the coverage of their staff. Then those employees with no insurance may go on a state Medicaid program, and that might affect hospitals.
In the healthcare sector, even in a recession, the need for hospital services actually increases. No recession could be as bad as what we experienced during COVID, yet we managed it. We had a problem that we didn’t even understand, and we worked through it. I think healthcare deserves an extraordinary credit for what was done during COVID. If there is a recession, we will deal with it. It’s just one of those things that happens, and we will respond to it in as comprehensive a way as we can. I can’t control it, but I can control our response. Leadership to me is about having a positive disposition; basically saying that whatever happens to you, you’re going to win.
President Joe Biden last night highlighted several healthcare priorities during his State of the Union address, including efforts to reduce drug costs, a universal cap on insulin prices, healthcare coverage, and more.
In his speech, Biden acknowledged the progress the country has made with COVID-19 over the last few years.
“Two years ago, COVID had shut down our businesses, closed our schools, and robbed us of so much,” he said. “Today, COVID no longer controls our lives.”
Although Biden noted that the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) will come to an end soon, he said the country should remain vigilant and called for more funds from Congress to “monitor dozens of variants and support new vaccines and treatments.”
The Inflation Reduction Act
Biden highlighted several provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which passed last year, that aim to reduce healthcare costs for millions of Americans.
“You know, we pay more for prescription drugs than any major country on earth,” he said. “Big Pharma has been unfairly charging people hundreds of dollars — and making record profits.”
Under the IRA, Medicare is now allowed to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs, and out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries are capped at $2,000 per year. Insulin costs for Medicare beneficiaries are also capped at $35 a month.
“Bringing down prescription drug costs doesn’t just save seniors money,” Biden said. “It will cut the federal deficit, saving tax payers hundreds of billions of dollars on the prescription drugs the government buys for Medicare.”
Caps on insulin costs for all Americans
Although the IRA limits costs for seniors on Medicare, Biden called for the policy to be made universal for all Americans. According to a 2022 study, over 1.3 million Americans skip, delay purchasing, or ration their insulin supply due to costs.
“[T]here are millions of other Americans who are not on Medicare, including 200,000 young people with Type I diabetes who need insulin to save their lives,” Biden said. “… Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it.”
With the end of the COVID-19 PHE, HHS estimates that around 15 million people will lose health benefits as states begin the process to redetermine eligibility.
The opioid crisis
Biden also addressed the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States and noted the impact of fentanyl, in particular.
“Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year,” he said. “Let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production, sale, and trafficking, with more drug detection machines to inspect cargo and stop pills and powder at the border.”
He also highlighted efforts by to expand access to effective opioid treatments. According to a White House fact sheet, some initiatives include expanding access to naloxone and other harm reduction interventions at public health departments, removing barriers to prescribing treatments for opioid addiction, and allowing buprenorphine and methadone to be prescribed through telehealth.
Access to abortion
In his speech, Biden called on Congress to “restore” abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
“The Vice President and I are doing everything we can to protect access to reproductive healthcare and safeguard patient privacy. But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans,” Biden said.
He also added that he will veto a national abortion ban if it happens to pass through Congress.
Progress on cancer
Biden also highlighted the Cancer Moonshot, an initiative launched last year aimed at advancing cancer treatment and prevention.
“Our goal is to cut the cancer death rate by at least 50% over the next 25 years,” Biden said. “Turn more cancers from death sentences into treatable diseases. And provide more support for patients and families.”
According to a White House fact sheet, the Cancer Moonshot has created almost 30 new federal programs, policies, and resources to help increase screening rates, reduce preventable cancers, support patients and caregivers and more.
“For the lives we can save and for the lives we have lost, let this be a truly American moment that rallies the country and the world together and proves that we can do big things,” Biden said. “… Let’s end cancer as we know it and cure some cancers once and for all.”
Biden commended the fact that “more American have health insurance now than ever in history,” noting that 16 million people signed up for plans in the Affordable Care Act marketplace this past enrollment period.
In addition, Biden noted that a law he signed last year helped millions of Americans save $800 a year on their health insurance premiums. Currently, this benefit will only run through 2025, but Biden said that we should “make those savings permanent, and expand coverage to those left off Medicaid.”
Advisory Board’s take
Our questions about the Medicaid cliff
President Biden extolled economic optimism in the State of the Union address, touting the lowest unemployment rate in five decades. With job creation on the rise following the incredible job losses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a question of whether the economy will continue to work for those who face losing Medicaid coverage at some point in the next year.
The public health emergency (PHE) is scheduled to end on May 11. During the PHE, millions of Americans were forced into Medicaid enrollment because of job losses. Federal legislation prevented those new enrollees from losing medical insurance. As a result, the percentage of uninsured Americans remained around 8%. The safety net worked.
Starting April 1, state Medicaid plans will begin to end coverage for those who are no longer eligible. We call that the Medicaid Cliff, although operationally, it will look more like a landslide. Currently, state Medicaid regulators and health plans are still trying to figure out exactly how to manage the administrative burden of processing millions of financial eligibility records. The likely outcome is that Medicaid rolls will decrease exponentially over the course of six months to a year as eligibility is redetermined on a rolling basis.
In the marketplace, there is a false presumption that all 15 million Medicaid members will seamlessly transition to commercial or exchange health plans. However, families with a single head of household, women with children under the age of six, and families in both very rural and impoverished urban areas will be less likely to have access to commercial insurance or be able to afford federal exchange plans. Low unemployment and higher wages could put these families in the position of making too much to qualify for Medicaid, but still not making enough to afford the health plans offered by their employers (if their employer offers health insurance). Even with the expansion of Medicaid and exchange subsidies, it, is possible that the rate of uninsured families could rise.
For providers, this means the payer mix in their market will likely not return to the pre-pandemic levels. For managed care organizations with state Medicaid contracts, a loss of members means a loss of revenue. A loss of Medicaid revenue could have a negative impact on programs built to address health equity and social determinants of health (SDOH), which will ultimately impact public health indicators.
For those of us who have worked in the public health and Medicaid space, the pandemic exposed the cracks in the healthcare ecosystem to a broader audience. Discussions regarding how to address SDOH, health equity, and behavioral health gaps are now critical, commonplace components of strategic business planning for all stakeholders across our industry’s infrastructure.
But what happens when Medicaid enrollment drops, and revenues decrease? Will these discussions creep back to the “nice to have” back burners of strategic plans?
On the eve of a scheduled House vote on a bill that would immediately end the federal public health emergency (PHE), the Biden administration announced Monday that both the PHE and the COVID national emergency will end on May 11. With the Omnibus legislation passed at the end of December, Congress already decoupled several key provisions once tied to the PHE, including setting April 1st as the date on which states can resume Medicaid redeterminations, and extending key Medicare telehealth flexibilities.
However, once the PHE ends,various other provider flexibilities will expire: hospitals will no longer receive boosted Medicare payments for COVID admissions, and the cost of COVID tests, vaccines, and treatments will shift from the government to insurers and consumers.
The Gist: While previous Congressional action addressed some pressing provider concerns, the end of the PHE will still bring big changes.
The healthcare system will soon be responsible for covering, testing, and treating COVID like any other illness, even as the virus continues to take the lives of hundreds of Americans each day.
Many patients may soon find it difficult to access affordable COVID care, and many health systems will see an increase in uncompensated care, exacerbating current margin challenges. COVID remains an urgent public health concern in need of a coordinated strategy.
The rate decline was highest among those who had incomes between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level. Those in traditionally uncovered demographies, such as people who are Latino, American Indian/Alaska native and those who don’t speak English, saw larger gains in coverage.
Half of the top 10 states for coverage gains expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act between 2019 and 2021. The leading state, Maine, reached a 7.1% uninsured population in 2021, dropping from 10.2% in 2019. Officials shifted to a state-based exchange for the 2022 plan year.
“Many of the areas with the greatest coverage gains since 2019 had higher than average uninsured rates in 2021, suggesting progress in narrowing geographic disparities but still with substantial gaps remaining; the lack of Medicaid expansion in 11 states plays a key ongoing role in coverage disparities across states,” the report authors wrote.
The state with the largest increase in uninsured people was Alabama, which reached 12.5% in 2021 compared to 12.1% in 2019.
In addition to Medicaid expansion, other policies that helped those receive coverage include increased premium tax subsidies under the American Rescue Plan.
Also helping is the Medicaid continuous coverage provision, which has barred states from kicking people off rolls during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
That policy is set to end in April, however. Researchers have said that as many as 15 million to 18 million people could be affected.
States are taking some steps to help those eligible remain in the program. Most states plan to update enrollee mailing addresses and follow up with those people when action is recovered to maintain coverage, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report.
Forty-one states said it will take up to 12 months to process renewals, KFF said.
Over 1.8 million more people enrolled in marketplace coverage compared to last year — a 13% increase, and the most amount of plan selections of any year since the launch of the ACA marketplace a decade ago, according to the CMS. The record-breaking enrollment numbers include 3.6 million first-time marketplace enrollees.
However, some coverage protections rely on the federal COVID-19 public health emergency status, which will expire without an extension in mid-April. Medicaid enrollment numbers are expected to drop at the end of the public health emergency, with as many as 18 million enrollees projected to lose Medicaid coverage, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency will bring the largest health coverage changes since implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act’s continuous coverage requirement prevents state Medicaid agencies from disenrolling people during the COVID-19 public health emergency. However, when the declaration of the emergency expires—currently scheduled for April 2023—states will resume normal eligibility determinations. This could result in millions losing access to affordable health coverage through Medicaid.
18 million people could lose Medicaid coverage when the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends, according to a new analysis.
While many who are currently enrolled in Medicaid will transition to other coverage options, nearly 4 million people (3.8M) will become completely uninsured.
19 states will see their uninsurance rates spike by more than 20 percent.
3.2 million children will transition from Medicaid to separate Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) health plans.
State Medicaid officials and policymakers must continue to ensure that individuals currently enrolled in Medicaid are aware of the approaching end of the public health emergency, and that they have a plan to maintain or find new health coverage through their employer, the federal healthcare Marketplace, or Medicaid.
While healthcare wasn’t a top priority for lawmakers hammering out the Omnibus bill aimed at keeping the government open through next September, the graphic above outlines the bill’s three greatest areas of impact for providers.
The package reduces the planned 4.5 percent 2023 physician fee schedule cut to two percent, while also extending value-based care bonuses in alternative payment models (albeit at 3.5 percent, instead of five percent). It also delays the $38B Medicare spending cut required by the PAYGO sequester, pushing that cut out two years.
On the telehealth front, the bill extends Medicare’s pandemic-era virtual care flexibilities through 2024, including the “hospital at home” waiver. It also sets April 1, 2023 as the start date of a one-year window for states to reassess Medicaid enrollment,decoupling the start of eligibility redeterminations from the end of the federal COVID public health emergency. Medicaid enrollment grew by 25 percent over the course of the pandemic, but around two-thirds of new enrollees may lose eligibility after redeterminations.
Overall, the legislation is a mixed bag for providers.The uninsured population is expected to grow, at least in the short term. Physician groups had hopes for a complete reprieve from Medicare pay cuts, and the fact that they didn’t get it may signalgrowing Congressional hesitancy to intervene with the Medicare physician fee schedule in the future. But the telehealth extensions may encourage other wider adoption of reimbursement by private insurers, bolstering providers’ long-term virtual care investments.
Late last week, President Biden signed a $1.7T spending package to fund the federal government through next September. While around half the funds are dedicated to defense, some important healthcare items made it into the bill, including a reduction in planned Medicare physician pay cuts and a two-year postponement of the $38B Medicare spending cut required by the PAYGO sequester.
The law also decoupled several measures from the end of the federal COVID public health emergency (PHE), setting April 1st as the start date for states to begin Medicaid eligibility redeterminations, and extending Medicare’s telehealth flexibilities and the Acute Hospital Care at Home waiver program through the end of 2024. For more details on these changes, see our graphic below.
The Gist: Medical groups were hoping for more of a reprieve from the Medicare physician fee schedule cuts, but Congress proved unwilling to address concerns over rising practice costs. We’re relieved that Medicare’s new telehealth and hospital at home policies will continue beyond the PHE, given the early interest we’ve seen from the provider community in embracing these new, more consumer-friendly care models.
Once the new Congress finally gets underway, we’re expecting this to be an uneventful two years for federal healthcare legislation, with the emphasis of health policy likely to shift toward states, federal agency rulemaking, and judicial activity.
And in Texas, an expansion could reduce the $7 billion in uncompensated care hospitals there have to absorb each year, according to the state’s hospital association.
Yes, but: Republican lawmakers in the holdout states continue to oppose enlarging their Medicaid rolls, citing higher state costs of covering a bigger population.
And hospital associations in North Carolina and Florida have opposed expansion plans, either out of concern about alienating key lawmakers or because the plans could bring other changes that disrupt dollars flowing to their members.
State of play: South Dakota voters approved a Medicaid expansion ballot measure this fall, leaving 11 non-expansion states.
Democratic governors in North Carolina and Kansas think they may be wearing down Republican opposition, Politico reports, but still face uphill battles when the new legislative sessions begin.
Zoom in: Medicaid expansion can bring dollars into a state’s health care system, even if the program pays only a fraction of the actual cost of care.
Numerous studies show that Medicaid expansion can have a positive financial impact on hospitals’ operating and profit margins, particularly smaller rural facilities, Robin Rudowitz, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Axios.
The program could provide a reprieve for hospitals that were kept afloat in part by federal pandemic aid that’s now drying up.
“We have hospitals with 12 days cash on hand. We’ve lost a nursing home this year. We have seen decreased services. We’ve lost OB services in a few places, and we’ve seen over the years the decrease in mental health,” Wyoming Hospital Association vice president Josh Hannes told state lawmakers last month, per Politico.
Expanding Medicaid in other states has also led to a significant decline in uncompensated care costs, as well as improved states’ health outcomes, including overall mortality.
Yes, but: Medicaid expansion is not necessarily a silver bullet that will rescue every struggling facility.
Some state hospital associations are seeking other types of relief, from cuts in hospital bed taxes or higher reimbursements for existing Medicaid beneficiaries.
Of note: Rural, small hospitals have the most to gain from Medicaid expansion, because they serve a smaller patient populations with a larger pool of uninsured people.
Congress sweetened the deal for non-expansion states in the American Rescue Plan Act, with a 5% increase in the federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage for the state’s current Medicaid recipients, which lasts for two years.
In Texas, whose uninsured rate is the highest in the nation, hospital leaders think Medicaid expansion could help cover many in the working class whose jobs do not offer health plans.
“If you could get those folks coverage at a Medicaid rate it would obviously help the financial situations of (rural) hospitals, and if you could get them to a medical home you could deal with more acute medical conditions going forward,” John Hawkins, president of the Texas Hospital Association, told reporters last week.
The bottom line: While rural hospitals all over are facing headwinds, those in non-expansion states are bearing the brunt of the pain. And while there is a potential lever for those states, it doesn’t appear likely their elected officials are willing to pull it.