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.
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.
After COVID fears and shutdowns led consumers to delay care early in the pandemic, persistently high inflation over the past year has further suppressed volumes.
As the graphic above illustrates, the average deductible for individual coverage has grown by over 140 percent since 2010, exposing consumers to an increasing portion of healthcare costs, and prompting economists to reevaluate the adage that healthcare is “recession-proof”.
This year, that trend collided with an inflation spike that outpaced wage gains by two percent. Faced with diminished purchasing power, households are making budget tradeoffs which explicitly pit healthcare against other essential household needs.
For some, this cost-cutting impulse even extends to preventative screenings—required to be covered without cost-sharing—when consumers’ financial concerns drive them to avoid healthcare altogether.
While the latest inflation report suggests price increases are moderating, fears of a broader recession persist, making it critical for health systems and physicians to communicate with patients, encouraging them to continue to access preventive care, educating them about lower cost care options, and helping them prioritize treatment that should not be put off.
Open enrollment is upon us. While many are focused on which health insurance company has the best deal, health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) are quietly offering cheaper and less regulated alternatives to traditional coverage. Despite being an inadequate substitute, for some, they’re a welcome one.
What are HCSMs?
HCSMs are not health insurance; they are cost-sharing organizations. The idea is that members help each other directly cover medical costs. Members pay monthly contributions, similar to premiums, but can also make additional donations to cover specific bills from other members.
HCSMs are allowed to exclude pre-existing conditions from eligibility, exclude various health care services altogether, such as maternity care or contraception, and cap the lifetime financial assistance for which a member is eligible. They also do not guarantee claims will be reimbursed. (One review of HCSMs in Massachusetts found that only half of submitted claims were eligible for reimbursement.)
They are often, if not always, religiously affiliated. Members commit to a code of conduct, which may include abstaining from tobacco use and holding a traditional view of sex and marriage.
HCSMs and the Affordable Care Act
Because they are not insurance and because they are religiously affiliated, HCSMs are not regulated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They are not subject to minimal coverage guidelines and members are not subject to the individual mandate.
HCSMs are a notable exemption to the ACA. Supporters lobbied for the exemption based on a few reasons, including former President Obama’s promise that Americans could keep their coverage if they liked it. But the main motive was religious freedom. They argued that sharing health care costs was a “religious right and a privilege.” Congress agreed to the carveout to minimize religious opposition, and advocates lauded the decision as “Obamacare’s Silver Lining.”
The appeal of HCSMs
Some see HCSMs as a viable alternative to traditional health insurance and research suggests there may be a few reasons why.
Perhaps the most significant reason is freedom: freedom of religious expression and freedom from government oversight. The Bible encourages Christians to “bear one another’s burdens,” and HCSM members see their approach to health care costs as a fulfillment of that command. Additionally, many religious individuals oppose abortion and other medical services. As such, they may see HCSMs as a way to pay for their own health care needs without funding religiously prohibited services even indirectly.
HCSMs promote a sense of freedom beyond religion, including provider choice and less government interference. For example, members essentially pay out of pocket for health care, getting reimbursed later, so they can choose any provider that accepts self-paying patients. HCSMs also allow members to bypass “the system,” staying out of the carousel that is the heavily regulated health insurance industry.
A more tangible reason why some prefer HCSMs to traditional health insurance is thrift. Monthly contributions are typically less than monthly insurance premiums. This makes sense; HCSMs are set up to cover health care expenses after they’re accrued so upfront costs can be lower. Plus, the list of reimbursable services is often limited in exchange for even lower costs.
For healthy individuals, especially those who don’t use much health care, this kind of “low cost up front” arrangement can be enticing. But, if a member has an emergency or an extended hospital stay, or develops a chronic condition, they may be stuck with significant medical bills. Monthly contributions can also increase due to changes in health status, even common ones like weight gain.
While freedom and thrift are conscious reasons to prefer HCSMs, others may choose them due to inadequate health insurance literacy. Individuals less familiar with terms like coinsurance and deductibles may have difficulty choosing from a set of ACA-compliant health insurance plans. This difficulty likely extends to evaluating the relative costs and benefits of HCSMs.
Challenges differentiating between insurance and HCSMs may also increase when small businesses list HCSMs as a potential source of coverage for health care costs. Deceptive advertising by HCSMs and insurance brokers adds further confusion.
While HCSMs are an unregulated, risky alternative to traditional insurance coverage, some find the freedom and cost savings they provide attractive. Others don’t know of a better option and join an HCSM without understanding the potential consequences. Given that inadequate insurance coverage is associated with greater medical debt and delays in seeking necessary care, it’s important that consumers have clear, accurate information to facilitate coverage decisions.
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.
Of these 18 million people, 3.8 million people will become completely uninsured, according to the Urban Institute’s report. The estimate is higher than HHS’ August prediction of 15 million people losing coverage after the public health emergency.
If the Covid-19 public health emergency expires in April, about 18 million people could lose Medicaid coverage, a new report concludes.
The Urban Institute, which published the report, found that of these 18 million people, 3.8 million people will become completely uninsured. About 3.2 million children will likely move from Medicaid to separate Children’s Health Insurance Programs. Additionally, about 9.5 million people will receive employer-sponsored insurance. Lastly, more than 1 million people will enroll in a plan through the nongroup market.
The Urban Institute’s estimates, published Monday, is higher than the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) prediction of 15 million people losing coverage after the public health emergency ends. HHS’ report was published in August and stated that 17.4% of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program enrollees would leave the program. The Urban Institute’s report did not provide a percentage.
To conduct the study, researchers from the Urban Institute relied on the most recent administrative data on Medicaid enrollment, as well as recent household survey data on health coverage. It used a simulation model to estimate how many Americans will lose Medicaid insurance.
In 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It barred states from disenrolling people during the public health emergency, and in return, states received a temporary increase in the federal Medicaid match rates. From February 2020 to June 2022, Medicaid enrollment increased by 18 million people, an unprecedented number, according to the Urban Institute.
Currently, the public health emergency is set to end in January. But since the government has to provide a 60-day notice before the expiration —and did not do so in November — it is expected to be extended to April.
Because many of the affected enrollees who will lose Medicaid coverage will be eligible for coverage through federal or state Marketplaces, the Urban Institute recommends coordination between the Marketplaces and state Medicaid agencies
Researchers called on the government to take action so Americans are prepared for the end of the public health emergency.
“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,” the Urban Institute said.
2022 has disproven the old trope that “healthcare is recession-proof”. With the average family deductible nearing $4,000, a significant portion of healthcare services are exposed to consumer concerns about affordability. Reflecting the impact of the recession, health systems nationwide have reported sluggish volumes, particularly for elective cases, in the second half of the year.
One COO recently shared, “We’re 15 percent off where we expected to be on elective cases…We didn’t see the usual pick-up in early fall, after summer vacation. I’m not sure if it’s related to the economy, or whether demand changed during COVID, but this decline has eroded any possibility of a positive margin for the quarter.” The recession hit just as providers mostly finished working through the backlog of cases delayed by COVID in 2020 and 2021.
To determine whether demand declines are related to the current economic environment, or signal real shifts in care patterns, health systems are looking closely to see if the usual end-of-year swell of demand for elective care materializes, as patients max out their deductibles. But even if the demand is there, some systems are worried about being able to accommodate it: “We’ve been so short-staffed for nurses and surgical techs, we’ve had to intermittently take some ORs and units offline…If we get a big December spike in elective care, I’m not sure we’ll have the staff to accommodate it.” Facing the triple threat of sky-high costs, sluggish demand, and a worsening payer environment, the ability to accommodate this demand will be critical to securing margins as providers move into 2023.