Red states’ Medicaid gamble: Paying more to cover fewer people

https://www.axios.com/republicans-medicaid-affordable-care-act-expensive-d7057a8e-0a55-4f0d-906e-e42aa3f00ba9.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Illustration of a price tag hanging from an IV stand

Red states are getting creative as they look for new ways to limit the growth of Medicaid. But in the process those states are taking legal, political and practical risks that could ultimately leave them paying far more, to cover far fewer people.

Why it matters: Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program cover more than 72 million Americans, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Rolling back the program is a high priority for the Trump administration, and it needs states’ help to get there.

The big picture: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, under the leadership of Administrator Seema Verma, has made clear that it wants to say “yes” to new limits on Medicaid eligibility, and has invited states to ask for those limits.

  • But CMS hasn’t actually said “yes” yet to some of the most significant limits states have asked for.
  • In the meantime, states are left either with vague ambitions they’re not sure how to implement, or with risky plans that put their own budgets on the line.

What we’re watching: State-level Republicans are waiting for CMS to resolve two related issues: how much federal funding their versions of Medicaid can receive, and the extent to which they’re able to cap enrollment in the program.

  • “These issues are going to continue to be intertwined,” said Joan Alker, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Verma has reportedly told state officials that she wants to use her regulatory power to convert Medicaid funding into a system of block grants — which would be an enormous rightward shift and probably a big cut in total funding.

  • CMS probably cannot do that on its own, experts said, but it could achieve something similar by approving caps on either enrollment or spending.

Where it stands: GOP lawmakers in a handful of states are looking to Utah, which has bet big on Verma’s authority, for signals about what’s possible.

  • Utah voters approved the full ACA expansion last year, but the state legislature overruled them to pass a more limited version.
  • By foregoing the full expansion, Utah passed up enhanced federal funding. It’s still asking for that extra money — a request CMS has never previously approved.
  • Utah will also ask CMS to impose a per-person cap on Medicaid spending — a steep cut that was part of congressional Republicans’ failed repeal-and-replace bill, and which may strain CMS’ legal authority.
  • If Utah doesn’t get those two requests, its backup plan is simply to adopt the full expansion.

What’s next: Utah is not the only red state leaning into Verma’s agenda, but it’s further out on a limb than any other.

  • Idaho, like Utah, overruled its voters to pass a narrower Medicaid bill. But it preserved an option for people to buy into the ACA’s expansion.
  • Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said he wants to take Verma up on her offer of block grants; so have legislators in Tennessee and Georgia. But in the absence of any detail about what that means, or what CMS will approve, that’s all pretty vague right now.

If CMS does move forward on any of this, it could face the same threat of lawsuits that have stymied its first big Medicaid overhaul — work requirements.

  • Those rules are on ice in two states because a judge said they contravene Medicaid’s statutory structure and goals. The same argument could await a partial expansion or tough spending caps.

“There’s a clear agenda here to get a handful of states to take up these waivers, which fundamentally undermine the central tenets of the Medicaid program — which [are] that it is a guarantee of coverage, and a guarantee of federal funding,” Alker said.

 

 

 

ECONOMIC RIPPLES: HOSPITAL CLOSURE HURTS A TOWN’S ABILITY TO ATTRACT RETIREES

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/economic-ripples-hospital-closure-hurts-towns-ability-attract-retirees?utm_source=silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ENL_190410_LDR_BRIEFING%20(1)&spMailingID=15444335&spUserID=MTY3ODg4NTg1MzQ4S0&spJobID=1620658993&spReportId=MTYyMDY1ODk5MwS2

The epidemic of rural hospital closures is threatening small towns such as Celina, Tenn. The town of 1,500 has been trying to position itself as a retiree destination but that task has grown more difficult since the March 1 closure of 25-bed Cumberland River Hospital.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Celina became the 11th rural hospital in Tennessee to close in recent years — more than in any state but Texas. Both states have refused to expand Medicaid in a way that covers more of the working poor.

The closest hospital is now 18 miles away. That adds another 30 minutes through mountain roads for those who need an X-ray or bloodwork. For those in the back of an ambulance, that bit of time could mean the difference between life or death.

When a rural community loses its hospital, health care becomes harder to come by in an instant. But a hospital closure also shocks a small town’s economy. It shuts down one of its largest employers. It scares off heavy industry that needs an emergency room nearby. And in one Tennessee town, a lost hospital means lost hope of attracting more retirees.

Seniors, and their retirement accounts, have been viewed as potential saviors for many rural economies trying to make up for lost jobs. But the epidemic of rural hospital closures is threatening those dreams in places like Celina, Tenn. The town of 1,500, whose 25-bed hospital closed March 1, has been trying to position itself as a retiree destination.

“I’d say, look elsewhere,” said Susan Scovel, a Seattle transplant who arrived with her husband in 2015.

Scovel’s despondence is especially noteworthy given she leads the local chamber of commerce effort to attract retirees like herself. She considers the wooded hills and secluded lake to hold scenic beauty comparable to the Washington coast — with dramatically lower costs of living; she and a small committee plan getaway weekends for prospects to visit.

When she first toured the region before moving in 2015, Scovel and her husband, who had Parkinson’s, made sure to scope out the hospital, on a hill overlooking the sleepy town square. And she has rushed to the hospital four times since he died in 2017.

“I have very high blood pressure, and they’re able to do the IVs to get it down,” Scovel said. “This is an anxiety thing since my husband died. So now — I don’t know.”

She can’t in good conscience advise a senior with health problems to come join her in Celina, she said.

When Seconds Count, Delays In Care

Celina’s Cumberland River Hospital had been on life support for years, operated by the city-owned medical center an hour away in Cookeville, which decided in late January to cut its losses after trying to find a buyer. Cookeville Regional Medical Center executives explain that the facility faced the grim reality for many rural providers.

“Unfortunately, many rural hospitals across the country are having a difficult time and facing the same challenges, like declining reimbursements and lower patient volumes, that Cumberland River Hospital has experienced,” CEO Paul Korth said in a written statement.

Celina became the 11th rural hospital in Tennessee to close in recent years — more than in any state but Texas. Both states have refused to expand Medicaid in a way that covers more of the working poor. Even some Republicans now say the decision to not expand Medicaid has added to the struggles of rural health care providers.

The closest hospital is now 18 miles away. That adds another 30 minutes through mountain roads for those who need an X-ray or bloodwork. For those in the back of an ambulance, that bit of time could mean the difference between life or death.

“We have the capability of doing a lot of advanced life support, but we’re not a hospital,” said Natalie Boone, Clay County’s emergency management director.

The area is already limited in its ambulance service, with two of its four trucks out of service.

Once a crew is dispatched, Boone said, it’s committed to that call. Adding an hour to the turnaround time means someone else could likely call with an emergency and be told — essentially — to wait in line.

“What happens when you have that patient that doesn’t have that extra time?” Boone asked. “I can think of at least a minimum of two patients [in the last month] that did not have that time.”

Residents are bracing for cascading effects. Susan Bailey hasn’t retired yet, but she’s close. She has spent nearly 40 years as a registered nurse, including her early career at Cumberland River.

“People say, ‘You probably just need to move or find another place to go,'” she said.

Bailey and others are concerned that losing the hospital will soon mean losing the only three physicians in town. The doctors say they plan to keep their practices going, but for how long? And what about when they retire?

“That’s a big problem,” Bailey said. “The doctors aren’t going to want to come in and open an office and have to drive 20 or 30 minutes to see their patients every single day.”

Closure of the hospital means 147 nurses, aides and clerical staff have to find new jobs. Some employees come to tears at the prospect of having to find work outside the county and are deeply sad that their hometown is losing one of its largest employers — second only to the local school system.

Dr. John McMichen is an emergency physician who would travel to Celina to work weekends at the ER and give the local doctors a break.

“I thought of Celina as maybe the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ of healthcare,” he said.

McMichen, who also worked at the now-shuttered Copper Basin Medical Center, on the other side of the state, said people at Cumberland River knew just about anyone who would walk through the door. That’s why it was attractive to retirees.

“It reminded me of a time long ago that has seemingly passed. I can’t say that it will ever come back,” he said. “I have hopes that there’s still some hope for small hospitals in that type of community. But I think the chances are becoming less of those community hospitals surviving.”

 

“UNFORTUNATELY, RURAL HOSPITALS ACROSS THE COUNTRY ARE HAVING A DIFFICULT TIME AND FACE THE SAME CHALLENGES, LIKE DECLINING REIMBURSEMENTS AND LOWER PATIENT VOLUMES THAT CUMBERLAND RIVER HOSPITAL HAS EXPERIENCED.”

 

 

 

 

COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS MORE FINANCIALLY STABLE UNDER MEDICAID EXPANSION

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/community-health-centers-more-financially-stable-under-medicaid-expansion?source=EHLM8&effort=B&utm_source=HealthLeaders&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MeritWelcomeB&emailid=&utm_source=silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Warming-Merit-Finance-040319%20(1)&spMailingID=15443417&spUserID=Mzc4MjM1NTY0ODgyS0&spJobID=1620654151&spReportId=MTYyMDY1NDE1MQS2

Facilities are faring better in states that expanded Medicaid, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

A year after facing a federal funding cliff, CHCs in expansion states are thriving. 

CHCs provide care to 27 million patients each year, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The financial stability of CHCs, which serve medically vulnerable communities, is a benefit for health systems.

Community health centers (CHC) operating in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA are 28% more likely to report improvements to their financial stability, according to a Commonwealth Fund report released Thursday morning.

CHCs in Medicaid expansion states reported were more likely to report improvements in their ability to provide affordable care to patients, 76%, than their counterparts in non-expansion states, 52%.

More than 60% of CHCs in expansion states reported improved ability to fund service or site expansions and upgrades for facilities, while only 46% of CHCs in non-expansion states said the same.

These facilities reported higher levels of unfilled job openings for mental health professional and social workers, while also implying a greater openness to operating under a value-based payment model.

The success and viability of CHCs are essential for larger health systems, according to Melinda K. Abrams, M.S., vice president and director of the Commonwealth Fund’s Health Care Delivery System Reform program, adding that CHCs act as a strong foundation for providing primary care to medically vulnerable populations in rural communities.

Abrams said that by making sure patients are insured and receiving care up front, rather than delaying treatment and exacerbating their condition, they are less likely to end up in a hospital emergency room and contribute to a rise in uncompensated care for hospitals.

She also told HealthLeaders that populations with higher enrollment rates make it easier for CHCs to innovate, invest in technology, hire new staff, train existing the workforce, and adopt new models of care.

“[Medicaid expansion] makes it a lot easier to provide high-quality comprehensive care when [a CHC’s] patients have health insurance,” Abrams said. “In this particular instance, it’s a lot easier to innovate and have financial stability when you have more paying patients, which means that it is easier if you are [a CHC] in a state that has expanded Medicaid.”

The Commonwealth Fund report provides a welcome note of positivity for CHCs, which serve vulnerable populations primarily composed by the uninsured, but have faced funding challenges in the past.

During the budget battles that produced multiple government shutdowns throughout the early portion of 2018, advocates wondered anxiously whether Congress would provide long term funding to the nearly 1,400 CHCs operating at nearly 12,000 service delivery sites across the country.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, CHCs provide care to more than 27 million patients annually.

The Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), created in 2010 as a result of the ACA, is the largest source of comprehensive primary care for medically underserved communities, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

However, Abrams said that Medicaid expansion has also been a beneficial tool for CHCs, as they have begun to see more insured patients while also benefiting from Medicaid reimbursements, even though they are low compared to other reimbursement rates.

CHCs in states that expanded Medicaid have been able to grow the services that are offered while assisting in the ongoing fight against the opioid epidemic, according to the Commonwealth Fund report.

Abrams said that one downside to the growing success of CHCs have been the unfilled positions, mostly for mental health providers, that are falling behind rising demand levels, though she added that this finding is not surprising.

“I think it’s in part because the supply of the workforce is lagging a little bit behind the demand,” Abrams said. “There’s no reason to think that over time that this gap wouldn’t be closed. But we did find that as a challenge, that [CHCs] have a lot of positions open [yet] they’re hiring. A number of these CHCs are in economically depressed areas, so the good news is that there are some jobs available.”

CHCs are much more likely to participate in value-based payment models as a result of Medicaid expansion, with Abrams explaining that changes in payments and delivery models are common during insurance expansions.

She sees the continued progress made on the value-based front by CHCs as a way to “promote better healthcare and save money” over time.

 

 

Insurers, hospitals, physicians united in stance on ACA lawsuit

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/insurers-hospitals-physicians-united-stance-aca-lawsuit?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWldGbU16WmxOak00TmprMiIsInQiOiIzeGkycUpwcmtPUk42Z2R0b1k4RHd0NUVoY0k3UmE5TktUSkhMUzVtNVVWOWtWY3BhWkdUbjcrZndNS0tZRnA1cWFSajhWdmlZcUc4VE5DbFB4VEZNNkJyYTkyXC9XK3hxZVMwVzhSaVF2ZjZIdUFjbzZwcnF6aGE0UmowZ2w1eHcifQ%3D%3D

Hospitals, physicians and insurer groups are united in wanting to preserve the Affordable Care Act and have defended it in briefs filed with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans are among groups that are fighting a lower court ruling in Texas that struck down the law.

On the other side is the Department of Justice, which last month reversed an earlier opinion and sided with the Texas judge who ruled that without the individual mandate, the entire ACA has no constitutional standing.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The ACA has insured millions who otherwise may not have been insured, allowing them to get care when needed instead of going to the more expensive emergency room when they have a medical crisis.

Hospitals and physicians see less uncompensated care under the ACA.

Without the ACA, patients would no longer have protections for pre-existing conditions, children would no longer have coverage under their parents’ health insurance plan until age 26, insurers would no longer be held to the 85 percent medical loss ratio, 100 percent coverage for certain preventive services would cease and individual marketplace and subsidies based on income would be eliminated.

Also, federal funding for Medicaid expansion would end.

TREND

Republicans under President Trump have tried unsuccessfully to repeal and replace the law.

The lawsuit, brought by 19 Republican governors, puts the GOP in a political bind over supporting the repeal of a law that is popular with consumers and their constituents. President Donald Trump recently said Republicans would unveil an ACA replacement after the 2020 election.

Democrats are also facing a crisis within their party over healthcare as it becomes a priority issue in the presidential election. Some of the leading candidates, such as Senator Kamala Harris, support Medicare for all. The Medicare for All Act of 2019  has been introduced in the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

Veteran politician and attorney Earl Pomeroy said he believes the Texas versus United States appeal changes the political course for 2020. The entire MFA argument will move to the back burner because of the Texas lawsuit, he said.

“The fight is going to be trying to underscore the Congressional importance of the provisions of the ACA and enhancing them,” Pomeroy said. “I do not believe that supporting Medicare for all is an advantageous position for a Democratic candidate running in a district that is not a secure Democratic seat. I believe Kamala Harris will spend much of the campaign walking back her comments on health insurance.”

Pomeroy is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives for North Dakota’s at-large district, a North Dakota Insurance Commissioner and senior counsel in the health policy group with Alston & Bird.

“The safe political ground is defending a law people have warmed up to,” he said. “All politics is local but all healthcare is personal. There is little risk tolerance in the middle class for bold experiments in healthcare.”

BACKGROUND

The lawsuit was brought by Texas and the 19 other Republican-led states, based on the end of the individual mandate. In February, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor agreed that the federal law cannot stand without the individual mandate because if there is no penalty for not signing up for coverage, then the rest of the law is unconstitutional.

Twenty-one Democratic attorneys general appealed and the House of Representatives has intervened to defend the ACA in the case.

Either outcome in the appeals court may see the case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

WHAT THE PROVIDERS AND INSURERS ARE TELLING THE COURT

In a court brief filed by the AHA, the Federation of American Hospitals, The Catholic Health Association of the United States, America’s Essential Hospitals, and the Association of American Medical Colleges urged the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject a district court decision they said would have a harmful impact on the American healthcare system.

“Those without insurance coverage forgo basic medical care, making their condition more difficult to treat when they do seek care. This not only hurts patients; it has severe consequences for the hospitals that provide them care. Hospitals will bear a greater uncompensated-care burden, which will force them to reallocate limited resources and compromise their ability to provide needed services,” they said.

In a separate friend-of-the-court brief, 24 state hospital associations also urged the Fifth Circuit to reverse, highlighting specific innovative programs and initiatives for more coordinated care.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association filed a brief. AMA President Dr. Barbara L. McAneny said, “The district court ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA would wreak havoc on the entire healthcare system, destabilize health insurance coverage, and roll back federal health policy to 2009. The ACA has dramatically boosted insurance coverage, and key provisions of the law enjoy widespread public support.”

AHIP said the law impacts not only the individual and group markets, but also other programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and Part D coverage.

“Since its passage in 2010, the ACA has transformed the nation’s healthcare system,” AHIP said. “It has restructured the individual and group markets for purchasing private health care coverage, expanded Medicaid, and reformed Medicare. Health insurance providers (like AHIP’s members) have invested immense resources into adjusting their business models, developing new lines of business, and building products to implement and comply with those reforms.”

 

 

 

 

Trump is reading the GOP base wrong on the Affordable Care Act

https://www.axios.com/trump-reading-base-wrong-aca-b6e2521c-d386-4c94-81e8-b018a6aaf3b1.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Image result for Trump is reading the GOP base wrong on the Affordable Care Act

 

The only plausible explanation for President Trump’s renewed effort through the courts to do away with the Affordable Care Act, other than muscle memory, is a desire to play to his base despite widely reported misgivings in his own administration and among Republicans in Congress.

Reality check: But the Republican base has more complicated views about the ACA than the activists who show up at rallies and cheer when the president talks about repealing the law. The polling is clear: Republicans don’t like the ACA, but just like everyone else, they like its benefits and will not want to lose them.

The big picture: About three quarters of Republicans still have an unfavorable view of the ACA, and seven in 10 say repealing the law is a top health priority for Congress — higher than other priorities such as dealing with prescription drug costs. And yes, 7 in 10 Republicans still want to see the Supreme Court overturn the law.

But as the chart shows, majorities of Republicans like many elements of the ACA —especially closing the “donut hole” in Medicare prescription drug coverage (80%), eliminating copayments for preventive services (68%), keeping young adults under 26 on their parents’ plans (66%) and subsidies for low and middle-income households (63%).

  • Nearly half of Republicans want the Supreme Court to keep the protections for pre-existing conditions (49%), and even more show general support for the pre-existing conditions protections (58%).
  • During the repeal and replace debate in 2017, even Republicans were nervous to hear that these sorts of things would go away. The 2020 campaign would drive home to the public, and to Republicans, what they have to lose — and it would become especially real to them if the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the ruling striking down the ACA.

Maybe Republicans would forget about these lost benefits if they could agree on a replacement plan they liked? But there isn’t one, and many of the ideas thought to be elements of one — such as cutting and block granting both Medicaid and ACA subsidies — are non-starters with Democrats and moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill. They’re unpopular with the public, too. 

The bottom line: It is widely accepted that a renewed debate about repeal hands Democrats a powerful new political opportunity. Deeper in the polling, it’s also clear that’s it’s more of a mixed bag for Republicans than President Trump may realize.  

 

 

 

Trump continues his war on Americans’ health care to pay for his tax cuts

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2019/03/11/467108/trumps-fy-2020-budget-exposes-false-promises-misplaced-priorities/

Image result for medicare cuts

After repeatedly trying and failing to repeal the ACA legislatively, President Trump and congressional Republicans have resorted to attacking and weakening the law through executive action, federal waivers to the states to undermine Medicaid expansion, and budget proposals to gut funding levels.

Once again, Trump’s budget proposes massive cuts—$777 billion over 10 years—from repealing the ACA and slashing Medicaid.

Like in his previous two budgets, Trump goes beyond these two measures to attack traditional Medicaid, seeking to restrict federal funding on a per-beneficiary basis or transition to block grant funding. Both of these things would lead to a significant decrease in federal funding and could cause millions of people to lose their health care coverage.

Like in last year’s budget, he encourages states to take Medicaid away from jobless and underemployed Americans, including laid-off workers, people who are going to school, and those who are taking care of children or family members. Medicaid is a lifeline for millions of Americans—including children, veterans, people with disabilities, and individuals affected by the opioid crisis. Tearing down this vital program will make it more difficult for people to access the health care they need to find work, including by preventing people with disabilities from accessing the long-term services and supports they need to participate in the labor market.

After he repeatedly promised to protect Medicare as a candidate, Trump makes changes to Medicare that would shrink the program by $845 billion over the coming decade.

 

 

 

The Public On Next Steps For The ACA And Proposals To Expand Coverage

https://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kff-health-tracking-poll-january-2019/

Key Findings:

  • Half of the public disapproves of the recent decision in Texas v. United States, in which a federal judge ruled that the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional and should not be in effect. While the judge’s ruling is broader than eliminating the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, this particular issue continues to resonate with the public. Continuing the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions ranks among the public’s top health care priorities for the new Congress, along with lowering prescription drug costs.
  • This month’s KFF Health Tracking Poll continues to find majority support (driven by Democrats and independents) for the federal government doing more to help provide health insurance for more Americans. One way for lawmakers to expand coverage is by broadening the role of public programs. Nearly six in ten (56 percent) favor a national Medicare-for-all plan, but overall net favorability towards such a plan ranges as high as +45 and as low as -44 after people hear common arguments about this proposal.
  • Larger majorities of the public favor more incremental changes to the health care system such as a Medicare buy-in plan for adults between the ages of 50 and 64 (77 percent), a Medicaid buy-in plan for individuals who don’t receive health coverage through their employer (75 percent), and an optional program similar to Medicare for those who want it (74 percent). Both the Medicare buy-in plan and Medicaid buy-in plan also garner majority support from Republicans (69 percent and 64 percent­).
  • Moving forward, half of Democrats would rather see the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives focus their efforts on improving and protecting the ACA (51 percent), while about four in ten want them to focus on passing a national Medicare-for-all plan (38 percent).