GAO: rural hospital closures increasing, South hardest hit

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/gao-rural-hospital-closures-increasing-south-hardest-hit/538604/

Dive Brief:

  • Hospitals across the U.S. are being battered by financial headwinds, and rural hospitals are vulnerable because they don’t have capital or diversified services to fall back on when the going gets rough. Between 2013 and 2017, 64 rural hospitals closed due to financial distress and changing healthcare dynamics, more than twice the number in the previous five years, a new Government Accountability Office analysis shows.  
  • Rural hospital closures disproportionately occurred in the South, among for-profit hospitals and among organizations with a Medicare-dependent hospital payment designation.
  • One potential lifeline was Medicaid expansion. According to GAO, just 17% of rural hospital closures occurred in states that had expanded Medicaid as of April 2018.

Dive Insight:

Declining inpatient admissions and reimbursement cuts have taken a toll on rural hospitals. Since 2010, 86 rural hospitals have closed, and 44% of those remaining are operating at a loss — up from 40% in 2017.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma released a rural health strategy in May aimed at improving access and quality of care in rural communities. Among its objectives are expanding telemedicine, empowering patients in rural areas to take responsibility for their health and leveraging partnerships to advance rural health goals.

The agency also expanded its Rural Community Hospital Demonstration from 17 to 30 hospitals. The program reimburses hospitals for the actual cost of inpatient services rather than standard Medicare rate, which could be as little as 80% of actual cost.

Such initiatives can be helpful, but if a hospital can’t make ends meet on its Medicare and Medicaid businesses and has only a modicum of privately insured patients, “that’s just not a balance that works financially,” Diane Calmus, government affairs and policy manager at the National Rural Health Association, told Healthcare Dive recently.

In all, 49 rural hospitals closed in the South, or 77% of rural hospital closures from 2013 through 2017, according to GAO. Texas had the most closures with 14, followed by Tennessee with eight and Georgia and Mississippi, each with five. By contrast, there were eight rural hospital closures in the Midwest and four each in the West and Northeast.

GAO also looked at closures by Medicare rural hospital payment designation. Critical access hospitals made up 36% of rural hospital closures, 30% were hospitals receiving Medicare standard inpatient payment, 25% had Medicare-dependent hospital designation and 9% were sole community hospitals.

To aid rural hospitals and ensure access for patients, NRHA has urged CMS to adopt a common sense approach to the “exclusive use” standard and lobbied lawmakers to pass legislation eliminating the 96-hour condition of payment requirement, two policies that are particularly hard on rural providers.

Another bill, the Save Rural Hospitals Act, would reverse reimbursement cuts to rural hospitals, provide other regulatory relief and establish the community outpatient hospital, a new provider type offering 24/7 emergency services plus outpatient and primary care.

 

 

 

 

 

November Offers Major Test of Medicaid Expansion’s Support in Red States

http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-medicaid-expansion-voters-ballot-november-states.html?utm_term=November%20Offers%20Major%20Test%20of%20Medicaid%20Expansion%27s%20Support%20in%20Red%20States&utm_campaign=A%20Major%20Test%20of%20Medicaid%20Expansion%27s%20Support%20in%20Red%20States&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On+Software&utm_medium=email

Several states will hold the first referendum on Obamacare since Congressional Republicans tried and failed to repeal it.

SPEED READ:

  • Four states are voting on Medicaid expansion in November — Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Utah. 
  • Medicaid expansion is a central tenet of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It makes people living up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line eligible for Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program for the poor.
  • Only one state, Maine, has approved Medicaid expansion through the ballot box.
  • It is the first time voters will directly weigh in on provisions of the ACA since Congressional Republicans tried to repeal it.

It started with Maine. After years of failed attempts to get Gov. Paul LePage to sign off on Medicaid expansion, residents took to the ballot box and made it the first state where voters passed the health care policy.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing. Maine’s Republican governor has taken every opportunity to block the expansion — even asking the federal government to reject the state’s Medicaid expansion application that the courts made him send.

But the passage alone galvanized health care advocates who wish to see Medicaid expansion in the 14 states that have declined federal money to offer health insurance to the people who fall in a “coverage gap,” where they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance.

In November, four states are voting on the issue — Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Utah. The ballot measures will test support for a central tenet of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) in red states, which make up the bulk of the 14 holdouts. It will be the first referendum on provisions of the ACA since Congressional Republicans tried and failed to repeal it last year.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion see it as a vital part of the social safety net, especially because qualifying for Medicaid in nonexpansion states can be tough. Opponents, however, see expansion as fiscally irresponsible since states will start picking up 10 percent of the costs in 2020.

While the price tag of Medicaid expansion can come with some sticker shock, independent analyses have found that states often save money by insuring people — there are fewer instances of uncompensated care, and people are healthier when they have insurance. According to a 2016 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 11 states experienced some savings from Medicaid expansion.

In Idaho and Nebraska, there has been no major movement on Medicaid expansion from either the executive or legislative branches for years. Because of Idaho’s historic opposition to Medicaid expansion, and the fact that the ballot measure doesn’t mention how it would be funded, advocates could experience a bit of déjà vu there.

While the federal government initially pays 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion, it eventually hands states a bill for 10 percent. The funding issue is what LePage has been using as a reason to refuse to implement Medicaid expansion in Maine. For his part, Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the Republican expected to succeed Gov. Butch Otter in November, is against Medicaid expansion but has said he would accept it if it passes.

“Proponents insist that it’ll pay for itself, but entitlement programs are historically costlier than anticipated. I imagine there are going to be some really tough discussions if it passes,” says Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which opposes the measure.

Nebraska’s measure also doesn’t have a provision that explicitly says how the state share would be paid for, but supporters don’t believe that should make a difference.

“We modeled our language based on the Maine initiative, so it’s clear and unequivocal,” says Democratic state Sen. Adam Morfeld, who introduced Medicaid expansion bills in the past. “The governor can say he won’t implement it, but we’ll have a court tell him otherwise.”

Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is expected to win reelection in November, has opposed Medicaid expansion since the beginning but said that if it made the ballot, it’s up to the voters to decide.

“That’s honestly the best I could hope for,” says Morfeld.

In Montana and Utah, the questions before voters are a little more complicated.

Montana expanded Medicaid in 2015, but under the deal struck in the state legislature, it is set to expire June 30. Residents will be voting on whether to extend it, and how the state would fund their portion of it. The ballot measure proposes hiking taxes on tobacco products to $2 per pack.

Utah also already passed a bill to expand Medicaid, but it is awaiting federal approval. It would require nondisabled people to work, volunteer or participate in a job training program; the expansion would automatically end if the federal match dipped below 90 percent; and eligibility stops at the poverty line, which is $12,140 for a single person. (The federal government has rejected other states’ requests to limit expansion to people at the poverty line.)

The ballot measure, meanwhile, asks voters to expand Medicaid traditionally — without work requirements or eligibility limits past the federal poverty line. It also asks voters to increase the sales tax to fund the state’s share. It’s unclear what would happen if the ballot measure passes and the federal government approves Utah’s competing Medicaid waiver.

In three of the four states — Nebraska, Montana and Utah — more than $11 million has been spent to sway voters one way or the other. In Nebraska and Utah, supporters have spent $1 million to 2 million while opponents have spent a reported zero dollars. In Montana, the balance is just the opposite: opponents have raised $8 million while supporters have raised just $2 million. In Idaho, the issue has attracted just has $37,067 — all from the supporters’ side.

Only Utah has conducted polling on the issue, which was done in June. The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics found that 54 percent of voters support the measure, 35 percent oppose it, and the rest are undecided.

“There’s been a lot of discussion in Utah about this, we’ve been having this debate for a couple of years now,” says Danny Harris, associate state director of advocacy at AARP Utah, which is in favor of the ballot measure. “The polling has always been consistently in favor. People are ready for this issue to move forward.”

 

Medicaid rolls set to be slashed under Trump-approved work rules

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/406624-medicaid-rolls-set-to-be-slashed-under-trump-approved-work-rules

Image result for medicaid work requirements

The thousands of people who lost Medicaid coverage this month in Arkansas for not following newly implemented work requirements may be a sign of what’s to come in other GOP-led states.

Indiana and New Hampshire are slated to implement their Medicaid work requirements next year, and a slew of other states are awaiting approval from the Trump administration.

Arkansas has served as a test case of sorts since it was the first state to implement work requirements, and this month it became the first state to kick off beneficiaries for not following them.

The state removed more than 4,000 people from the Medicaid rolls, with some estimates saying that number could climb to 50,000 when the requirements are fully implemented in 2019.

“I think other states should be thinking seriously about the warnings that Arkansas’ experience has for their states,” said Erin Brantley, a senior research associate at George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health.

While many people in Arkansas’ program are exempt from reporting their activities to the state because they’re already working, others are not, meaning they need to file monthly reports through an online portal to show they are meeting the requirements.

Of those who lost coverage this month, about 95 percent didn’t file the necessary documents with the state. That led to their removal from Medicaid, though some may have been working working the required 80 hours a month.

It’s unclear why those participants didn’t file reports, especially if they were working, though some say it could be due to confusion, an inability to access a computer or general unawareness about the new requirements.

The state said it conducted “extensive” outreach that included sending more than 136,000 letters and emails and making more than 150,000 phone calls from April through August.

“It seems that [the state] is doing some outreach, but a lot of individuals still don’t know about the new requirements and are not setting up their accounts,” said Robin Rudowitz, associate director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s program for Medicaid and the uninsured.

“There are many lessons to be learned about online reporting, and communication, and having individuals understand what the requirements are,” Rudowitz said. “The changes to these programs are difficult to communicate.”

In a report published in the journal Health Affairs this month, the author conducted interviews with 18 Medicaid recipients in northeast Arkansas and found that a dozen had not heard about the state’s new requirements.

Seema Verma, head of the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is responsible for reviewing state requests for work requirements, characterized Arkansas’ recent removal of Medicaid recipients as a positive step.

“I’m excited by the partnerships that Arkansas has fostered to connect Medicaid beneficiaries to work and educational opportunities, and I look forward to our continued collaboration as we thoroughly evaluate the results of their innovative reforms,” Verma said in a tweet the same day that 4,000 recipients lost coverage.

The work requirements have prompted lawsuits in Kentucky and Arkansas by advocates who say they are harmful to those in need. The judge that blocked a similar program in Kentucky earlier this year will also preside over the Arkansas case.

The Trump administration says “able-bodied” adults on Medicaid should work if they’re able to. In all three states, the work requirements apply only to those who gained coverage through ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, which allowed for covering more low-income adults.

It’s unclear how the work requirements will impact beneficiaries in Indiana and New Hampshire when they are rolled out next year, but both states are planning to rescind coverage for those who don’t meet the new work rules.

Beneficiaries in Indiana will have to work at least eight months each year, and an 80-hour-a-month requirement will be gradually phased in over an 18-month period. Compliance with the requirements will be checked annually instead of monthly, like in Arkansas.

New Hampshire beneficiaries subject to the new requirements must work 100 hours a month beginning in January. Enrollees who don’t meet the threshold for one month will have their coverage suspended.

Some argue that the true purpose of Medicaid work requirements is to cut spending for the federal program, a priority of conservatives for years.

“This policy is clearly not designed to help people find work. It’s designed to take them off Medicaid,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at the Georgetown University School of Public Policy, referring to the Arkansas policy.

“It’s nothing to do with promoting work, supporting work — it’s about creating red tape for folks who are not able to jump over these bureaucratic hurdles for one reason or another — no internet access, they may not know, may be homeless, may not get the letter,” she said. “Those are the ones that will lose coverage.”

 

 

The Health 202: The rate of people without health insurance is creeping upward

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2018/09/13/the-health-202-the-rate-of-people-without-health-insurance-is-creeping-upward/5b99569b1b326b47ec95958c/?utm_term=.ae9e8af79dd2

 

THE PROGNOSIS

New Census Bureau data on the number of uninsured Americans is either a testament to the resiliency of the Affordable Care Act or a sign that President Trump’s anti-ACA rhetoric and policies are starting to work.

As our colleague Jeff Stein reported Wednesday, there was a slight uptick in the number of Americans without health insurance in 2017 compared to 2016, even though that number essentially remained statistically flat. Still, the fact that uninsured rate went up at all, by about 400,000 people, marks the first time since the ACA’s implementation that the uninsured rate didn’t drop. 

Supporters of the ACA worry the news marks the beginning of a trend, especially when some of Trump administration policies intended to circumvent the ACA go into effect next year.

Ahead of open enrollment last year, the Trump administration dramatically decreased funding for any Obamacare outreach or advertising, limited resources for “navigators” who help people find an insurance plan, and shortened the window for people to sign up for insurance from three months to six weeks in states that use a federally run marketplace.

“Even with all of that, health coverage stayed steady. But at the same time, we’d like to see further progress in the rate of the uninsured,” said Judith Solomon of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It’s part of a pattern to weaken the 2010 health-care law known as Obamacare. After the GOP Congress failed to repeal and replace the ACA last summer, the Trump administration moved to dilute the law in other ways: including signing off on a plan to eliminate the individual mandate penalty next year; allowing individuals to buy skimpier, short-term health plans without certain coverage requirements under Obamacare; and seeking to allow states to put conditions on Medicaid coverage.

Some of the most prominent health care organizations in the country came together this morning to voice their disapproval of those short-term plans — including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women’s Law Center, the , American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Families USA.

“The Administration’s decision to expand short-term health plans will leave cancer patients and survivors with higher premiums and fewer insurance options,” said Dr. Gwen Nichols, chief medical officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The groups’ statements, compiled and released by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), are in support of the senator’s effort to have Congress rescind the White House regulation. Nearly every Democratic senator has signed a resolution of disapproval to overturn it.

The census data reflects trends that started last year, when the administration’s policies had yet to be implemented. Fourteen states saw their uninsured populations rise in 2017. The only three states that didn’t see a spike in that number were New York, California and Louisiana. The first two aren’t surprising given those states’ robust efforts to enroll their own residents, while Louisiana expanded Medicaid in June 2016 so its decrease represents those low-income individuals who now have government coverage.

Medicaid expansion in most of the 33 states and D.C. that have done so under the ACA has predictably decreased the number of people without coverage. The uninsured rate last year in states with an expanded Medicaid program was 6.6 percent compared to 12.2 percent in non-expansion states — a gap that has only continued to grow since 2013.

To be fair, as Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, pointed out on Twitter: the uninsured rate started leveling off before the Trump administration started its work. But Levitt suggested the uninsured rate may really rise in 2019 when elimination of the individual mandate penalty takes effect. Moreover, states are increasingly taking the White House up on its suggestion to add work requirements to their Medicaid programs — in just the first three months of it being implemented in Arkansas, more than 4,000 people were jettisoned from the rolls for failure to comply.

Matthew Fiedler, a health-policy expert at the Brookings Institution, agreed with Levitt’s assessment, noting that the bulk of the people who were uninsured pre-ACA have already been enrolled  in the program. He contended that if policy had remained static, there would likely have been a modest decline instead of similar increase in the uninsured rate — though not a dramatic one. The real effects, he said, of the Trump administration’s efforts to chip away at the ACA are still to come. 

“I don’t think the right takeaway is that none of the policy changes will have a negative effect. I think they will going forward, we just haven’t seen that yet,” he said. “I think if your goal is to evaluate the ACA, I think the right takeaway is that there was a lot of progress, but more policy progress to be made.”

Of course, Democrats and Republicans have disparate views on how to get there. Democrats are now pushing for a public option or a universal health care system in which the government would foot the bill for many health-care costs. A lot of them feel  the ACA “got us roughly 40 percent there and established a framework for lawmakers to make that progress going forward,” Fiedler said. That’s why we’re now seeing so many Democratic candidates and lawmakers embracing some iteration of a “Medicare for all” program.  

Republicans still criticize the ACA as vast government overreach and are vowing they will take another stab at repealing it should they maintain the congressional majorities after the November midterms.

“We made an effort to fully repeal and replace ObamaCare and we’ll continue,” Vice President Pence said while campaigning for Baldwin’s opponent, Leah Vukmir, if the GOP performs well in the midterms.

One additional interesting data point from the census is ages at which there was the greatest increases or decreases in the uninsured rate. As highlighted in the chart above, rates of those without insurance rose at ages 18 and 19 — when children are no longer eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and for those between ages 25 and 26 — when children no longer qualify for their parents’ insurance. The uninsured rate dropped, however, for those aged 64 and 65 — when adults are eligible for Medicare.

The greatest spike in those without insurance was documented for 26 year olds. That’s likely because young adults are typically healthier and feel less urgency to pay for insurance when they lose coverage under their family’s plan.

As noted by the New York Times’ Margot Sanger Katz on Twitter, these stats show just how crucial government programs and laws have been in providing health coverage to Americans:

How the Midterms Could Impact Medicaid

http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-medicaid-expansion-election-midterms-november-2018.html

Image result for 2018 midterm elections

 

The fate of Medicaid expansion, a central tenet of President Obama’s signature health-care legislation, is in the hands of the people in several states.

In Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, voters will decide whether to make more low-income people, those up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, eligible for Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program. In most of the other states, who voters elect as governor and to the legislature will influence the direction of this health-care policy for years to come.

Since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, 33 states have expanded Medicaid, largely along partisan lines, with Republicans leading the holdout movement. But in some cases, Republican governors tried for years to convince their GOP legislatures to expand.

Health policy experts say that, generally, a state’s status of expansion guides which races are most important to watch in the midterms.

“For a state that hasn’t yet expanded, the governor can’t do it all, so you have to watch what happens with the legislature,” says David Jones, associate professor of health law at Boston University who recently examined where Medicaid expansion appears more vulnerable. “But for states that have already expanded, the legislature doesn’t matter as much” because the governor has authority to tweak the current law or to end expansion in some cases.

The midterms come at a crucial time for health care. The Trump administration gave states the greenlight to adopt new rules for Medicaid that the Obama administration rejected. For instance, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and New Hampshire have been approved to add work requirements, and several other states have applied. In July, a federal judge struck down Kentucky’s work requirements plan, putting the rest of the states’ policies into legal jeopardy. Despite the ruling, the Trump administration has signaled that it plans to proceed with work requirements.

Michigan is one expansion state where health policy could veer far to the right if the Republican nominee for governor, ‎Bill Schuette, wins what is considered a tossup race. Schuette, the state’s attorney general, leans more conservative than term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. On the campaign trail, Schuette has supported repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

“He talks a lot about what he doesn’t like [about the ACA], but he has yet to say what he’d do that’s positive,” says Marianne Udow-Phillips, executive director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation based in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I see him being in the mold of Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency, doing a lot of rolling back of regulations.”

In Michigan, 680,000 people gained coverage under Medicaid expansion, and 350,000 could lose it if work requirements are put in place. Snyder signed a bill in June to submit a waiver to the federal government that, if approved, would require Medicaid recipients in the state to have a job.

“We’ve gotten used to thinking that Michigan is a moderate state because they have Democratic senators and sometimes go blue in presidential elections,” says Jones, “but … it’s a pretty conservative group of senators in the statehouse,” and a more conservative governor might be able to drum up support for far-right Medicaid changes.

Schuette’s Democratic opponent, Gretchen Whitmer, supports Medicaid expansion and opposes the work requirements waiver, according to a spokesperson in her campaign office.

In Ohio, another expansion state, GOP Gov. John Kasich is term-limited. While he is one of the staunchest defenders of Medicaid expansion, he did pass off a waiver request for work requirements to the feds. Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray, the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, are in a tossup race to succeed him.

DeWine leans more pragmatic in general, so John Corlette, executive director of the Center for Community Solutions based in Cleveland, says “I would expect his approach would be closer to Kasich.” DeWine has said he supports expansion with a work component, while Cordray supports expansion with no work requirements.

In Ohio, work requirements threaten coverage for 36,000 adults.

If any states elect governors who are more conservative than their predecessors, “Kentucky is a good example of what a change in leadership can mean for Medicaid expansion,” says Jones. There, a Democratic governor expanded Medicaid to 500,000 Kentuckians. When Republican Matt Bevin was elected in 2015, he added work requirements, along with premiums and reporting income changes.

A governor’s authority, however, isn’t limitless. Since residents in Maine voted in favor of expansion last year, GOP Gov. Paul LePage has refused to enact the policy. The state’s Supreme Court last week ordered him to move forward with expansion.

Implementation of it, though, will likely fall to his successor. LePage is term-limited. Running to take his place is Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, who supports expansion. Republican challenger Shawn Moody, a business owner, is following LePage’s lead and opposing it. If the state expands Medicaid per the court’s orders, 70,000 people would gain coverage.

Among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, Jones says the state to watch is Kansas. In 2017, the legislature passed a Medicaid expansion bill, but then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it. The legislature narrowly missed getting enough votes to override him.

While it’s unlikely that the legislature in a state that deep red would flip Democrat, “the state seems to be treading more moderate,” says Jones. On a recent trip to Topeka, he says “many Republicans were willing to say they would support Medicaid expansion. They saw it as a way to save their rural hospitals.”

The governor’s race in the state is a matchup between hardline conservative Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly. Kobach has a slight edge. Kelly has vowed to expand Medicaid, and Kobach is opposed to it.

While it’s a wild card, the political landscape in Florida has the potiential to completely shift in November, laying the groundwork for the state to expand Medicaid. Despite support from GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, the GOP-controlled legislature has rebuffed all expansion efforts over the years.

Now, Democrats have a real shot at taking control in the Senate. While it’s unlikely they’ll take control of the House, they are expected to gain ground. The governor’s race is between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who supports the Democratic Socialist platform of “Medicare for all.” His opponent, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis, is against expanding Medicaid.

“Supporters of the ACA think of Florida as the holy grail in terms of expansion,” says Jones.

Ohio Gov. Kasich Stumps Again In Support Of Medicaid Expansion

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/08/21/640636316/ohio-gov-kasich-stumps-again-in-support-of-medicaid-expansion

Four years after going out on a limb to get Medicaid expansion enacted in Ohio, outgoing Republican Gov. John Kasich is worried about the future of the program. So he is now defending it — through a study and through the stories of people who have benefited from the coverage expansion.

One of those people is Brenda Jean Searcy, a 55-year-old law student who lives with her 93-year-old father in the Columbus suburb of Westerville. She says she had always been healthy but was felled by Lyme disease and then Graves’ disease; the diagnosis of the latter came after she had signed up for Medicaid through the expansion.

“I am very grateful to have Medicaid. It has made my life much better and made me much healthier,” Searcy says at a press conference.
Searcy is one of the 653,000 Ohioans who gained coverage through the Medicaid expansion, four years after Kasich defied his fellow Republican legislators in pushing Medicaid expansion through.

He claimed it would bring $13 billion in federal funding to help low-income people in Ohio get health care — especially those struggling with mental illness and addiction. Kasich is nearing the end of his second term and will leave office in January. He wants the Medicaid expansion to continue, and his Medicaid department commissioned an independent study on the effects of the expansion to support it.

Ohio Medicaid Director Barbara Sears says the analysis shows Medicaid expansion has cut in half the number of uninsured Ohioans. Ninety-six percent of people in the program with opioid addiction got treatment, and 37 percent of smokers were able to quit. One-third reported improved health, including better access to medical care for high blood pressure and diabetes. ER visits went down 17 percent, and there was a 10 percent increase in the number of people seeing primary care doctors. And most recipients said Medicaid expansion made it easier to find work, earn more money and care for their families.

The state’s budget office, part of the executive branch, estimates Medicaid expansion will cost nearly $5.2 billion in 2021, the first year Ohio will pay its full share of the costs as determined by the Affordable Care Act.

Ohio budget director Tim Keen says the state’s projected share would amount to $354.1 million. However, with drug rebates, assessments on managed care plans, a 1 percent tax on premiums and other offsets, the state’s share drops to $163.1 million. “Medicaid expansion is a significantly better deal for the states and for Ohio than the traditional program, and that’s important as one considers our ability to fund this program,” Keen says.

But Republican lawmakers have long had concerns about the program’s cost.

And so does the Republican candidate to replace Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine. After stating for months that he feels the Medicaid expansion is financially unsustainable, DeWine says he’ll keep it but makes changes, such as implementing work requirements and wellness programs. DeWine hasn’t made clear how much those changes would save the program – for instance, 96 percent of Medicaid expansion recipients in Ohio would be exempt from work requirements.

Kasich says he has talked to DeWine’s team about supporting the program. “I worry a little bit about somebody kind of nickeling and diming it away somehow — a little bit here, a little bit there — but I think they’ll be for it,”

 

 

The Health 202: ‘Medicare for all’ is the dream. ‘Medicaid for more’ could be the reality.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2018/08/02/the-health-202-medicare-for-all-is-the-dream-medicaid-for-more-could-be-the-reality/5b61d4ed1b326b0207955ea2/?utm_term=.f54d337c2d74

Image result for incremental health reform

“Medicare for all” is the hottest position on the left these days, but there’s a quieter push afoot to create a public option using Medicaid. 

Chanting “Medicaid for more” may not sound as bold for progressives seeking to prove their bona fides before the midterm elections. Yet all the most-hyped 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are on board with the idea, including the Medicare expansion’s biggest champion, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The idea in concept is simple: Allow states to open up their Medicaid programs to anyone regardless of income. Those people could buy in to the social safety net and have access to Medicaid’s provider network and benefits. The groundwork for expanding the program for low-income Americans has already been laid to some extent as 34 states have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) has introduced the “State Public Option Act” to promote states to expand Medicaid — co-sponsored by some familiar Democratic faces: Sanders, Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.). But the real efforts are happening at the state level where legislatures all over the country are seriously considering the idea.

Heather Howard, a lecturer at Princeton University who also helps states with their health-care systems, said many plans are in their infancy, but that 14 states across the country have made moves to, at minimum, weigh the benefits and challenges of shifting Medicaid to a publicly available health insurance option.

“There are a lot of policy considerations to think about, but while the federal policy debate is stalled, you have states thinking about what tools do we have. [Medicaid] is the immediate tool you have,” she told me.

That’s because Medicare is operated at the federal level so any major changes to it have to be decided in Washington. Medicaid, on the other hand, is run by the states, so they have more discretion over how the program is set up. 

There are real critiques of Medicaid as it now exists, such as low reimbursement rates for doctors and uniform access to care. To offer it to everyone would require responding to those criticisms as well as new questions such as the cost to states, whether states have to apply for federal waivers to alter the program and whether a public option lives on or off the ACA exchanges.

This week stakeholders across New Mexico met with President Obama’s former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Andy Slavitt to begin some of those conversations. Earlier this year, New Mexico’s state legislature passed a bill to create a committee to study a Medicaid buy-in program. Medicaid is popular there; one-third of New Mexicans are enrolled. Yet 230,000 people remain uninsured in the state, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data, and proposed premium rates for 2019 for those who don’t qualify for ACA subsidies are increasing anywhere from 9.2 percent to 18.5 percent.

Slavitt is the board chair of a new group, United States of Care, which has an impressive roster of bold-faced names leading it from investor Mark Cuban to former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly. In the absence of Washington leadership, the group is working with states on ways to improve health care.

Allison O’Toole, the group’s director of state affairs, was also on the ground in New Mexico this week and told me there’s a “real hunger” and “momentum” around the idea of allowing states to expand Medicaid.

“Washington is in gridlock and not addressing people’s real concerns around the cost and affordability of health care,” O’Toole said. “This has created a greater sense of urgency and necessity by states to pick up that ball and run with it.”

With the Republicans’ failure to repeal the ACA and the public outcry when they tried, Democrats are feeling emboldened this year to talk ambitiously about their health-care goals. 

Health care is a leading issue heading into November, and polls show at least half of Americans are in favor of a “Medicare for all” program. But even if Democrats win the House majority and make gains in the Senate, President Trump has said Obamacare is unsustainable and his administration has worked persistently to chip away at it.

That’s why Michael Sparer, a public- health professor at Columbia University, believes “Medicaid for more” is not only good policy, but also good politics. It’s the type of proposal, he reasons, that could peel off moderate Republicans in a way that a national Medicare program never could. 

It’s true that Medicaid is a favorite GOP punching bag. The Trump administration is urging states to add work requirements to their programs and the GOP playbook has long included capping how much the federal government pays each state to administer Medicaid.

Yet 34 states, including many with Republican governors, expanded the ACA under Medicaid to include more low-income residents, and several more red states are on the precipice of following them. It’s a program that has endured and grown for 53 years.

“The Medicaid buy-in is more of a compromise program, it’s not viewed as a big national program. People who believe in states’ rights can view it as states having more flexibility,” Sparer said.

Sparer has written extensively on the topic and told me his support for expanding Medicaid is heavily influenced by the political viability of focusing on the program for low-income Americans versus the one covering seniors — meaning states don’t have to wait for a new president to do something meaningful. But that doesn’t mean he thinks national political figures like Sanders should stop talking about “Medicare for all.”

“The advantage is [Medicaid buy-in] is incremental, it adds populations here and there. But incremental isn’t a great political slogan. You put ‘let’s change the system’ on a bumper sticker and I get that,” he said. “But the more there’s momentum for ‘Medicare for all,’ then ‘Medicaid for more’ could be the back up plan.”

“Given the ever-present debate,” he added, “a more incremental path is a better path.”