Congress Warns Against Medicaid Cuts: ‘You Just Wait for the Firestorm’

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WASHINGTON — If President Trump allows states to convert Medicaid into a block grant with a limit on health care spending for low-income people, he will face a firestorm of opposition in Congress, House Democrats told the nation’s top health official on Tuesday.

The official, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, endured more than four hours of bipartisan criticism over the president’s budget for 2020, which would substantially reduce projected spending on Medicaid, Medicare and biomedical research. Democrats, confronting Mr. Azar for the first time with a House majority, scorned most of the president’s proposals.

But few drew as much heat as Mr. Trump’s proposed overhaul of Medicaid. His budget envisions replacing the current open-ended federal commitment to the program with a lump sum of federal money for each state in the form of a block grant, a measure that would essentially cap payments and would not keep pace with rising health care costs.

Congress rejected a similar Republican plan in 2017, but in his testimony on Tuesday before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Azar refused to rule out the possibility that he could grant waivers to states that wanted to move in that direction.

Under such waivers, Mr. Azar said, he could not guarantee that everyone now enrolled in Medicaid would keep that coverage.

“You couldn’t make that kind of commitment about any waiver,” Mr. Azar said. He acknowledged that the president’s budget would reduce the growth of Medicaid by $1.4 trillion in the coming decade.

Representative G. K. Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina, said that “block-granting and capping Medicaid would endanger access to care for some of the most vulnerable people” in the country, like seniors, children and the disabled.

Mr. Trump provoked bipartisan opposition by declaring a national emergency to spend more money than Congress provided to build a wall along the southwestern border. If the president bypasses Congress and allows states to convert Medicaid to a block grant, Mr. Butterfield said, he could face even more of an outcry.

“You just wait for the firestorm this will create,” Mr. Butterfield said, noting that more than one-fifth of Americans — more than 70 million low-income people — depend on Medicaid.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump said he would not cut Medicare, but his new budget proposes to cut more than $800 billion from projected spending on the program for older Americans in the next 10 years. Mr. Azar said the proposals would not harm Medicare beneficiaries.

“I don’t believe any of the proposals will impact access to services,” Mr. Azar said. Indeed, he said, the cutbacks could be a boon to Medicare beneficiaries, reducing their out-of-pocket costs.

After meeting an annual deductible, beneficiaries typically pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for doctor’s services and some prescription drugs administered in doctor’s offices and outpatient hospital clinics.

Mr. Azar defended a budget proposal to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults enrolled in Medicaid. Arkansas began enforcing such requirements last year under a waiver granted by the Trump administration. Since then, at least 18,000 Arkansans have lost Medicaid coverage.

Mr. Azar said he did not know why they had been dropped from Medicaid. It is possible, he said, that some had found jobs providing health benefits.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, Democrat of Massachusetts, said it would be reckless to extend Medicaid work requirements to the entire country without knowing why people were falling off the rolls in Arkansas.

If you are receiving free coverage through Medicaid, Mr. Azar said, “it is not too much to ask that you engage in some kind of community engagement.”

Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, expressed deep concern about Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut the budget of the National Cancer Institute by $897 million, or 14.6 percent, to $5.2 billion.

Mr. Azar said the proposal was typical of the “tough choices” in Mr. Trump’s budget. He defended the cuts proposed for the National Cancer Institute, saying they were proportional to the cuts proposed for its parent agency, the National Institutes of Health.

The president’s budget would reduce funds for the N.I.H. as a whole by 12.6 percent, to $34.4 billion next year.

Mr. Azar was also pressed to justify Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut federal payments to hospitals serving large numbers of low-income patients. Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, said the cuts, totaling $26 billion over 10 years, would be devastating to “safety net hospitals” in New York and other urban areas.

Mr. Azar said that the Affordable Care Act, by expanding coverage, was supposed to “get rid of uncompensated care” so there would be less need for the special payments.

While Democrats assailed the president’s budget, Mr. Azar relished the opportunity to attack Democrats’ proposals to establish a single-payer health care system billed as Medicare for all.

Those proposals could eliminate coverage provided to more than 20 million people through private Medicare Advantage plans and to more than 155 million people through employer-sponsored health plans, he said.

But Mr. Azar found himself on defense on another issue aside from the president’s budget: immigration. He said he was doing his best to care for migrant children who had illegally entered the United States, were separated from their parents and are being held in shelters for which his department is responsible.

He said he was not aware of the “zero tolerance” immigration policy before it was publicly announced in April 2018 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If he had known about the policy, Mr. Azar said, “I could have raised objections and concerns.”

Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the subcommittee, summarized the case against the president’s budget.

“The Trump administration,” she said, “has taken a hatchet to every part of our health care system, undermining the Affordable Care Act, proposing to fundamentally restructure Medicaid and slashing Medicare. This budget proposes to continue that sabotage.”

 

 

 

 

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/

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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 health of 44M seniors is jeopardized by cuts to Medicare lab services

https://www.acla.com/pama/?utm_source=axios-site-ad&utm_medium=ad&utm_campaign=axios-sponsorship

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The Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA)

Congress passed the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) in 2014 to help safeguard Medicare beneficiaries’ access to needed health services, including laboratory tests. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has taken a flawed and misguided approach to PAMA implementation. As a result of the Department’s actions, seniors will face an estimated $670 million in cuts to critical lab services this year alone, leaving the health of 57 million Medicare beneficiaries hanging in the balance.

PAMA cuts will be particularly burdensome to the most vulnerable seniors, such as those in skilled nursing facilities, those managing chronic conditions, and seniors living in medically underserved communities. The American Clinical Laboratory Association has raised significant concerns about the impact of Medicare lab cuts on seniors and their access to lifesaving diagnostics and lab services.

Learn more about the harm posed by these cuts on seniors here. Read the lawsuit ACLA has filed against HHS here.

WHAT’S AT STAKE


In 2016, seniors enrolled in Medicare received an average of

16 individual lab tests per year

Test tubes

People

80% of seniors

have at least one chronic disease and 77% have at least two—successful disease monitoring and management requires reliable access to routine testing

House

1 million

seniors are living in assisted living or skilled nursing homes

Hands

3.5 million

homebound seniors
rely on skilled home health care services

Map pin

An estimated

10 million

seniors live in rural areas

LACK OF ACCESS TO LAB TESTS

can result in undiagnosed conditions, lack of treatment for sick patients, and the failure to monitor and treat chronic conditions before they become worse—
resulting in a decline in overall health and longevity.

The PAMA cuts will also have a broad impact on laboratories across the country. Those that will face the brunt of the cuts are the very labs and providers that are uniquely positioned to provide services—like house-calls, 24-hour emergency STAT testing, and in-facility services at skilled nursing facilities—that are particularly important to seniors who are more likely to be homebound, managing multiple chronic conditions, or living in rural areas that are medically underserved.

 

 

 

 

 

A Little-Known Windfall for Some Hospitals, Now Facing Big Cuts

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/a-little-known-windfall-for-some-hospitals-now-facing-big-cuts/

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Most hospitals are nonprofit and justify their exemption from taxation with community service and charity care. But the Trump administration could require some of them to do more to help the poor, and the hospitals that are in the cross-hairs are those benefiting from an obscure drug discount program known as 340B.

The 340B program requires pharmaceutical manufactures to sell drugs at steep discounts to certain hospitals serving larger proportions of low-income and vulnerable people, such as children or cancer patients. The participating hospitals may charge insurers and public programs like Medicare and Medicaid more for those drugs than they paid for them and keep the difference.

By one estimate, the program saved hospitals $6 billion in 2015 alone. The original intent of the program, enacted in 1992, was for hospitals to use the revenue to provide more low-income patients a broader range of services.

Many institutions that serve mostly low-income and uninsured populations say they need the program. “Most nonprofit hospitals have very slim profit margins, and they’ve come to rely on this revenue,” said Melinda Buntin, chairwoman of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt School of Medicine. A hospital lobbying group said that for some rural hospitals, the funding cut “could actually be the difference between staying open and closing.”

But there is concern that 340B has come to include hospitals that don’t need the extra help and are not using its windfall as originally intended.

The program has grown considerably, most recently as a result of an expansion included in the Affordable Care Act. As of 2004, about 200 hospitals benefited from the 340B program; by 2015, over 1,000 were participating. The program now encompasses 40 percent of all hospitals and an even larger number of hospital-affiliated clinics and pharmacies.

It might seem odd to give discounts on drugs to help hospitals offer care to low-income patients. How can we be sure they’ll use the money for that?

An increasing number of hospitals are not.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the early participating hospitals were more likely to be located in poor communities with higher levels of uninsured people, to spend more of their budget on uncompensated care, and to offer more low-profit services than hospitals that started participating later.

“The 340B program may produce the results intended at some hospitals,” said Sayeh Nikpay, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University and a co-author on the study. “But as the program grew, it benefited many hospitals with less need for assistance in serving low-income populations.”

Other research corroborates that hospitals aren’t using the 340B program as intendedA study in The New England Journal of Medicine was unable to find any evidence that profits from 340B have led to more access to care for low-income patients, or reductions in mortality rates among them. Another study in Health Affairs found that 340B hospitals have increasingly expanded into more affluent communities with higher rates of insurance.

The 340B program may have also inadvertently raised costs — for example, by encouraging care in 340B-eligible hospitals that could have been provided less expensively elsewhere. A study in Health Services Research found that hospital participation in 340B is associated with a shift of cancer care from lower-cost physician offices to higher-cost hospital settings.

The program may also encourage providers to use more expensive drugs. The more hospitals can charge insurers and public programs for a drug — relative to how much they have to pay for it under the program — the greater the revenue they receive. They also receive more revenue when the drugs are prescribed more often.

In January, Medicare lowered the prices it pays for 340B drugs by 27 percent. Although this move chips away at how much hospitals can benefit financially, it does little to address how much insurers and individuals pay for prescription drugs or the value they obtain from them. In addition, the move does nothing to increase hospital spending that could help the poor.

It may even harm some health care organizations, leading to lower-quality care at those institutions that are helping the poor. Studies have shown that, by and large, when hospitals lose financial resources, they make cuts that could harm some patients.

This can happen if cuts lead to reductions in workers who perform important clinical functions. A study in Health Services Research found that hospitals cut nursing staff in response to Medicare payment cuts in the late 1990s. Heart attack mortality rates improved less at hospitals that had larger cuts.

Another response to reduced revenue is cuts to specific services, which would harm patients who rely on them. A study by economists from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that some hospitals that endured financial setbacks during the Great Recession cut less profitable services like trauma centers and alcohol- and drug-treatment facilities.

Another study looked at a 1998 California law that required hospitals to comply with seismic safety standards — imposing a large cost on those institutions, without providing additional funding. Hospitals that were hit harder financially by this law were more likely to close; government hospitals responded by reducing charity care.

Hospitals could absorb cuts without harming care if they could become more productive — by doing more with less. Historically, there is very little evidence they have been able to do that.

Two powerful lobbies are now battling each other, with the pharmaceutical industry arguing that 340B has grown well beyond its original intent. Hospital lobbying groups are fighting back and also squaring off against the government, suing over the planned federal cuts.

Those are big clashes over a program that began modestly a quarter of a century ago to help the poor, albeit in a most convoluted way.

 

 

Tax Bill Threatens Our Health and Our Democracy

http://www.chcf.org/articles/2017/12/tax-bill-threatens-our-democracy

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Earlier this month, the Senate passed legislation that would overhaul the tax code, make dramatic changes to federal health care policy, and undermine the budgets of Medicaid and Medicare, two pillars of the American health care system. The House and Senate are now trying to reconcile their two tax bills. Each passed the legislation on a party-line vote, with one Republican voting against the bill in the Senate.

Congress is now one step away from passing a tax bill that will have a profound effect on the health and well-being of Americans for a generation. No one should forget that, to get this close, the Senate rushed to approve a deeply unpopular proposal with little transparency and due diligence — and no bipartisanship. Left unchecked, these actions will harm millions of Americans — and American democracy itself.

Even though the legislation has been framed as a tax bill, it is very much a health care bill. The Senate bill would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate, which would lead to the destabilization of the individual health insurance market. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that this change alone would increase individual premiums by 10% a year and cause as many as 13 million Americans to join the ranks of the uninsured by the end of the next decade. In California, the uninsured population would grow by 1.7 million people. Congress may still pass separate legislation to restore some stability to the individual market, but the leading proposals are too modest to prevent much damage.

Seismic Impact

On its own, the language in the tax bills would trigger a major earthquake in the health care system, and the aftershocks of this tax bill would be just as dangerous. By eliminating more than $1 trillion of federal revenue, the administration and congressional leaders are manufacturing a budget crisis that would likely lead to automatic cuts to Medicare under federal rules. The CBO, which examined the House bill, has estimated that those cuts could be around $25 billion a year. Republican leaders have also indicated they intend to use the revenue shortfall that they are engineering with this tax bill to seek deep cuts in safety-net programs, starting with Medicaid.

This isn’t merely about what the legislation will do to health care, because it also would exacerbate inequality and worsen health disparities in this country. Under both the House and Senate bills, low- and middle-income families would pay more in taxes and have a harder time paying not just for health care, but also for food, housing, child care, education, and other basic needs. When people struggle so much to make ends meet, they suffer more from illness and die younger. And if inequality keeps getting worse, it will undermine the economic, social, and political stability upon which our nation depends.

The burden on Californians would be particularly heavy. Our families would no longer be able to deduct what they pay in state and local taxes on their federal tax returns. This change alone would take more than $112 billion a year out of the pockets of hardworking Californians — more than any other state. The fact that Californians would be paying more in federal taxes would inevitably put new pressure on our state and municipal governments to reduce their taxes. Under that scenario, it is not hard to imagine a new wave of painful state and local budget cuts.

The irony is that California actually has the power to stop this runaway train. If the entire California congressional delegation worked together to protect their constituents, and if they were united and strong, they could prevent many — if not all — of the worst provisions in the tax bills from becoming law.

This moment is a test of leadership. Nothing less than the health of our people — and our democracy — are at stake.