- Issue: It is widely recognized that social factors, such as unstable housing and lack of healthy food, have a substantial impact on health outcomes and spending, particularly with respect to lower-income populations. For Medicaid, now dominated by managed care, this raises the question of how states can establish managed care rates to sustain investments in social supports.
- Goal: To explore practical strategies that states can deploy to support Medicaid managed care plans and their network providers in addressing social issues.
- Methods: Literature review, interviews with stakeholders, and analysis of federal regulations.
- Findings and Conclusions: We identify the following options: 1) classify certain social services as covered benefits under the state’s Medicaid plan; 2) explore the additional flexibility afforded states through Section 1115 waivers; 3) use value-based payments to support provider investment in social interventions; 4) use incentives and withholds to encourage plan investment in social interventions; 5) integrate efforts to address social issues into quality improvement activities; and 6) reward plans through higher rates for effective investments in social interventions. More needs to be done, however, to assist interested states in using these options and identifying pathways to braid Medicaid dollars with other social services funding.
State Options and Considerations
1. Classify certain social services as covered benefits under the state’s Medicaid plan
2. Explore the additional flexibility afforded states through Section 1115 waivers
3. Use value-based payment to support investment in social interventions
4. Use incentives and withholds to encourage plan investment in social interventions
5. Integrate efforts to address social issues into quality improvement activities
6. Reward plans with effective investments in social interventions with higher rates
It is now widely recognized that social factors, such as unstable housing, lack of healthy food, unsafe neighborhoods, and unemployment, have a substantial impact on health care outcomes and spending, particularly with respect to lower-income populations.1 Moreover, there is an emerging body of research on which interventions are most likely to result in better outcomes and reductions in spending.2 As the nation’s largest payer for health care services for low-income populations, many of whom have substantial social service needs, Medicaid is front and center when it comes to these issues. State Medicaid agencies are increasingly focusing on how the program can cover and reimburse for nonclinical interventions, particularly in managed care, now the dominant service delivery model in Medicaid.
This report identifies practical strategies that states can deploy to support Medicaid managed care plans and their network providers in addressing social issues. Based on a literature review and on interviews with state officials, health plan leaders, actuarial experts, and other stakeholders, we identify options for states to consider if they are interested in incorporating the cost of social interventions into Medicaid managed care rates (Exhibit 1). While the strategies do not represent a comprehensive solution to the issue of Medicaid’s role in addressing social issues, they are an essential building block.
States face several questions about what role they want Medicaid to play in addressing social issues that directly affect the health of Medicaid beneficiaries and the cost of serving them. Do they want to move their Medicaid programs beyond paying for medical services to tackling affordable housing, economic insecurity, unsafe neighborhoods, and access to adequate and healthy food? In some states, the priority is finding more effective ways to deliver traditional medical care. Other states, particularly those that have implemented an expansion of coverage to low-income adults or are adopting a population health approach to their Medicaid programs, look to their managed care plans and providers to address such issues (Exhibit 2). In all cases, states must evaluate the extent to which federal Medicaid rules permit coverage and payment for discrete nonclinical services.
Medicaid Expansion: Implications for the Importance of Addressing Social Determinants of Health
In the states that expanded their Medicaid programs to all adults with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (31, plus the District of Columbia), newly eligible adults often have extensive social needs. According to research from the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program Payment and Access Commission, 70 percent are below the federal poverty level, but, even so, only about half receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.a In our interviews with Medicaid directors in expansion states, they reported that gaining these new enrollees has reinforced the importance of Medicaid addressing social issues: first, because of the relatively high prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse among the population,b and second, because of Medicaid’s increasingly important role in the coverage and care of low-income families. Finally, interviewees noted that, as Medicaid coverage became more stable and states and managed care plans began to implement value-based payment policies, plans and providers were better positioned to address the social needs of their enrollees and patients.
Rate-Setting Tools in Context
A Medicaid managed care financing and payment strategy is an essential element, but far from the only required element, of any approach to use Medicaid as a vehicle for addressing social determinants of health. During our interviews, we consistently heard that while there is strong interest in innovative rate-setting options, states have many other challenges they need to tackle for Medicaid to play a role in addressing social issues. These other challenges include the need for more staff with different skills, such as social service experience or actuarial proficiency; a data infrastructure to identify and address social factors; and sufficient time and resources for plans and providers to prepare to address social issues (see Appendix D). While these are important issues, they are not the focus of this report, which addresses options available to states for creating a payment and managed care contracting strategy that supports investments in social interventions.
Medicaid Managed Care Rate-Setting: Rules, Policies, and Procedures
The question at the center of this analysis is how states can support plan investment in social services that improve health outcomes and are cost-effective. In states with Medicaid managed care, this translates into a question of how to set Medicaid managed care capitation rates in such a way that plans are incentivized or required — and, even more importantly, have the resources — to address social issues that directly affect the health outcomes of their members.
The starting point for answering this question is the federal Medicaid managed care rules that require states to ensure that capitation rates are actuarially sound. This means that rates must be sufficient to cover the costs that plans incur to provide covered benefits to their enrollees, as well as related administrative and operational expenses. Notably, capitation rates must be based only on services covered under the state plan and services necessary to achieve mental health parity requirements.3 In other words, states cannot directly build the cost of social support services not covered under the state plan into their capitation rates (Exhibit 3).4