Wrap-around Medicaid gives states administrative headaches

Medicaid premium assistance, where Medicaid acts as wrap-around coverage for a private health insurance plan, is administratively complex for states and may not work well. In an issue brief, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) considered what is known about wrap-around Medicaid coverage, and looked at financial implications of such a program.

Wrap arounds

According to KFF, states with Medicaid premium assistance programs use Medicaid funds to purchase private coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries. Federal law requires these programs to make the purchased private coverage on par with what the state’s Medicaid program would cover, but private insurance generally covers less than Medicaid and requires more out-of-pocket payments. Therefore, states with these programs must provide supplemental benefits and cost-sharing protections, known as “wrap arounds,” to insure that cost sharing does not exceed Medicaid limits. In general, states with these programs have low enrollment rates, and therefore, there is limited data available to determine how well the programs work.

Administrative complexity

States have found that Medicaid premium assistance programs require a lot of administrative work to determine exemptions, track and manage cost sharing under multiple private plans, and track wrapped covered benefits. The administrative burden led multiple states to discontinue Medicaid premium assistance programs and to merely use their own managed care delivery systems. However, that burden can be minimized. When Arkansas created its Medicaid premium assistance program under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), it contracted with a limited number of standardized plans. The standardization made it easier for the state to track and manage the wrap-around payments.

Financing

KFF looked at legislative proposals that would expand wrap-around Medicaid coverage and noted that, in order for such a program to be effective, it would need adequate federal funding, because such programs are required to be cost effective compared with traditional Medicaid coverage. It also noted that, if these programs were done under a waiver program rather than through traditional Medicaid, the funding would be limited in duration and amount, leaving it uncertain whether the program would be able to continue in the future.