Medicaid block grants would pose challenges for states

If federal support for Medicaid was transformed into a block grant to states, with a per capita cap set by Congress, the impact would vary widely on different states, according to participants in a webinar sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform. The webinar also focused on the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and state Medicaid waiver requests. The American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628) would transform the federal part of Medicaid into a block grant to states starting in 2020, with a per capita cap on spending. Also, it would roll back the enhanced federal spending for adult Medicaid beneficiaries newly eligible under the Affordable Care Act. (The legislation, which passed the House on May 4, has not yet been considered by the Senate.).

Current Medicaid challenges

Robin Rudowitz, associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation, noted that certain states are at higher risk if federal funding for Medicaid is transformed into block grants with per capita caps. These states have challenging demographics, including higher populations of people with poor health status, high cost health markets, and limited ability to raise tax revenues. Tony Leys, a reporter with the Des Moines Register, noted that state Medicaid programs already struggle to cover expensive blockbuster drugs, such as those for treating hepatitis C. If the federal Medicaid payment was capped, Leys said, states would struggle to pay for the next blockbuster drug that comes along.

Per capita caps 

Chris Pope, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, noted that per capita caps do nothing to prevent future expansions of benefits or eligibility by future Congresses, and may be preferable to the long-term health of the Medicaid program rather than “letting the program continue on autopilot without any real scrutiny.” Hemi Tewarson, program director for the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices’ Health Division, noted, however, that because of the way most states have to prepare their annual budgets “if we were to introduce every year uncertainty around whether the per capita caps would be raised or lowered…that would throw a lot of chaos into state operations, not just impacting health care, but all the their programs they have to make decisions on.”

Pope said that it’s a political decision for states to maintain coverage for Medicaid enrollees if expansion funding from the federal government is rolled back. He added, “There is a substantial overlap between the Medicaid expansion population and the population that would be eligible for substantial subsidies at the bottom of the income distribution covered by the exchange.” These are people who would be eligible for basic insurance plans with capped out-of-pocket spending.

Leys noted that in Iowa, this would be difficult because the state is about to lose its last participating insurer in the Exchange. In addition, Rudowitz said that after the per capita caps would go into place in 2020, the restriction of growth in federal spending would compound over time, putting Medicaid beneficiaries in the higher risk states noted above at greater risk of losing any insurance coverage. Tewarson agreed, noting that for some states disenrollment would be necessary over time as the restriction in federal spending grows.

CHIP reauthorization

The transformation of Medicaid into a federal block grant is not a sure thing, but the deadline for reauthorizing CHIP is. Congress has to regularly reauthorize CHIP, which provides enhanced federal funding to states who offer expanded Medicaid coverage for children; the program is currently extended only until September 30, 2017. Tewarson noted that as states prepare their 2018 budgets, some are planning on the enhanced match being renewed, while others plan on it going away, in which case states have to budget reserves to make up for the lost matching funds. Rudowitz also noted that the continuation of CHIP is a coverage issue; if the program is not reauthorized or the enhanced funding is cut back, states will have to make decisions about coverage and contact beneficiaries in a timely manner.

Medicaid waivers

States have been able to request waivers from federal Medicaid requirements for years; waivers are used by states for demonstration programs related to delivery system reforms, long-term care, behavioral health, among other things. As of February 2017, 33 states have 41 approved Medicaid waivers in place. Since President Trump was inaugurated, states have submitted waivers that would require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to be employed, although none of these waivers have been approved.

Tewarson noted that one of the big question states have regarding waivers is the administrative aspect—”how do you operationalize them?” In considering work requirement waivers, the administrative issues get bigger, she said. “How do we connect systems? What are the real outcomes we want to see from this? How do we define work requirements and who would be exempt?” She also noted that while the Obama administration approved many Medicaid waivers, they had guideposts as to what would or would not be acceptable; work requirements were not one of the acceptable waiver options previously.

HHS developing new system to speed PRRB, other appeal processes

HHS and its subagencies continue to struggle with eliminating the backlog of appeals that has led to delays in payments to providers and litigation trying to get HHS to meet statutory requirements for hearing appeals. The two main appeals backlogs relate to Provider Reimbursement Review Board (PRRB) decisions (appeals by providers of final determinations by Medicare contractors) and individual appeals for Medicare coverage, payment, and premiums brought before the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA).

PRRB

CMS is developing a system to electronically track and file PRRB and Medicare Geographic Classification Review Board (MGCRB) decisions, according to CMS officials speaking at a conference sponsored by the American Health Lawyers Association at the end of March. The current appeals process relies heavily on a manual, snail mail process that has added to the time it takes for parties to file all papers in preparation for a hearing. The “Office of Hearings Case and Document Management System (OH CDMS)” should be ready for use by the end of 2017. The OH CDMS will be accessible through the CMS Enterprise portal.

Using the new system, parties may:

  • file appeal requests
  • upload position papers, jurisdictional documents, and other supporting documentation
  • view documents issued by Board or filed by opposing party
  • manage issues raised in individual appeals and providers participating in groups
  • request other actions such as change in representative, expedited judicial review, mediation, etc., and
  • monitor case status

This new system also will be used by CMS Hearing Officers who hear appeals not covered by other CMS or HHS appeal avenues, such as:

  • Risk Adjustment Data Validation (RADV)
  • Medicare Advantage/Prescription Drug Plan (MA/PD)
  • Medicaid State Plan Amendments
  • Retire Drug Subsidy Determinations (RDS)
  • Organ Procurement Organizations (OPO)

The need for a more efficient way of handling all the filings related to an appeal was underscored by a presentation by Sue Anderson, PRRB chairperson. She noted that the PRRB currently has more than 10,000 cases on its docket. In fiscal year 2016, the PRRB issued 27 decisions that closed 66 cases; 147 expedited judicial determinations; and 497 jurisdictional determinations, so it has a long way to go to work through its backlog.

OMHA appeals

Issues with PRRB appeals aren’t even the most serious ones facing HHS. The Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) has a backlog of hundreds of thousands of administrative appeals, and the American Hospital Association is engaged in long-standing litigation with HHS trying to force HHS to hold Administrative Law Judge appeals within 90 days. Currently, these appeals take 10 times longer, and the backlog grows every year. A recent filing by HHS in the litigation shows the seriousness of the issue: as of March 5, 2017, there were 667,326 pending appeals; HHS projects the number of pending appeals to grow to 1,009,768 by the end of FY 2021 (September 30, 2021).

OMHA is looking at a number of ways to deal with the backlog; (see OMHA trying to speed claims appeals process, April 18, 2017). One solution is legislation. Speaking at the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Compliance Institute at the end of March, Kimberly Brandt, Chief Oversight Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, noted that the Senate is considering re-introducing the “Audit & Appeal Fairness, Integrity, and Reforms in Medicare Act.” The bill “seeks to increase coordination and oversight of government audit contractors while implementing new strategies to address growing number of audit determination appeals that delay taxpayer dollars from reaching the correct source,” according to Brandt. The bill also would encourage the use of voluntary alternate dispute resolution process to allow for multiple pending claims with similar issues of law or fact to be settled as a unit, rather than as individual appeals.

States try to manage expectations for Medicaid managed care

When CMS updated regulations regarding Medicaid managed care in May 2016, it was the first significant update to these regulations since 2002. Over the past year, as speakers at the American Health Lawyers’ Association Institute on Medicare and Medicaid Payment on March 29, 2017, noted, states have started the multi-year process of complying with the new rules, while dealing with resources issues at the state level and political change in Washington, D.C.

About 80 percent of the 73 million Medicaid enrollees are in some kind of managed care program, according to Lindsey Browning with the National Association of Medicaid Directors. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have contracted with managed care entities to deliver care to all or some of their Medicaid beneficiaries.

Four options

Prior to the issuance of the revised regulations (81 FR 27498, May 6, 2016) states had basically one option for putting a managed care plan in place—requesting a Medicaid state plan amendment from HHS. Under the revised regulations states now have four options to implement managed care waivers under various provisions of the Social Security Act: (1) a Sec. 1932 state plan waiver; (2) a Sec. 1915(a) waiver (waiving competitive procurement process); (3) a Sec. 1915(b) waiver, requiring all enrollees, including dual eligibles and children with special health care needs to enroll in managed care; and (4) a Sec. 1115 waiver (which may permit coverage of services not otherwise covered in Medicaid) (see CMS modernizes Medicaid managed care, Health Law Daily, May 6, 2016).

James Golden, director, Division of Managed Care Plans at CMS, noted that full implementation of the revised regulations will take three to five years, and that the key to success is how well states work with affected stakeholders—both managed care entities and beneficiaries. “CMS expects the states to take the lead in setting standards,” Golden said.

State challenges

Browning highlighted two key challenges that states face – setting up adequate networks of providers so managed care beneficiaries can actually access health care; and limited staff capacity to drive expansion of Medicaid managed care alongside a number of other Medicaid related regulations.

Impact of new administration

A further complication, Browning noted, is the new Trump Administration and new leadership for HHS and CMS. She noted that the new CMS Administrator, Seema Verma, indicated an interest in re-examining all recent rules related to Medicare and Medicaid during her confirmation hearing. Browning also pointed to the Executive Order issued by President Trump which requires all agencies to create a Task Force to review existing regulations with the goal of repealing many of them. Browning noted that both Verma and HHS Secretary Tom Price are interested in increased state flexibility around health programs.

In addition, Browning said that any changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) may impact the new Medicaid managed care regulations, for example, she noted that a key goal of the managed care rule was alignment with qualified health plan requirements under the ACA. Would this change if the ACA’s health insurance Exchanges are eliminated? Finally, she said that any structural changes to Medicaid would likely require revised managed care rules.

Over 500 hospitals reach DSH payment settlement with CMS

Resolving 11 pieces of litigation stretching back to 2010, over 500 hospitals on July 14, 2016, entered into confidential settlement agreements with CMS regarding Medicare disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments. Details of the settlements were not available at press time, although they involve disputed DSH payments for cost reporting periods from 1991 through 2007, depending on the hospital. Neither CMS nor the attorneys at Akin Gump, lead counsel for the hospitals involved in the settlements, would comment on the settlements.

Background

Medicare makes DSH payments as a percentage add-on to the standard payment amount per discharge under the prospective payment system for the operating costs of inpatient hospital services. The fact situations for the hospitals involved in the settlement were similar – the hospitals challenged CMS’ payment determinations on the grounds that errors and omissions in the calculation of the DSH payment formula wrongfully reduced the resulting DSH payments. The hospitals also challenged a subsequent ruling by CMS – CMS-1498-R – that the Provider Reimbursement Review Board and the other Medicare administrative appeals tribunals lack jurisdiction over provider appeals of specific DSH payment adjustment issues.

Treatment of Part C days

The hospital parties in four cases also filed a motion to stay further proceedings pending a final, non-appealable merits decision in either Allina Health Services, et al. v. Burwell, 1:14-cv-01415-GK (D.D.C.) (see Court has jurisdiction to hear health system’s challenge to DSH calculation, Health Law Daily, November 2, 2015) or Allina Health System, et al. v. Burwell, 1:16-cv-00150-GK (D.D.C.). The substantive issue in dispute in those cases concerns the treatment of Medicare Part C days in the Medicare DSH payment calculation for periods after October 1, 2004.

Original complaints and stipulations

Listed below are the complaints for the 11 cases that were settled, along with the number of hospitals involved in each complaint and the cost years involved on the original complaints, followed by a link to the July 14, 2016 stipulation.