Kusserow on Compliance: Trustees forecast Medicare hospital trust fund solvent until 2029

The hospital trust fund forecast for Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund found improvement in the past year due to health costs rising more slowly than expected and predictions that enrollees will use hospital services less often. The trust fund would last through 2029, one year later than what was projected last year. As in past years, the Trustees have determined that the fund is not adequately financed over the next 10 years. They projected modest surpluses to continue in 2017 through 2022, with a return to deficits thereafter until the trust fund becomes depleted in 2029. HHS Secretary Tom Price, one of four Medicare trustees, also said the hospital trust fund forecast was secure enough that it would not trigger a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) provision to make automatic cuts to the program. Those cuts are required by the ACA when spending is expected to exceed certain benchmarks. Despite the slightly improved outlook, the trustees warned that the aging of the baby boom population and rising health care costs will cause Medicare expenses to increase and deplete the trust funds.

The report noted that in 2016, Medicare covered 56.8 million people. About one third of these beneficiaries have chosen to enroll in Part C private health plans that contract with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B health services. Total expenditures in 2016 were $678.7 billion, and total income was $710.2 billion, which consisted of $700.4 billion in non-interest income and $9.8 billion in interest earnings. Assets held in special issue U.S. Treasury securities increased by $31.5 billion to $294.7 billion


Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of
Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC
, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Proposed American Health Care Act could have negative financial impact on safety-net hospitals

A study by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that beginning in 2020, safety-net hospitals will see a reduction in revenue and margins as a result of cuts and spending caps by the federal government under the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Although the study believes that safety-net hospitals in rural areas of states that previously expanded Medicare coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) will be hit the hardest, it suggests that all safety-net hospitals will be affected by this proposed law.

The study reviewed 660 safety-net hospitals (hospitals that receive Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments) to determine the impact of the proposed AHCA. These hospitals provided 30 percent of all uncompensated hospital care in 2015. The ACA had previously allowed states to expand Medicare coverage to individuals under the age of 65 with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty, and the federal government provided enhanced federal funding for these newly eligible Medicare members. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia had expanded under the law.

Changes

The AHCA would eliminate the enhanced federal matching rate and the individual mandate requirement of the ACA, and beginning on December 31, 2019, the enhanced matching rate would only be given for individuals that had been enrolled by December 31 and have not lapsed coverage for more than a month. A standard federal matching rate would be provided for those enrollees after the cut-off date. Additionally, the AHCA would eliminate the ACA hospital presumptive eligibility benefit which allowed a hospital to enroll low-income patients in Medicaid and receive Medicaid payment for the services provided to these patients up to three months prior their enrollment. The study also noted that the ACHA would impose federal per-capita limits on Medicaid spending. Some changes would not be cuts or caps, such as the restoration of previous DSH cuts made by the ACA to states that did not expand Medicare, and safety net funding to non-expansion states that would supplement payments to safety-net Medicaid providers.

The study assumes that with these changes, the safety-net hospitals will see a decrease in revenue and margins, especially those safety-net hospitals in rural expansion states. It estimates that the elimination of the individual mandate will result in lower Medicaid enrollment and less individuals seeking hospital care due to lack of coverage, and assumes that this would result in revenue reduction for the safety-net hospitals. Additionally, the hospital preventive presumption and retroactive eligibility elimination could cause a loss in Medicaid revenue and hospitals could be subject to rising levels of uncompensated care. The caps on spending would also reduce the revenues and net income because the caps would reduce the federal Medicaid spending and the study assumes that the states will reduce overall spending and reduce provider payment levels. The study does note, however, that safety-net to non-expansion states and the restoration of DSH payments would increase revenues for safety-net hospitals.

The fund believes that although some of the measures may increase the revenue for the safety-net hospitals, the ACHA would overall negatively impact safety-net hospitals, with hospitals located in rural areas most affected. The study suggests that this regulation would cause these hospital margins to drop from 2.9 percent to 0.5 percent by 2026. Safety-net hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid may see uncompensated care costs double by 2016, and hospitals in rural areas of these states which have a high amount of Medicaid payers would be most negatively affected.

House Committee urged to extend funding for federal safety net programs

Extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to ensure continuity of coverage for children, particularly in light of the current uncertainty surrounding other sources of health coverage in the U.S., witnesses urged at a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing titled “Examining the Extension of Safety Net Health Programs.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the extension of funding for two federal safety net health programs that provide health care and coverage for low-income adults and children, CHIP and the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF).

CHIP

CHIP is a program that provides health coverage to targeted low-income children and pregnant women in families that have annual income above Medicaid eligibility levels but have no health insurance. It is jointly financed by the federal government and states, and the states are responsible for administering the program. A memo from the committee majority staff states that in fiscal year (FY) 2015, 8.4 million children received CHIP-funded coverage.

Section 2101 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) increased the CHIP enhanced federal medical assistance percentage (E-FMAP), which varies by state, by 23 percent from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2019. Since the ACA did not include additional or extended funding for CHIP, MACRA extended funding through September 30, 2017. The Medicaid and CHIP Express Lane Option, Child Enrollment Contingency Fund, CHIP Qualifying State Option, and CHIP Outreach and Enrollment Grants also expire September 30, 2017.

At the hearing, Cindy Mann, partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, touted the success of CHIP, which covers 8.9 million children nationwide. She stated that Congress must consider the overall level of funding for CHIP, in addition to the E-FMAP funds, which “are now fully integrated into states’ budgets and a key source of funding for sustaining CHIP.” She said that Congressional action is needed as soon as possible to ensure program continuity, budget certainty for states, and stable coverage for children, particularly those with special health care needs. She urged a five-year extension instead of two to provide needed stability (see Extend CHIP, protect DSH payments, MACPAC tells Congress, March 16, 2017).

Jami Snyder, Director of the Medicaid and CHIP programs for the state of Texas, noted that a decision to not reauthorize the CHIP program would result in a loss of over $1 billion in annual funding to the state of Texas and a loss of coverage for more than 380,000 Texas children.

Health Center Program

The Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Health Center Program, authorized under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act, awards grants to federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). The program is supported by discretionary appropriations and the CHCF, a mandatory multibillion-dollar fund established by Section 10503 of the ACA. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) extended funding through fiscal year 2017. According to the staff memo, the CHCF represents over 70 percent of the Health Center Program’s FY 2016 funding.

Michael Holmes, the chief executive officer of Cook Area Health Services, an FQHC in Minnesota, testified that as a result of CHCF investments new FQHC were added in more than 1,100 communities. With the extension nearing its expiration date, he “strongly urged” Congress to renew funding for at least five years to allow FQHCs to provide a stable and reliable source of access to patients and recruit and retain a comprehensive health care workforce.

340B a small program with tricky compliance field

Although drug spending under the 340B program is a small fraction of drug spending in the country overall, compliance remains important for all entities involved: hospitals, pharmacies, and manufacturers. In a Health Care Compliance Association webinar entitled “340B Program: Finding Clarity in Uncertain Times,” presenters Karolyn Woo and Tony Lesser, both from Deloitte & Touche LLP, advised listeners to allocate the necessary resources to ensure compliance in light of increased audit activity.

340B program

Created by section 340B of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), the program requires drug manufacturers participating in the Medicaid program to provide outpatient drugs to participating health care organizations at reduced prices. These discounts allow providers to save between 25-50 percent on outpatient drug costs. However, for perspective, 340B spending only accounted for just over $12 billion of the $310 billion spent on drugs in 2015.

Oversight and audits

Despite the program’s relatively small size, Woo and Lesser underscored the necessity of compliance, noting the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) increased oversight activity. The agency has recently contracted experienced auditors, who focus on eligibility, drug diversion, duplicate discounts, and billing accuracy. If issues are found during the audit, the HRSA Office of Pharmacy Affairs (OPA) will review these issues, present a corrective action plan to HRSA, and finalize its report. Drug diversion is the most common issue, and repayment to manufacturers was required in over half of the completed audits in fiscal years (FYs) 2015 and 2016. Although there has been no uptick in the number of manufacturer audits recently, HRSA may contact an entity to request certain information outside of an audit, which should be presented as clearly as possible. In addition, specialty pharmacies, which often represent a high percentage of a manufacturer’s 340B revenue, may fall under particular scrutiny.

Compliance plan

Repayment requires that the covered entity and the manufacturer work out a financial remedy in good faith. The process is hampered by outdated OPA information, lack of deadline guidance, and differing repayment calculations. To avoid being placed in this situation, covered entities should create a compliance plan that ensures close oversight of 340B activity, starting with educating staff and reviewing 340B policies and procedures. Entities should perform internal audits to find areas of non-compliance, and learn how to prevent and detect identified issues. When areas of non-compliance are found, they should be reported to manufacturers, HRSA, or other entities as required.