Highlight on Alaska: FTC, DOJ back Alaska Senate’s move to eliminate certificates of need

Citing “considerable competitive concerns” raised by certificate of need (CON) laws, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a joint statement in support of Alaska Senate Bill 62 (SB 62), which would repeal Alaska’s CON program effective July 1, 2019. CON programs generally require firms to demonstrate an unmet need for services to the state before being permitted to enter the health care market, for example, by building a new hospital. Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla), who submitted the bill, applauded the statement, noting, “As government officials, we should not lose sight of a basic truth that competition improves the quality and lowers the costs of services; it’s what drives innovation and ultimately leads to the delivery of better healthcare.”

CON laws were enacted to reduce costs and improve access to care, based on the assumption that the existence of too many health care facilities in the same area could lead to inflated pricing for services. However, the FTC and DOJ opined that the laws create barriers to entry and expansion, allow entities to abuse the process to delay or halt competitors’ entry or expansion, and deny consumers effective remedies from anticompetitive mergers.

Alaska’s program requires parties wishing to spend at least $1.5 million on health care facility construction, alter an existing facility’s bed capacity, or add a category of health services provided to an existing facility to secure a CON after demonstrating that the quality, availability, or accessibility of existing health care resources is less than necessary “to maintain the good health of citizens of [the] state.” Specifically, it requires parties to submit an application with a fee ranging from $2,500 to $75,000.  The Department of Health and Social Services holds a public meeting and solicits comments and then submits a recommendation to the Commissioner of Health and Social Services, who makes the ultimate decision. Members of the public substantially impacted by the CON may initiate administrative proceedings and eventually seek judicial review.

The agencies stated that the existing state law raises both the monetary and time-based costs of entry and expansion, eliminates or reduces competitive pressure that normally incentivizes firms “to innovate, improve existing services, introduce new ones, or moderate prices,” and, in the event of denials, prohibits entry or expansion.  Furthermore, the law allows incumbent firms to drag out the CON application process by filing challenges or comments in order to delay competitors’ entry into the market. It also provides a platform that allows firms to form anticompetitive agreements–for example, two firms could agree to file CON applications for separate services to avoid a lengthy application process and potential challenges from one another. Finally, the existing law could impede antitrust remedies. As an example, the joint statement cited to the case of FTC v. Phoebe Putney.  Although the Supreme Court eventually ruled that an anticompetitive merger was subject to antitrust scrutiny, the entities involved had already merged and the applicable state’s CON laws made divestiture “virtually impossible.”

 

Highlight on Pennsylvania: Better Medicaid spending through technology

Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced legislation attempting to reduce spending and improve patient care within the state’s Medicaid program. Under the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 600, the state would adopt new technology to monitor and identify areas of unnecessary or wasteful health care services and procedures. The state would have 90 days within enactment of the bill to pick a technology company and implement the monitoring. Lawmakers noted that by providing more information, patients and providers, alike, could make better health care decisions. Consequently, this would reduce Medicaid spending. Pennsylvania is one of the highest spenders per Medicaid enrollee in the U.S., with one out of every four dollars in the state’s annual budget accounted for by Medicaid.

The lawmakers have started to review tech companies with prior experience in collecting and monitoring patients to improve care, notably companies that have worked with Alaska’s Medicaid program. The tech company involved  reduced misdiagnosis rates, improved outpatient care, cut waste, and reduced Medicaid expenditures in Alaska by over 14 percent. According to Pennsylvania lawmakers, a similar program could generate between $2 billion and $4 billion in annual savings.

In fiscal year 2015-16, the federal government spent about $15.3 billion on Medicaid in Pennsylvania, while the state spent about $10.6 billion, bringing the total to $25.9 billion; the state’s Department of Health and Human Services budget over the past few years has increased by about $500 million annually. The influx of approximately 700,000 new patients into the Medicaid system is a 20 percent increase and has cost an additional $4.6 billion. State lawmakers are concerned that the push for health care reform by the federal government will result in a cut in the federal portion of Medicaid to the state.

 

Insurance antitrust exemption reform clears House

The House passed on March 22, 2017, H.R. 372, The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2017, with a bipartisan vote of 416 to 7. The Act repeals in part the McCarran-Ferguson Act antitrust exemption for insurers, including price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation, and retains the exemption for certain collaborative activities. A CBO report projected that the Act would have no significant net effect on the premiums that private insurers would charge for health or dental insurance and that any effect on federal revenue would be negligible.

The report noted that health insurance premiums could be lower to the extent that enacting the bill would prevent insurers from engaging in practices currently exempted from antitrust law. On the other hand, insurers could become subject to additional litigation and thus their costs and premiums might increase. The CBO estimated that both of those effects would be small.

The American Hospital Association had expressed concerns about the abuse of market power by large commercial insurers with the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services previously.

AHCA’s Patient and Stability Fund would benefit large states, study finds

Large states and states with fewer insurers offering coverage in the individual and small group markets could receive the most money under the American Health Care Act’s (AHCA) Patient and State Stability Fund, according to a study by Avalere. The AHCA, which consists of two bills that came out of the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees, is touted as an effort to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148).

Bill

Section 132 of the Ways and Means bill would add title XXII to the Social Security Act to create the Patient and State Stability Fund. The Fund would provide funding for the states and District of Columbia from 2018 through 2026 for eligible states to do any of the following:

  • provide financial assistance to high-risk individuals who do not have employer health insurance to enroll in health insurance coverage in the state’s individual market;
  • provide incentives for entities to enter into agreements with the state to help stabilize health insurance premiums in the health insurance market;
  • reduce the cost for providing coverage in the individual and small group markets;
  • promote participation in the individual and small group markets and increase available insurance options;
  • promote access to preventive services, dental care, and certain services for individuals with mental or substance abuse disorders;
  • provide payments to providers for the provision of health care services as specified by the Administrator; and
  • provide assistance to reduce out-of-pocket costs for individuals enrolled in health insurance coverage in the state.

Funding

The bill would appropriate $100 billion over 10 years to provide allocations to states. According to Avalere, the first 85 percent of the funds would be distributed based on the share of the state’s insurance claims as a percentage of the nation, so states that have more people with insurance and higher medical costs could receive more funding that states lower overall enrollment and spending.

The remaining 15 percent would be distributed to states that have seen an increase in the number of low-income uninsured from 2013 to 2015 or have fewer than three insurers offering coverage in their exchange in 2017.

Distribution among states

According to Avalere, the allocation methodology could result in states like California, Florida, and New York receiving the most money North Carolina, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Carolina could receive disproportionately high amounts of money due to the lack of health insurance participation on their markets in 2017.

The funding levels “vary widely” on a per capita basis compared to the state’s individual market enrollment in 2015, Avalere concluded. They range from $1,830 in the District of Columbia to $220 in Montana.