Despite uncertainty about ACA most states moving forward with Medicaid expansion

Although the future of Medicaid funding is unclear with the ongoing efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), many states were still working to expand Medicaid services and benefits, according to a joint Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Health Management Associates (HMA) report. In an annual survey collecting data about Medicaid policies in place or implemented in fiscal year 2017 and policy changes that will be implemented or are being discussed for fiscal year 2018 in each state and the District of Columbia, KFF and HMA noted that some of the biggest changes are occurring in eligibility policies, managed care reforms, and the expansion of benefits.

Eligibility and Premiums

In 2017, seven states made changes to expand Medicaid eligibility and in 2018 another seven are planning to implement eligibility expansions. These changes include eliminating the 5-year bar on Medicaid eligibility for lawfully-residing immigrant children or providing coverage for a new eligibility group of individuals who are chronically homeless, justice-involved, or in need of substance abuse or mental health treatment with an income below 5 percent of the federal poverty level. A few states are looking to make changes to restrict Medicaid eligibility by imposing work requirements and asset tests.

In recent years, many states have made changes to the way Medicaid coverage is handled when beneficiaries are in the criminal justice system. Some states have opted to suspend coverage when someone is incarcerated rather than terminate coverage, as they have done previously, so it is easier to reinstate coverage when the beneficiary is released. Additionally, some states have developed initiatives to work with and train criminal justice employees to assist with Medicaid applications after a person is released.

Managed Care

Twenty-nine of 39 states with risk-based managed care organizations (MCOs) reported that 75 percent or more of their Medicaid beneficiaries were in enrolled in MCOs as of July 1, 2017. Most states carve-out certain services, such as behavioral health services, from their MCO contracts. In 2017 at least six states took steps to carve in behavioral health services into their MCO contracts and ten states reported plans to work toward carving in behavior health services in 2018. Twenty-six of the 39 MCO states reported that they would use the funds available for inpatient psychiatric treatment or substance use treatment under the 2016 Medicaid Managed Care Final Rule; however, many states commented that the 15-day limit was too restrictive for the type of treatment that it was meant to cover. Sixteen states in 2017 and 17 states plan in 2018 to include specific initiatives to encourage MCOs that cover LTSS to expand access to home and immunity-based services (HCBS).

Benefits

Twenty-six states reported new or enhanced benefits in 2017 and 17 states plan to add or enhance benefits in 2018. These added benefits include mental health and substance use disorder services, alternative plain therapies, family planning and cancer screenings. Nineteen states reported new or expanded initiatives to expand dental access or improve oral health outcomes in 2017 or 2018. Additionally, 19 states reported initiatives to expand the use of telehealth in 2018 or 2019. For 2018, 22 states reported plants to adopt or expand initiatives such as patient-centered medical homes or accountable care organizations in an effort to encourage integrated care. Fourteen states in 2017 and 13 states plan in 2018 to report expansions and additions to the HCBS programs, including personal supports, supported employment, home delivered and medically tailored meals among others.

Although most states are continuing to look ahead to expand Medicaid benefits and eligibility, almost all states are still concerned about the negative fiscal consequences that they would face in the proposed limits on federal Medicaid spending. Medicaid directors from the 32 ACA Medicaid expansion states reported the states would not be able to continue providing coverage for expansion population, or the coverage would be at a substantial risk, if the ACA federal match was terminated.

Webinar: Delay, Deregulate, Derail — Health Care Roiled by Actions of Trump and Congress

Since January, both President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have talked about a three-step process for repealing and replacing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). While the first six months of the Trump administration has seen mixed results, its efforts to reign in or hold back regulations, combined with its delay in filling lower-level agency roles, has impacted regulatory review and issuance of new regulations. So, despite Congress’ inability to pass legislation to change parts of the ACA, there is still plenty for providers to be concerned about.

Join Associate Managing Editor Kathryn Beard, JD, on Wednesday, August 2, for this half-hour live webinar covering attempts by the Trump Administration and Congress to delay, deregulate, and derail significant parts of federal health policy. She will discuss the two “repeal and replace” bills, FDARA, and significant executive and regulatory actions taken by the Trump administration which directly impact ACA provisions.

Registration Link:

CMS updates Medicaid eligibility and payment oversight programs

CMS finalized changes to the Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) and Medicaid Eligibility Quality Control (MEQC) programs designed to improve payment oversight and state eligibility determinations in the Medicaid program. The changes—contained in an advance release of a Final rule set to publish in the Federal Register on July 5, 2017—implement provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). The Final rule ends a pilot phase for the two programs and resumes the eligibility measurement component of the PERM program and the MEQC program for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019.

PERM

The PERM program measures improper payments in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) based on reviews of the fee-for-service (FFS), managed care, and eligibility components of Medicaid and CHIP. Due to changes in Medicaid eligibility law—including expansion under the ACA—CMS did not conduct the eligibility measurement component of the PERM program for FYs 2015 through 2018 (see CMS proposes updates to Medicaid eligibility and payment oversight, June 21, 2016). During that time, CMS conducted a pilot program known as the Medicaid and CHIP Eligibility Review Pilots to maintain oversight of state eligibility determinations. In addition to reestablishing the eligibility measurement component of the PERM program for FY 2019, the Final rule makes several updates to program requirements. Changes to the program include:

  • eligibility reviews for payments made by states between July and June of a given year (a change from the previous October through September review period);
  • federal contractor review of determinations;
  • sampled reviews based upon FFS and managed care payments;
  • inclusion of federal improper payments when the federal share is incorrect, even if the total computed amount is accurate;
  • the development of a national sample size; and
  • payment reductions in cases where a state’s eligibility improper payment rate exceeds the 3 percent threshold and the state does not demonstrate a good faith effort to meet the threshold.

MEQC

The MEQC program requires states to report to HHS the ratio of erroneous excess medical assistance payments to total expenditures for medical assistance. Under Section 1903(u) of the Social Security Act (SSA), HHS is required to withhold payments in excess of a 3 percent threshold for eligibility-related improper payments. Like the PERM program, CMS did not operate the MEQC program for FY 2015 through 2018 so that CMS could make updates to the program to reflect changes in eligibility. The Final rule aims to restructure the MEQC program to better compliment the PERM program. The changes include:

  • state flexibility to design MEQC programs unless states have consecutive improper payment rates over the 3 percent threshold;
  • requirements to conduct reviews beyond the scope of the PERM program; and
  • corrective action submission requirement for identified errors.

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.