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.

Medicaid fills a space for children with special health care needs

Medicaid is the sole source of coverage for 36 percent of children with special health care needs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Issue Brief. Public insurance, like Medicaid, is important for many children with special health care needs because the Medicaid program covers medical and long-term care services that are either not covered or subject to limited coverage through private insurance. The proposed restructuring of Medicaid financing would likely impose limits on the scope of benefits available to all Medicaid beneficiaries. The KFF believes that Medicaid reform should carefully evaluate the potential impact on children with special health care needs.

Special Health Care Needs

HHS reports that nearly 20 percent of all U.S. children under 18 years of age have special health care needs. Additionally, one in five U.S. families has a child with a special health care need. HHS defines special health care needs as applying to children who  “have or are at increased risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally.” Special health care needs stem from conditions including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, depression, anxiety, and autism. Children falling under the definition have multiple and varied needs. For example nearly 70 percent of children with special needs have difficulty with bodily functions such as breathing, swallowing, or chronic pain. Children with special health care needs often have conditions which require nursing, therapy, and mental health counseling services.

Demographics

The majority (73 percent) of children with special health care needs live in low or middle-income families. This means that 73 percent of children with special health care needs live in families with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. Of the 11.2 million children with special health care needs, 59 percent are white, 16 percent are black, 17 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 8 percent fall into other racial or ethnic categories.  Forty-one percent of children with special health care needs are between 12 and 17 years old, 39 percent are between six and 11 years old, and 21 percent are between zero and five years old.

Eligibility

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) required states’ Medicaid programs to cover children in families with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. However, all states expanded financial eligibility for children above that level. As of January 2017, the median eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP children is 255 percent of the FPL. States may also make children who receive federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits eligible for Medicaid. Such children reside in poor families and are disabled in a way that severely limits their ability to function at home, school, and in the community.

Coverage

Regardless of whether a state chooses to cover such services for adults, children are eligible for Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit, which includes regular medical, vision, hearing, and dental screenings as well as other services necessary to “correct or ameliorate” physical or mental health conditions. Additionally, because private insurance is designed to meet the health care needs of a generally healthy population, Medicaid can fill the gap to provide care related to more intensive and chronic needs.

Conclusion

Medicaid provides a board scope of services and coverage to children with special health care needs. For many families, Medicaid serves as an important source of insurance and a means to fill gaps presented by inadequate private insurance. As a result, lawmakers should be cautious when evaluating Medicaid reforms to consider the impact such restructuring could have on children with special health care needs.

States chosen to participate in community behavioral health clinic demonstration

The two-year Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration program will begin in eight states—Minnesota, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Pennsylvania—no later than July 1, 2017. HHS announced the participating states, which will implement a program designed to improve behavioral health services and integrate behavioral health with physical health care. The demonstration, which is authorized by Section 223 of the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) of 2014 (P.L. 113-93), hopes to increase and make consistent use of evidence-based practices for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries with mental and substance-use disorders.

The eight participating states were chosen from 19 applicants, following review that included ensuring the inclusion of a diverse selection of geographic areas, including rural and underserved areas. The program will reimburse the states through Medicaid for behavioral health treatment, services, and supports to Medicaid-eligible beneficiaries using an approved prospective payment system. CCBHCs must provide core services across the lifespan, utilize evidence-based practices and health information technology (HIT), report on quality measures, and coordinate care with physicians and hospitals in the community. The projects will be evaluated based on data from 21 quality measures, with qualitative data also obtained from interviews with state officials and clinic staff.

Populations to be served are adults with serious mental illness, children with serious emotional disturbance, and those with long term and serious substance use disorders, as well as others with mental illness and substance-use disorders. Beginning in December 2017, HHS will annually report on the performance of the demonstration programs.