Hospital organizations again advocate for delay of Medicaid DSH reductions

Nine hospital organizations have urged Congress to further delay the start of Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) cuts, which are set to begin in fiscal year (FY) 2018. The organizations, including the American Hospital Association (AHA), wrote letters to both the House and the Senate.

State Medicaid programs make DSH payments to qualifying that serve a large number of Medicaid and uninsured patients. Section 2551 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) would have reduced federal DSH allotments beginning in 2014 to account for the decrease in uncompensated care anticipated under health insurance coverage expansion. Legislation has since delayed the Medicaid DSH reduction; most recently, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) delayed the reductions until FY 2018 through FY 2025 (see Soc. Sec. Act Sec. 1923(f)).

The organizations contended, however, that “the coverage rates envisioned under the ACA have not been fully realized,” and many Americans remain uninsured. In addition, Medicaid underpayment poses an ongoing financial challenge for hospitals.

In July 2017 CMS issued a Proposed rule (82 FR 35155, July 28, 2017) that would implement the annual DSH allotment reductions using a DSH health reform methodology (see CMS proposes updated method to calculate ACA-mandated Medicaid allotment reductions, Health Law Daily, August 2, 2017). Commenting on the Proposed rule, the AHA advocated for the repeal of the ACA Medicaid DSH allotment reductions and requested that CMS delay the implementation of the FY 2018 DSH allotment reductions (see AHA raises concerns about proposed reductions in DSH allotments, Health Law Daily, August 30, 2017).

AHA raises concerns about proposed reductions in DSH allotments

The American Hospital Association (AHA) is urging CMS to delay the implementation of the fiscal year (FY) 2018 disproportionate share hospital (DSH) allotment reductions due to significant concerns about the data the agency proposed to use in the DSH Health Reform Methodology (DHRM), according to a letter sent to CMS Administrator Seema Verma. In addition, the AHA is continuing to advocate for the repeal of the Medicaid DSH reductions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). The AHA noted that although Congress cut DSH payments based on its reasoning that hospitals would care for fewer uninsured patients as health care coverage expanded, the projected increase in coverage has not been fully realized. This is because some states chose not to expand Medicaid and there is lower-than-anticipated enrollment in health insurance coverage through the health insurance marketplace.

AHA raised two key issues within the Proposed rule: (1) the data sources used in the DHRM, with a focus on transparency, completeness, and timelines of the data; and (2) the proposed cap that would limit the reductions to only 90 percent of a state’s DSH allotment.

Background

Section 2551 of the ACA established that state Medicaid DSH allotments would be reduced annually in the aggregate in consideration of certain statutory factors. In 2013, CMS published a Final rule that finalized a methodology only for fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015 in anticipation of re-evaluation following implementation of the ACA (see CMS lays out methodology for Medicaid DSH reductions in 2014 and 2015, September 16, 2013).

Proposed rule

The Proposed rule reflects a DHRM that accounts for relevant data that was unavailable to CMS during prior rulemaking for DSH allotment reductions originally set to take place for FY 2014 and FY 2015 (see CMS proposes updated method to calculate ACA-mandated Medicaid allotment reductions, Health Law Daily, July. 28, 2017).

Data sources

According to the AHA,CMS plans to use its FY 2017 Medicaid DSH allotment determination, Medicaid Inpatient Utilization Rate (MIUR) data reported by states, and Medicaid DSH audit data reported by the states for state plan rate year 2013. AHA claims that because none of the listed sources are publicly available CMS cannot deliver on its intent to use transparent and readily available data. In addition, CMS has not provided states or stakeholders with the technical guidance on the calculations and data sources to be used as it indicated it would provide in its 2013 Final rule. AHA stressed that having accurate MIUR data is critical to ensuring states are treated equitably under the proposed formula and the delay in the data is a significant limitation to the accuracy of the methodology. The FY 2017 allotments are not expected to be made public until after the start of FY 2018, a further delay of information.

DSH allotment reduction cap

The AHA supports CMS’ proposal to cap DSH allotment reductions at 90 percent of a state’s allotment. The proposal would prevent any state from losing it entire DSH allotment and, therefore could receive an allotment after FY 2025, AHA said. However, AHA suggested that CMS consider a lower cap for the DSH allotment reductions because the number of states affected is likely to be small.

Uncompensated hospital care falls in Medicaid expansion states, but hospitals still worry

Medicaid expansion and other changes related to Medicaid payments are very important to the financial viability of hospitals. For example, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis, the expansion of Medicaid coverage under section 2001 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) helped hospitals by producing a nationwide decline in uncompensated care from $34.9 billion in 2013 to $28.9 billion in 2014, the year the expansion took place. At the same time, however, KFF found that despite the financial gains from declining uncompensated care, hospitals fear that these gains may be offset by a higher volume of Medicaid payments that may be lower than the actual hospital costs.

The KFF analysis confirms that most of the reduction in uncompensated care occurred in Medicaid expansion states. Specifically, in expansion states uncompensated care declined from $16.7 billion in 2013, to $11 billion in 2014, a 35 percent reduction. In non-expansion states, uncompensated care dropped from $18.1 billion in 2013, to $17.9 billion in 2014, a reduction of less than one percent.

KFF points out that the federal disproportionate share hospital (DSH) allotments, totaling $11.7 billion in 2014, will drop by $2 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2018 and by a total of $43 billion between FY’s 2018 and 2025. As a result, KFF’s survey of hospitals and their associations found a growing concern that the increase in revenue from Medicaid expansion will not fully offset the reduction in federal Medicaid DSH payments.

KFF notes that the coming reduction in DSH payments may affect safety net hospitals, in particular, due to their (1) high dependence on Medicaid DSH funds, (2) high numbers of uninsured patients, (2) few privately-insured or Medicare patients, and (4) generally weaker financial condition.

In addition to the effect of reduced DSH payments, KFF warns that hospitals may also be hurt if CMS limits Medicaid supplemental payments to hospitals in the future. This is because many hospitals rely on supplemental payments to increase payments above their actual costs. KFF believes that the impact of reductions in supplemental payments will ultimately depend on whether states will offset reductions with increases to their Medicaid base rates paid to hospitals.