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.

Seniors, disabled could find services impacted by per capita caps

The implementation of per capita caps on Medicaid funding would not account for the disproportionate amount of program spending on certain groups of Medicaid enrollees. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) issue brief on state variation in spending, issued in light of the American Health Care Act’s (AHCA) (H.R. 1628) proposed spending limits, notes that although seniors and the disabled make up 23 percent of Medicaid enrollment, 64 percent of program funds are spent on these groups.

Populations

Children and nonelderly adults with disabilities account for spending three times greater than their enrollment share, and spending on seniors is slightly more than double their enrollment share. These groups have greater health needs and use more acute care and long-term care services as opposed to those who are enrolled based only on income. Children without disabilities cost an average of $2,463 in 2011, while disabled children cost $16,802. Per enrollee spending on nonelderly adults with disabilities was $3,247, while spending for nonelderly disabled adults was $16,613 and spending for seniors was $13,249.

State programs

Spending also varied widely by state: Tennessee spent $6,945 per disabled child while New Hampshire spent $53,557. Some states spend less than $15,000 on disabled adults and seniors, while others pay $25,000 or more. This disparity stems from various coverage pathways offered to seniors and the disabled either at higher income levels or for some significantly disabled children regardless of parental income, provided at a state’s discretion. Variation in spending levels also depends on how many receive community care versus institutional care, with some states targeting home- and community-based services to those who are at risk of needing institutional care in the future. Other states offer personal care or attendant care services.

The brief pointed out that changing the federal Medicaid payment structure from guaranteed payments to states to a per capita cap could bind states to their current coverage provision, locking in these differences between states. In addition, these caps would not account for spending on newly discovered drugs or treatments, and could hamper state responses to emergency situations such as natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or issues like the opioid epidemic and the Flint water crisis. States may be forced to cut some services they have chosen to provide under their Medicaid programs due to limit federal funding, such as long-term care services, which could especially impact seniors and the disabled.

Will the AHCA affect Medicaid’s nonelderly adults with disabilities?

The changes to Medicaid under the American Health Care Act (AHCA), as approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, carries potential implications for the nearly seven million nonelderly adults with disabilities currently covered under Medicaid, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) issue brief. KFF’s issue brief describes how the AHCA would change Medicaid and offers insight on its potential effect upon nonelderly adults with disabilities by examining the type of insurance nonelderly adults with disabilities have, how they qualify for Medicaid, what their characteristics are, what services they receive from Medicaid, and how much Medicaid spends on the disabled.

The AHCA would change Medicaid in three major ways: (1) it would change Medicaid’s financing structure to a per capita cap, resulting in an estimated $880 billion reduction in federal Medicaid spending from 2017 to 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO cost estimate of AHCA) (see CBO: Republican plan saves billions as 24M lose coverage, Health Law Daily, March 14, 2017); (2) it would repeal the enhanced federal matching funds for Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA, section 2001) (P.L. 111-148) enrollees as of January 1, 2020, except for those enrolled by December 31, 2019, who do not have a break in eligibility of more than one month; and (3) it would end the enhanced federal matching funds for Community First Choice (CFC) (ACA, section 2401), which provides attendant care services for people with disabilities, as of January 1, 2020 (see ‘American Health Care Act’ earns first stamp of approval, Health Law Daily, March 9, 2017).

Here is a summary of the KFF findings:

  • Type of health insurance. Thirty-six percent of nonelderly adults with disabilities are working for pay compared to 77 percent of those without disabilities. Among those who are working, 64 percent have access to employer-sponsored health insurance, compared to 68 percent of nondisabled workers. Thirty-one percent of nonelderly adults with disabilities have Medicaid, compared to 10 percent of those without disabilities. Only 41 percent have private insurance, compared to 74 percent of those without disabilities.
  • How do they qualify for Medicaid? KFF found that some nonelderly adults with disabilities are eligible for Medicaid through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and some through a disability-related pathway based on both their low income and functional limitations.
  • Nearly 85 percent of nonelderly adults with disabilities have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($24,120 per year for an individual in 2017). Fifty-seven percent are white, 23 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Asian. About one-third of those enrolled in Medicaid have three or more functional limitations, which is more than two and one-half times the rate for those disabled who are privately insured and more than double the rate of those who are uninsured.
  • What services do they receive from Medicaid? Through Medicaid, nonelderly adults with disabilities have access to regular preventive care as well as medical care for illnesses and chronic conditions. States must provide certain minimum services for adults, such as inpatient and outpatient hospital, physician, lab and x-ray, and nursing home services. States also can choose to provide a broad range of optional services, including prescription drugs, physical therapy, private duty nursing, personal care, rehabilitative services, and case management. Most home and community-based services (HCBS) are also provided at the option of the state.
  • ACA expansion options. Section 2001 of the ACA offered states the option to expand Medicaid to nearly all nonelderly adults with income up to 138 percent of the FPL. As of 2017, 32 states have adopted the expansion. Section 2401 of the ACA created the CFC option to provide attendant care services and supports with a 6 percent enhanced federal matching funds. Eight states elected this option as of 2016. Section 2402 of the ACA also allowed states (17 as of 2015) to offer HCBS through the section 1915(i) option ( Sec. Act §1915(i)), which allows states to serve people with functional limitations that do not yet rise to an institutional level of care. Section 2703 of the ACA also created the Medicaid health homes option, which enables states (22 as of 2016) to provide care coordination services for people with chronic conditions at a 90 percent enhanced federal match for the first two years.
  • How much does Medicaid spend on people with disabilities? As of 2011, people with disabilities accounted for 15 percent of total Medicaid enrollment but 42 percent of program spending. Per enrollee spending for people with disabilities totaled $16,643 in 2011, more than five times higher than for adults without disabilities ($3,247) and nearly seven times higher than for children without disabilities ($2,463). One-half of states spend between $15,000 and $19,999 per enrollee for people with disabilities, and another third of states spend between $20,000 and $34,999 per enrollee for people with disabilities.

KFF believes that the AHCA’s per capita cap and elimination of the enhanced federal financing under the ACA expansion will put the states under budgetary pressures due to a reduction in Medicaid funds. It believes that these budgetary pressures may result in the limitation of Medicaid services for recipients, including the nonelderly disabled. KFF believes that careful consideration of the AHCA implications is warranted.

Democratic governors oppose plans shifting Medicaid expenditures toward states

Democratic governors have expressed their concerns about turning Medicaid into a block grant program, fearing that such a shift would cut access to care for enrollees. Issuing block grants would reduce federal support by providing a capped lump sum, requiring states to bear program costs that exceed the amount received.

Governors’ stance

Eleven governors have made statements opposing the reduction of federal commitment to their programs. A recurring theme appears: concern that this change will reverse the successes the programs have achieved in recent years. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) rebuffed the idea that a block grant will allow programs to weed out inefficiencies, stating that the program runs efficiently as-is and that the block grant will result in a strained state budget, reduction of benefits, and limited choices. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) noted that Medicaid provides most of the long-term care in the country, and that the aging population will require significant care in the future.

Some governors also mentioned their opposition to the idea of per-capita caps, which limits how much the federal government will reimburse a state per enrollee. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) also spoke about broad concerns surrounding replacing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) and the potential impact on vulnerable residents who rely heavily on government-sponsored care.