Medicaid waiver applications test new administration’s policies

If CMS approves Maine and Wisconsin’s proposed Section 1115 Medicaid waivers, it will be marking a departure from the Obama Administration’s stance against work requirements and other previously unapproved proposals. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) examined provisions of state waivers that are unrelated to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) Medicaid expansion, and opined that the Maine and Wisconsin proposals could result in a loss of coverage and higher costs for consumers. Both states’ proposals are open for public comment in the month of May; if approved, implementation could take place within six months.

Work requirements

The Obama Administration opposed the imposition of work requirements as a condition of the Medicaid program, finding that it did not promote health and access to care. However, HHS Secretary Price and CMS Administrator Varma recently issued a letter to state governors, stating, “The best way to improve the long-term health of low-income Americans is to empower them with skills and employment.” Verma also said that CMS would review Section 1115 waiver requests with an eye to encouraging “meritorious innovations that build on the human dignity that comes with training, employment and independence” (see Did CMS just sound the death knell for Medicaid expansion?, March 15, 2017).

Wisconsin’s plan would require childless adults ages 19 to 49 to work or participate in job training for 80 hours per month, but would allow exemptions for mental illness, receipt of Social Security Disability, and several other categories. Maine’s proposal would require traditional adults ages 19 to 64 to participate in paid employment or approved job training for 20 hours per week, volunteer 24 hours per month, enroll at least half-time at an academic institution, participate in combined work and education for 20 hours per week, receive unemployment benefits, or provide caregiver services for a non-dependent disabled person, but only if they are planning a career in that area. If approved, they would be the first approved work requirements in the nation. Wisconsin has also proposed drug screening, while Maine has proposed premiums higher than 2 percent of income in some cases. Both states proposed eligibility time limits. No such proposals have been approved in the past.

KFF concerned

KFF expressed concern that both states admitted that coverage would decrease as a result of the waivers and that costs would increase. It noted that CMS has traditionally required Section 1115 waivers to be budget neutral, resulting in post-waiver federal costs that do not exceed pre-waiver federal costs. It is also concerned that proposals that have been tested in other states, including health behavior programs, are overly complex, and that other provisions, such as a requirement that individuals pay a premium before coverage being, create barriers to access or result in loss of coverage.

Does Medicaid work with a work requirement?

Conditioning Medicaid eligibility on a work requirement could adversely affect beneficiaries from accessing needed health coverage in a manner that is contrary to the program’s purpose—providing health coverage. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) issue brief examined the policy arguments related to Medicaid work requirements and the likely impacts of such requirements, in light of a March 14, 2017, CMS letter to state governors announcing that it will begin to use Section 1115 Medicaid expansion waivers to approve provisions related to “training, employment, and independence.”

Work requirements 

In the past several years, CMS has denied multiple requests to include work requirements as a condition of Medicaid eligibility. Those requests were made as part of states’ Section 1115 waiver requests to expand their Medicaid program under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). The requests were denied on the premise that work requirements would not further program goals of promoting coverage and access. The March 14 letter signals a fundamental change in policy for CMS.

Policy

KFF opined that the reversion to work requirements in Medicaid turns the program into a cash welfare program instead of a program focused on health care coverage. Proponents of the work requirement argue that the expansion of the Medicaid program to able-bodied adults provides a disincentive for those adults to work. Some states have advocated the inclusion of work requirements to ensure that beneficiaries have “skin in the game.” Opponents of the work requirement note that good health is a precondition of work and often an inability to access care can serve, itself, as a barrier to obtaining work.

Statistics

The vast majority (80 percent) of Medicaid adults live in working families. Additionally, more than half (59 percent) of Medicaid adults are working themselves. Thus, KFF estimated that work requirements would have a narrow reach, impacting primarily those who are already at a disadvantage and not working due to disability or caregiver responsibilities.

Did CMS just sound the death knell for Medicaid expansion?

In their first joint action, HHS Secretary Price and newly confirmed CMS Administrator Verma issued a letter to state governors discussing potential improvements to the Medicaid program. The letter underscored the need to develop cost-effective, state-specific ways to serve vulnerable populations but made clear the administration’s anti-expansion stance, noting that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) (P.L. 111-148) expansion of Medicaid “to non-disabled, working-age adults without dependent children was a clear departure from the core, historical mission of the program.”

Overall, Price and Verma emphasized their desire to grant states more freedom to design their own programs, but committed to retaining mechanisms to ensure state accountability, including budget neutrality in waivers and demonstration projects. To this end, the letter suggested fast-tracking waiver and demonstration project extensions and developing consistent guidelines for evaluating requests to waivers and demonstration projects that have already been approved in other states. Price and Verma plan to use “Section 1115 demonstration authority to review and approve meritorious innovations that build on the human dignity that comes with training, employment and independence.” Prior to serving as CMS Administrator, Verma was involved in crafting Indiana’s Healthy Indiana 2.0 expansion program. The program initially sought to impose a work activity requirement. CMS declined to approve the requirement linked directly to Medicaid eligibility, but allowed the state to encourage enrollees to participate in other voluntary state programs (see Amendment of Healthy Indiana Plan implements Medicaid expansion, Health Law Daily, February 11, 2015).

Price and Verma also noted the importance of maintaining public input processes and transparency guidelines, with respect to State Plan Amendments (SPAs) and other actions, expressed a desire to make the SPA process less burdensome. They discussed allowing states more time to comply with a 2014 Final rule regulating expanded access to home- and community-based services (see Final rule sets requirements for expanded home and community based services, Health Law Daily, January 16, 2014). They made suggestions for aligning Medicaid policies for non-disabled adults with commercial health insurance features to help them “prepare for private coverage,” including alternative benefit designs with aspects similar to health savings accounts (HSAs), designing emergency room copayments to encourage the use of primary and other providers for non-emergency care, and facilitating enrollment in employer-sponsored health plans. They also plan to work with states to combat the opioid epidemic, through state plans, the Medicaid Innovator Accelerator Program, and other methods.

Highlight on Maine: Able-bodied MaineCare recipients could be subject to more stringent requirements

“Able-bodied adults” would be subject to work/education requirements and a lifetime limit of five years under changes Mary Mayhew, director of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, proposed to Maine’s Medicaid program, MaineCare. In a letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price, Mayhew said she would be seeking the changes in a forthcoming formal 1115 demonstration waiver request.

Mayhew’s letter comes at the heels of a referendum campaign to expand Medicaid in Maine at, according to Mayhew, a cost of $400 million over the next five years. A second motivation is the apparently sympathetic Trump Administration, which has proposed replacing Medicaid with block grants.

Mayhew said that the state has expanded its Medicaid program over decades, resulting in the use of hundreds of millions of state dollars “to turn Medicaid into an entitlement program for working-age, able-bodied adults.” MaineCare serves 270,000 individuals, just over 20 percent of Maine’s population, which, Mayhew said, represents a 22 percent reduction in enrollment since 2011.

Mayhew’s Medicaid proposals include the following:

  • work or education requirements for able-bodied adults in the Medicaid program, similar to the work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
  • a five-year lifetime limitation on able-bodied adults’ eligibility for Medicaid;
  • limiting non-emergency transportation (NET) to situations where the underlying service to or from which individuals are being transported is a required Medicaid service and requiring them to access existing transportation resources before accessing NET;
  • requiring monthly premiums for adults who are able to earn income;
  • requiring monthly coinsurance of a set amount (approximately $20) for all members, cost-sharing of $20 for using the emergency department, and fees for missed appointments;
  • applying a reasonable asset test to Medicaid; and
  • waiver of the retroactive coverage of services incurred during the 90 days before Medicaid eligibility.