Medicaid plans as shifting as the sands, states weighing options

State Medicaid programs continue to change in response to various factors, from Florida changing its hepatitis C treatment policy to favor patients, to non-expansion states considering the financial impact of potential options. Louisiana just began enrolling the newly eligible this week, and the state projects that many more will seek coverage. South Dakota’s governor is employing some creative techniques to argue that expansion will not cost the state additional funds, and North Carolina is trying to shift plan oversight to outside organizations.

Florida and Hepatitis C

Florida is now providing vital medications to Medicaid patients with hepatitis C at an earlier stage of the disease. In the past, patients have only been offered the drug when they were at fibrosis level three or four, which indicates a high level of scar tissue in the liver and is sometimes the point where patients are in need of a transplant. These drugs are expensive to the program, costing as much as $31,000 each month. Florida amended its program criteria on June 1, 2016, removing the fibrosis level from the criteria.

Louisiana, welcome to Medicaid expansion

Louisiana opened its enrollment process to those newly eligible under the program’s expansion on June 1. The Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) projects that about 375,000 individuals will eventually receive coverage under the expansion, although the department has been communicating with about 175,000 people about qualification. It is uncertain what effect this will have on other Louisiana health issues, such as doctor training programs. Budgetary problems, including proposed cuts to hospitals, is causing residents to go out of state for training- where they are likely to stay. Safety net hospitals, which treat many poor and uninsured patients, are particularly concerned about the reduction in funding as the state legislature attempts to resolve a budget shortfall.

Utah’s expansion comes with much less fanfare

After Utah’s legislature decided to pass a very reduced expansion plan, one that Democrats bemoaned as a “cruel trick” and “fiscal insanity,” little has been said about the matter–an extreme contrast to years of fighting over the plan of action. The plan will provide coverage to somewhere around 10,000 citizens, a reduced estimate from the original 16,000 tally. Officials expect that the money to be invested in the expansion will not stretch far to cover very many residents due to the high health costs associated with those who have gone without care. Although there has been an opportunity for hearings and public comment, the state has received little input. Some blame the timing of hearings, which would require those interested to come in during a workday, while others believe that the public feels that the legislature is uninterested in their opinions.

North Carolina seeks waiver

North Carolina is requesting that CMS allow it to transfer Medicaid oversight to three managed care organizations and provider-led entities. Although a representative felt that the state provider community has embraced the plan, the state legislature is less than united. The state Senate recently unanimously rejected House changes to its reform bill, which would require the state agency to provide progress reports and disclose a work plan for changes to be made to state health care programs.

South Dakota wants to expand Medicaid without spending more money

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) believes that he can figure out how to expand the state’s Medicaid program to cover about 50,000 more citizens without increasing state spending. Although he believes the math can work if the federal government shoulders more Medicaid costs for Native Americans in the state, the governor is concerned about pushback from the legislature.

Highlight on South Dakota: ‘Three strikes, you’re out’ drug testing for welfare proposed

South Dakota State Senator, Phil Jensen (R-Rapid City) has introduced  legislation (S.B. 153) that would require the state’s Department of Social Services (Department) to develop and implement a drug testing program that randomly tests 2 percent of adults applying for cash benefits under the state’s temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program at the time of their application.

A previous bill, H.B. 1076, which failed in the South Dakota House Human Services Committee in a 9-4 vote at the end of January 2016, was introduced by state Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-Rapid City), and would have required all welfare applicants to submit to, and pay for, a test for illicit drugs. Under H.B. 1076, if the applicant failed the test on the first attempt, benefits from both the TANF program and the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) would have been withdrawn for a period of one year.

Under the TANF drug testing program (S.B. 153), an applicant who is found to have tested positive for the use of a controlled substance that was not prescribed for the applicant by a health care provider must be tested again within 45 days. If the applicant tests positive a second time, the Department must give the applicant information on available drug treatment programs, and the applicant must be tested again within 45 days. If the applicant tests positive a third time, the applicant then becomes ineligible to receive TANF benefits for a period of one year. The applicant will also be required to pay the cost of each test where the applicant tests positive through a reduction in benefits.

According to the Rapid City Journal, Rep. DiSanto’s proposed bill was not only criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, but by Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, who described H.B. 1097 as “somewhat insulting.”

In a letter to the Journal, Senator Jensen said that his “kinder and gentler” version of H.B. 1076 “protects children from drug usage in the home and makes sure that benefits actually reach them.” The Journal reported, however, that State Rep. Karen Soli (D-Sioux Falls) opposes S.B. 153 as much as she opposed H.B. 1097, calling both bills examples of “poor-shaming.”

S.B. 153 has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for further action.

Thirteen States, Including IL, FL, CA, See Opportunity to Make Medicaid Cuts

Amid the Obama Administration’s encouragement for states to expand their Medicaid rolls per the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148), 13 states have implemented cuts to the program or are preparing to implement reductions in provider payments and benefits offered to Medicaid recipients. Some states may have seen June’s Supreme Court decision, requiring that states be allowed to opt-out of PPACA’s Medicaid expansion scheme, as an opportunity to scale back their Medicaid programs.

Eligibility Requirements

While the decision did not specifically state so, some state level officials have interpreted the lifting of the Medicaid expansion requirement as the lifting of the PPACA-imposed prohibition from altering their Medicaid eligibility requirements. Wisconsin has already changed its policy to deny Medicaid coverage to non-pregnant adults who are both offered affordable employer-sponsored coverage and have an income that exceeds 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Some adult recipients must also be responsible for paying new or increased monthly premiums. Wisconsin officials estimate these changes will save the state around $28.1 million.

Other states that have made changes to their eligibility requirements since the PPACA decision or are preparing to do so include the following:

  • Hawaii–Non-pregnant adults will no longer be eligible for Medicaid if their income exceeds 133 percent of the FPL (the limit was formerly 200 percent of FPL).
  • Illinois–Parents’ income must not exceed 133 percent of FPL (formerly 185 percent of FPL).
  • Connecticut–Plans to limit adult coverage to those with less than $10,000 in assets, not including one car and a home, and to calculate income for adult children aged 19 – 25 living at home by including their parents’ assets and income.
  • Maine–Plans to reduce parental eligibility to 100 percent of the FPL (currently 200 percent of FPL) and to do away with coverage for 19 and 20-year olds.

Drug Benefits

Currently, 16 states limit the monthly amount of drugs that recipients can obtain through their Medicaid programs. Four states have increased prescription drug copays and/or imposed monthly caps since the PPACA decision was issued:

  • Alabama–With the exception of long-term care patients and HIV and psychiatric drugs, Medicaid beneficiaries were limited to one brand name drug through July 31. Now, beneficiaries are limited to four brand-name drugs monthly.
  • California–Implemented $1 and $3 copays for specific drugs.
  • Illinois–Program recipients are now limited to four prescriptions monthly, in addition to being subject to increased copays. Recipients may seek state approval to receive more than four drugs.
  • South Dakota–Beneficiaries must now pay copays of $1 for generic drugs and $3.30 for brand name drugs.

Other Cuts

In addition to budget-saving measures surrounding prescription drug benefits and program eligibility, states have implemented a variety of other cost reductions since the June decision, including provider payment cuts, emergency room copays, and reductions in coverage. Among those cuts are the following:

    • Alabama–Physician and dentist reimbursement has been reduced by 10 percent. The frequency of routine eye exams has been reduced to one every three years, and eyeglass coverage has been completely eliminated.
    • California–Payment rates have been frozen for nursing facilities while private hospital reimbursement has been reduced by $150 million. Clinical laboratory reimbursement has been lowered by 10 percent.
    • Colorado–Copays and enrollment fees, to be determined by family income, have been added to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Nursing home reimbursement rates have been reduced by 1.5 percent, and orthodontics coverage has been limited.
    • Florida–Reimbursement rates have been lowered by 1.3 percent for nursing facilities and 5.6 percent for hospitals. Florida is planning to reduce the allowable number of home health visits for non-pregnant adults to three per day maximum, emergency room visits to six per year maximum, and primary care visits to a maximum of two monthly, pending federal approval.
    • Illinois–Reduced reimbursement to non-safety net hospitals by 3.5 percent and to non-physician, non-dentist providers by 2.7 percent. Routine dental care and chiropractic services are no longer covered. Beneficiaries who visit an emergency room for non-emergency purposes now incur a $3.65 copay.
    • Louisiana–Payments have been reduced by 3.7 percent to dialysis centers and dentists, 3.4 percent to non-primary care physicians, and 1.9 percent to mental health providers.
    • Maine–Services obtained at ambulatory surgery centers and sexually transmitted disease clinics will no longer be covered. With the exception of pregnant women, smoking cessation products will also not be covered.
    • Maryland–Payments to hospitals have been lowered by 1 percent and by 2 percent for nursing facilities.
    • New Hampshire–Hospital reimbursement has been reduced by $160 million.
    • South Dakota–Coverage for non-emergency adult dental services has been limited to $1,000 per year.

 

Connecticut Proposes Deaf Child Bill of Rights to Address Education Gap

Deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) children generally do not differ cognitively from their peers in a way that would prevent them from learning the same material just as well. So why is it that in Connecticut, as well as other locations, children with hearing disabilities appear to be falling behind hearing children in state tests? In 2011, approximately 71 to 81 percent of children with hearing disabilities failed to reach state standards in Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs) and Connecticut Academic Performance Tests (CAPTs). Comparatively, between 35 to 58 percent of hearing students failed to meet the goals.

The answer, according to advocates for deaf and HOH persons, is not the disability itself, but the manner in which the children are being taught.  According to Terry Bedard, president of Hear Here Hartford, a deaf advocacy group, “Their needs are not being addressed in the way they should be, and that’s resulting in this wide achievement gap.” Advocates believe that since there is a relatively “low incidence” of hearing disabilities, they are commonly overlooked. In Connecticut, approximately 700 children are registered with the education department as having a hearing disability; however, the number could be greater since such students are not tracked carefully.

Consequently, the Connecticut General Assembly’s education committee will be considering legislation this term to address the gap. “A Deaf Child Bill of Rights,” introduced by the Connecticut Council of Organizations Serving the Deaf, would focus on an individualized education program (IEP) centered around each student’s communication and language needs. Each student’s IEP would be connected to a formal “Language and Communication Plan” that would address that child’s specific needs. The measure would also require that the team implementing the IEP includes at least one educational professional who specializes in hearing disabilities. The bill would compel the state to execute a more specific tracking system in order to better identify hearing disabled children and chart their academic progress.

If the bill is passed, Connecticut will be the 12th state in the country to implement a deaf child bill of rights, joining California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Texas.