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.

Proposed American Health Care Act could have negative financial impact on safety-net hospitals

A study by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that beginning in 2020, safety-net hospitals will see a reduction in revenue and margins as a result of cuts and spending caps by the federal government under the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Although the study believes that safety-net hospitals in rural areas of states that previously expanded Medicare coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) will be hit the hardest, it suggests that all safety-net hospitals will be affected by this proposed law.

The study reviewed 660 safety-net hospitals (hospitals that receive Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments) to determine the impact of the proposed AHCA. These hospitals provided 30 percent of all uncompensated hospital care in 2015. The ACA had previously allowed states to expand Medicare coverage to individuals under the age of 65 with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty, and the federal government provided enhanced federal funding for these newly eligible Medicare members. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia had expanded under the law.

Changes

The AHCA would eliminate the enhanced federal matching rate and the individual mandate requirement of the ACA, and beginning on December 31, 2019, the enhanced matching rate would only be given for individuals that had been enrolled by December 31 and have not lapsed coverage for more than a month. A standard federal matching rate would be provided for those enrollees after the cut-off date. Additionally, the AHCA would eliminate the ACA hospital presumptive eligibility benefit which allowed a hospital to enroll low-income patients in Medicaid and receive Medicaid payment for the services provided to these patients up to three months prior their enrollment. The study also noted that the ACHA would impose federal per-capita limits on Medicaid spending. Some changes would not be cuts or caps, such as the restoration of previous DSH cuts made by the ACA to states that did not expand Medicare, and safety net funding to non-expansion states that would supplement payments to safety-net Medicaid providers.

The study assumes that with these changes, the safety-net hospitals will see a decrease in revenue and margins, especially those safety-net hospitals in rural expansion states. It estimates that the elimination of the individual mandate will result in lower Medicaid enrollment and less individuals seeking hospital care due to lack of coverage, and assumes that this would result in revenue reduction for the safety-net hospitals. Additionally, the hospital preventive presumption and retroactive eligibility elimination could cause a loss in Medicaid revenue and hospitals could be subject to rising levels of uncompensated care. The caps on spending would also reduce the revenues and net income because the caps would reduce the federal Medicaid spending and the study assumes that the states will reduce overall spending and reduce provider payment levels. The study does note, however, that safety-net to non-expansion states and the restoration of DSH payments would increase revenues for safety-net hospitals.

The fund believes that although some of the measures may increase the revenue for the safety-net hospitals, the ACHA would overall negatively impact safety-net hospitals, with hospitals located in rural areas most affected. The study suggests that this regulation would cause these hospital margins to drop from 2.9 percent to 0.5 percent by 2026. Safety-net hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid may see uncompensated care costs double by 2016, and hospitals in rural areas of these states which have a high amount of Medicaid payers would be most negatively affected.

ACA’s Medicaid expansion helped hospitals get paid $6B more

Hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA saw large reductions in uncompensated care between 2013 and 2015, realizing estimated savings of $6.2 billion. Overall, those states’ uncompensated care burdens fell from 3.9 percent of operating costs to 2.3 percent, according to an issue brief from the Commonwealth Fund, which analyzed Medicare Hospital Cost Reports from 2011 to 2015.

Section 2001 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) expanded Medicaid eligibility to nonelderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), the Supreme Court held that states could not be required to expand Medicaid eligibility, essentially allowing states to choose whether to expand their programs. One of the purposes of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion was to reduce uncompensated care—that is, a hospital’s losses on charity care and bad debt.

The researchers compared hospital uncompensated care burdens and found a marked decline in uncompensated care costs for hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid between 2013 and 2014, and continuing into 2015. There was no similar decline in nonexpansion states. The results were found across hospitals with both high and low levels of uncompensated care prior to 2014, though hospitals with the highest levels of uncompensated care saw the largest benefit from Medicaid expansion. The researchers therefore concluded that Medicaid expansion met the ACA’s goal of reducing uncompensated care burdens for hospitals, and noted that if the 19 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid eligibility were to expand, those states would also save over $6 billion in uncompensated care costs.

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.