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Tag: Medicaid

Is It Time To Charge Medicaid Members for ER Usage?

No one would deny that we’ve reached a point in public healthcare finance where tough choices have to be made about what gets covered and what doesn’t. There is, however, one fairly easy choice, and that is to reconfigure the $3 copay for Medicaid members using the emergency room.

I would propose a replacement benefit of $0 for the first visit and $20 for each subsequent one, in a given calendar year. Not every state, but any state that reaches certain thresholds for physician access or urgent care availability may switch to this policy.

Here are the arguments in favor. First, each $3 visit costs the state and federal government about $500.  There are few discretionary or semi-discretionary patient decisions that cost so little to trigger so much taxpayer spending.  (Hospitalizations have that kind of ratio, but a patient can’t check himself into a hospital the way he can visit an ER.)

Second, one must consider the historical context. The $3 copay (“$3” is a shorthand for $0 to $10 — I don’t think it is over $10 anywhere) is a vestige of the bad old days when it was very difficult to find physicians who accepted Medicaid patients. That is still the case in some locales; they would not be eligible for this waiver. The world has changed, but the copay hasn’t.

Third, ER utilization rates in the TANF population, which because of its average age is generally pretty healthy, far exceed that of the commercially insured population. This is despite the fact that TANF members in general cost much less than commercially insured people, a gap that widens still further once birth events are removed from the calculation. Clearly there is much excess utilization.

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Roundup of State Ballot Initiatives on Health Issues

This November, voters weighed in on an array of state ballot initiatives on health issues from medical marijuana to health care reform. Ballot outcomes by state are listed below (more after the jump).

Voters in Alabama, Montana, and Wyoming passed initiatives expressing disapproval of the Affordable Care Act, while a similar initiative in Florida garnered a majority of the vote but failed to pass under the state’s supermajority voting requirement. Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative prohibiting the state executive branch from establishing a health insurance exchange, leaving this task to the federal government or state legislature.

Florida voters defeated a measure that would have prohibited the use of state funds for abortions, while Montana voters passed a parental notification requirement for minors seeking abortions (with a judicial waiver provision).

Perhaps surprisingly, California voters failed to pass a law requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food. Several states legalized medical marijuana, while Arkansas voters struck down a medical marijuana initiative and Montana voters made existing medical marijuana laws more restrictive.

Colorado and Washington legalized all marijuana use, while a similar measure failed in Oregon.

Physician-assisted suicide was barely defeated in Massachusetts (51% to 49%), while North Dakotans banned smoking in indoor workplaces. Michigan voters failed to pass an initiative increasing the regulation of home health workers, while Louisiana voters prohibited the appropriation of state Medicaid trust funds for other purposes.

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Obamacare Is Still Vulnerable

President Obama has won reelection, and his administration has asked state officials to decide by Friday, November 16, whether their state will create one of Obamacare’s health-insurance “exchanges.” States also have to decide whether to implement the law’s massive expansion of Medicaid. The correct answer to both questions remains a resounding no.

State-created exchanges mean higher taxes, fewer jobs, and less protection of religious freedom. States are better off defaulting to a federal exchange. The Medicaid expansion is likewise too costly and risky a proposition. Republican Governors Association chairman Bob McDonnell (R.,Va.) agrees, and has announced that Virginia will implement neither provision.

There are many arguments against creating exchanges.

First, states are under no obligation to create one.

Second, operating an Obamacare exchange would be illegal in 14 states. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia have enacted either statutes or constitutional amendments (or both) forbidding state employees to participate in an essential exchange function: implementing Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates.

Third, each exchange would cost its state an estimated $10 million to $100 million per year, necessitating tax increases.

Fourth, the November 16 deadline is no more real than the “deadlines” for implementing REAL ID, which have been pushed back repeatedly since 2008.

Fifth, states can always create an exchange later if they choose.

Sixth, a state-created exchange is not a state-controlled exchange. All exchanges will be controlled by Washington.

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The Future of Health Care in Obama’s Second Term

Although members of the Obama team are now celebrating their election victory, the next four years will not be smooth sailing. Ignoring the campaign rhetoric, there is still much more work to be done in order to reshape our health care system; the effect on academic medical centers and teaching hospitals will be significant.

The political conscience is still being driven by the fear of the fiscal cliff, which dominates most Washington conversations. Both political parties agree that health care is a significant contributor to our present and future deficit and that we have to figure out how to deliver more care at a lower cost. But, they argue about what to call it, who gets credit, and whether the solution is bigger government involvement or a dominant private market?The potential cuts to NIH funding and graduate medical education support do not go away with another four Obama years. We anticipate that the president will reform the tax code and transform how we deliver health care. The latter will be his lasting legacy.

However, in all this chaos, there are opportunities. While we no longer hope for a bipartisan middle ground on health care — and rancor will certainly escalate if President Obama is reelected — to many people, the Affordable Care Act is starting to look like a tangible business opportunity. Every insurer is looking at the 30 million uninsured people who will receive coverage through a mix of subsidized private insurance for middle-class households and expanded Medicaid for low-income people. These new markets could be worth $50 billion to $60 billion in premiums in 2014, and as much as $230 billion annually within seven years. The structure and implementation of these programs present specific challenges for AMCs.

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Setting the Record Straight on Medicaid’s “Success”

In last Sunday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman extolled the virtues of Medicaid. Here are some excerpts from this astonishing column:

“Medicaid has been more successful at controlling costs than any other major part of the nation’s health care system.”

“How does Medicaid achieve these lower costs? Partly by having much lower administrative costs than private insurers.”

“Medicaid is much more effective at bargaining with the medical-industrial complex.”

“Consider, for example, drug prices. Last year a government study compared the prices that Medicaid paid for brand-name drugs with those paid by Medicare Part D — also a government program, but one run through private insurance companies, and explicitly forbidden from using its power in the market to bargain for lower prices. The conclusion: Medicaid pays almost a third less on average?”

In the days since this column was published, I have spoken with many experts on Medicaid who are uniformly appalled by it. While I may not reach the same audience as the New York Times (at least not yet!), I feel compelled to set the record straight on Medicaid’s “successes.”

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Healthcare Law on the Ballot

Ezra Klein is right. In a recent Washington Post column, the left-leaning policy wonk laid plain that the future of ObamaCare is at stake in next week’s elections. If President Obama wins and Democrats hold the Senate, the Affordable Care Act will survive. If Mitt Romney wins and Republicans take the Senate, the law is dead. It is the starkest of differences.

How likely is each scenario? At this moment Democrats have the advantage. According to Real Clear Politics, the president is running slightly ahead in six out of ten battleground states. He could actually lose seven of these, but still be reelected if he hangs onto Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

While key Senate races have tightened, such as Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Democrats have a slight advantage there too. If the elections were held today, Republicans would fall two seats short.

What would this future look like?  Implementing ObamaCare would be accelerated. HHS and states will have less than fourteen months to finalize major provisions of the law before they take effect on January 1, 2014.

Thousands of pages of regulation will be released shortly after the election, on everything from IRS rules for employers to essential health benefits to covering pre-existing conditions. It remains to be seen how prescriptive these regulations would be.

State officials will have to submit a blueprint for their insurance exchanges by November 16th. They will need to decide if they will create and exchange and how it will be designed.

They will also have to decide whether to expand their Medicaid programs, and they’ll need to determine essential health benefits and benchmark plans for the insurance options to be sold through their exchanges.

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Laughing at the Chutzpah of the Right on Medicaid

There’s no one that pisses off the right in this country as much as Paul Krugman, and there’s nothing that pisses off the right as much as welfare for the poor. So when Krugman wrote recently in the NY Times supporting a program that is welfare for the poor, and describing how Romney/Ryan would decimate it, well you can expect an explosion from the GRWC. Yes the topic of today’s right-eous indignation is Medicaid.

The place to go to see that explosion is the comments section of John Goodman’s blog. That’s the halcyon world where the poor are oppressed by government programs and would much rather be set free to swim in the happy waters of the free market. Goodman proves to himself that studies showing that people without health insurance on average die prematurely must be wrong because they’re not seen in any “credible, peer-reviewed social science journal” — just in biased rubbish like the American Journal of Public Health and reports from the crack-smoking wackos at the Institute of Medicine.

Having read the comments on Goodman’s article I’m very surprised that Heartland’s Peter Ferrera hasn’t gone on welfare to show how it’s now a guaranteed path to unlimited riches (as opposed to say the tough job of taking payola from a convicted felon) and that Goodman himself hasn’t rejected his health insurance and gone naked on the income of the single mom & waitress in Dallas that Uwe teased him about a few years back. After all it would give him so much buying power to impact the market!

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Ensuring the Long-Term Viability of Health Insurance Exchanges

November 16 marks the deadline for states to submit their plans for establishing a health insurance exchange—or HIX—either on their own or with some level of assistance from the federal government. For those states, a majority, according to Kaiser Family Foundation research, have yet to set up a HIX or develop concrete plans to do so. That’s an uncomfortably tight timeline in which to make some tough decisions.

According to the Supreme Court’s June ruling on the Affordable Care Act, states will no longer forfeit federal funding for Medicaid if they choose not to expand their Medicaid programs to all residents with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Nevertheless, they must ensure coverage for an estimated 16 million currently uninsured people with an income between 100 percent and 400 percent of that poverty level. And by October 2013, each state needs to demonstrate that it has a HIX in place that can provide such cover: A user-friendly, one-stop shop for affordable healthcare, or affirmatively state that it intends to participate in the Federal exchange..

A HIX needs to have sufficient scale to support large and balanced risk pools. But there may not be sufficient numbers of uninsured state residents to make the HIX viable, particularly if a state is small, or has an extensive Medicaid program already in place. How will such states attract and sustain enrollment? How will they attract payers?

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Hey, Known Spender!

The most remarkable thing about Health 2.0 this time around, at least for me? The growing number, and percentage, of attendees old enough to get a reference like “Hey, Known Spender.”

If that wordplay evokes the trumpet blare of the brass band that accompanied one of the more pernicious and offensive TV ad campaigns of the 1970s (derived from the 1966 musical Sweet Charity), then you would have had more company than usual at last week’s 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

For all you Gen X’ers, Y’ers, and Millennials pitching your ever more nifty wares this time around: those horrific ads featured a slinky woman – made-over from the ‘60s musical’s stripper chorus to a ‘70s “empowered” glamour-gal – crawling all over some dude in a tux and singing “Hey, Big Spender, spend a little time with me.” The ads were unambiguous proof that American culture’s direct equation of cash and sex pre-dated the 1980s.

The “Known Spenders” who spent a little time at Health 2.0 this year were, for the most part, old enough to remember that ad. And they are actually make a living today working in corporate health care jobs. They’re the people they call “The Suits” in Hollywood, and they can actually get your products out of beta and into the real world. The slow steady creep of relevance not just of Health 2.0 as a marker of the market, but of the entire dream of consumer health IT, can be measured by the slow steady influx of the salt-and-pepper folks my own age who work for health insurance companies, employer groups, hospital systems, and drug companies. Six years ago, at the inaugural 2.0, The Suits were nowhere in sight. This year, they were everywhere you looked, kicking tires and taking business cards. Skepticism was abundant among those I talked with, as it should be with industry lifers who have endured two full cycles of health IT hype. (Healtheon and Revolution Health were the market toppers of valuation, grandiosity, and absurdity; if the current boom goes bust, we lifers know exactly who it will be.)

Among the two dozen or so people I’ve known over the years and who have yet to be paroled from health care, the consensus at 2.0 was “these are mostly good products, not companies, there is too much overlap, they have too narrow a scope of functionality, and many need to be rolled up. But a few actually have replacement revenue potential.”

As for the first part of that consensus, nothing new here. Nor anything new about the classic chicken-and-revenue problem that has hampered Health 2.0 start-ups from the start. I’m hardly the first, and surely won’t be the last, to point out the obvious: health care is not lacking for great consumer information products, services, systems, or apps; those products etc. are lacking users, adoption, exposure, traffic, critical mass, revenue. By “revenue” I mean “cash,” from paying customers, not promises, sales pipelines, booked revenue, or even signed contracts with guarantees. And I certainly don’t mean investors’ cash. I’m talking about revenue from consumers, patients, providers, or any of the myriad third parties who are spending money today – just not happily.

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Behind The Numbers, A Diminishing Sense Of Urgency

After a summer of disappointing economic news, the recent Census report on the uninsured was a rare bit of sunshine.  The number of uninsured Americans declined by about 3 percent, or 1.34 million, to 48.6 million in 2011.  This was the largest one-year numerical decline in twelve years.  There were “only” about 1.7 million more uninsured in 2011 than there were in 2006, before the devastating recession.

Medicaid’s vital role. The search for policy fingerprints on these findings points directly to Medicaid. For all the controversy over this program, the safety net did its job.  Medicaid enrollment rose another 4.4 percent in 2011, or 2.2 million people, likely masking continued shrinkage in private insurance coverage.   If Medicaid rolls had not expanded by 10 million folks from 2006 to 2011, the number of uninsured would have soared due to the recession.

Digging deeper into the Census numbers, one surprise was the relatively modest decline in the number of uninsured between the ages of 19 and 25, about 540,000, or about 40 percent of the overall drop. The reported reduction in the uncovered 19-25 year olds falls far short of the 3.1 million newly covered GenY’ers claimed by the Department of Health and Human Services due to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to retain them on parents’ health policies.

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