Tagged KFF

Despite GOP Efforts To Corral Medicaid Spending, States Expand Benefits

While congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump have been seeking major cuts in federal funding of Medicaid, 26 states this year expanded or enhanced benefits and at least 17 plan to do so next year, according to a report released Thursday.

The increased benefits were largely for mental health and substance abuse treatment, but states also added telemedicine and dental care, according to the report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the National Association of Medicaid Directors. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The number of states adding benefits was the highest in at least a decade, according to the 50-state survey. Last year, 21 states expanded benefits.

Just six states moved to cut Medicaid benefits in fiscal 2016.

Oregon last year became the first state to provide coverage for oral contraceptives prescribed by a pharmacist, rather than a doctor, with its Medicaid program, the report said.

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Four states — Louisiana, Virginia, South Dakota and New York — added cancer screening benefits such as paying for genetic testing for the BRCA breast cancer gene mutation.

Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, covers nearly 75 million people and is one of the largest programs in state budgets. States generally add benefits to Medicaid during strong economic times.

States added the benefits while Congress debated making significant changes to the program, including ending the open-ended federal spending that has been a staple of the program since its beginning in 1966. The Republican efforts, including  bills to replace the Affordable Care Act, have withered after stiff opposition from advocates and Democrats and three moderate Republicans in the Senate.

Medicaid also faces uncertainty as the Trump administration weighs whether to allow states for the first time to require non-disabled, adult enrollees to work in order to qualify for benefits. At least six states have such a request pending with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and a decision is expected before end of the year.

Robin Rudowitz, associate director for the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured, said states are adding benefits to respond to the national opioid abuse problem as well as to continue the trend to give enrollees who are elderly or have serious health problems the ability to remain in their homes longer instead of going to nursing homes. She said more states have been expanding benefits for several years coming out of the Great Recession, which ended in 2009.

“We are seeing the delayed effects of the improving economy — enrollment growth is going down … and states are increasing provider [reimbursement] rates and restoring and adding benefits,” she said.

Even while Maine, Indiana, Kentucky and other states want to add an adult work requirement to Medicaid, which will make it harder for some people to qualify, some of these same states and others are enhancing benefits, she said.

“All of this is happening against a backdrop of major uncertainty about what is going to happen at the federal level,” Rudowitz said.

After three years of supersized enrollment growth that peaked in 2015 as a result of most states expanding coverage under the ACA, Medicaid enrollment growth slowed to 2.7 percent nationally in fiscal year 2017, which ended Sept. 30, down from 3.9 percent the year before, according to a second Kaiser report also released Thursday.

Overall Medicaid spending increased 3.9 percent in 2017, up from 3.5 percent in 2016. States reported that increase reflected higher spending on such things as prescription drugs and long-term care services.

The states’ share of Medicaid spending grew by 3.5 percent also in 2017 but is expected to go up 6 percent in 2018. That increase is mostly a result of states starting to pay 5 percent of the cost of new enrollees covered under the ACA expansion. The federal government paid the full costs for those enrollees through 2016.

The survey was prepared by Health Management Associates.

Categories: Medicaid, Mental Health, States, The Health Law

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While Trump Moves to Dismantle Health Law, Public Favors Repair

President Donald Trump has collided with a wave of public disagreement by moving to strip the Affordable Care Act of provisions intended to keep insurance prices stable.

In a poll conducted before Trump’s Thursday announcement of unilateral changes to the law, 71 percent of the public said they preferred the administration try to make the law work rather than to hasten replacement by encouraging its failure. Even Republicans, by a small margin, favored a more conciliatory approach to the law, according to the poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Trump took the opposite tact Thursday, in the wake of Congress’ failure to replace the 2010 law. He announced two actions that are likely to disrupt the insurance markets for people who buy their policies on their own rather than through their employers.

First, he ordered the government to allow associations of small employers or other membership groups to band together and offer their own insurance that would not have to provide all the types of coverage required under the health law. That same executive order also directs officials to loosen rules for low-cost, short-term health insurance.

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Trump argues these changes would give consumers cheaper coverage options, while many health care experts fear it could shift insurance markets back toward their pre-ACA configuration, when healthy people paid less but people with medical conditions often found coverage unaffordable.

Second, Trump ordered the government to stop paying insurers subsidies that allowed low-income people to avoid out-of-pocket medical costs that otherwise this year can be as high as $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families. Those insurance subsidies, technically known as cost-sharing reductions, or CSRs, had been embroiled in a legal and political battle between former President Barack Obama and Republicans over whether Congress had authorized the president to pay them.

The foundation’s poll, conducted Oct. 5-10, found that 60 percent of the public thought Congress should guarantee that these payments continue. A majority of Republicans, however, considered them bailouts of insurance companies and should cease.

The poll found that 69 percent of the public favored broader bipartisan congressional compromise to continue the payments — as most Democrats desire — in exchange for allowing states to have greater (but unspecified) flexibility in what kind of plans could be sold on their marketplaces, as Republicans generally favor. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have been trying to forge a deal to stabilize insurance markets that could draw support from both parties. The poll found that support for a compromise was equally strong among independents and members of both political parties.

The poll found no such comity in the views of most other issues relating to the health law. Democrats overwhelmingly want Trump and Congress to work together to stabilize the marketplaces, while Republicans by a narrow margin prefer lawmakers resuscitate efforts to replace the law. A majority of Republicans (56 percent) are confident Trump and Congress can work together on improving health care, while only 1 in 7 Democrats (14 percent) think so. Independents leaned toward the Democrats’ skepticism.

Even before Trump’s actions Thursday, 66 percent of Democrats thought his approach was undermining the insurance markets, but only 12 percent of Republicans thought so. Among independents, 41 percent thought Trump was hurting the markets.

The poll found similar partisan divides on many of the other current debates over the law, including whether the government should fine people who do not obtain insurance and whether the federal government should spend less on advertisements encouraging people to sign up for coverage.

The federal enrollment period for 2018 coverage begins Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15.

The telephone poll included 1,215 adults. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample.

Categories: Cost and Quality, Insurance, Repeal And Replace Watch, The Health Law

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