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Suicidality On the Rise Amongst Missouri’s Child Medicaid Population

By: Andrew Silverio, Esq.

Last month, the Missouri Hospital Association released a study which highlighted some alarming numbers relating to the rates of suicidal thoughts and actions among children covered by Missouri’s Medicaid program (available at https://www.mhanet.com/mhaimages/policy_briefs/PolicyBrief_SuicidalityChildren_0319.pdf).  Among the studies key findings was a notable increase it suicidality amongst Medicare-covered children, along with a decrease in average length of inpatient admissions after the state made a switch from traditional fee-for-service Medicaid to a managed care structure in May 2017. The study looked at 18 months of data prior to the change, and 19 after.

Specifically, the study notes that after the transition from a fee-for-service model to managed care, the average length of stay at psychiatric hospitals for children and adolescents fell from 12.5 days to 7.3, and the 60 day suicidality rate among that same population nearly doubled (30, 60, and 90 day suicidality rates all saw jumps of between 81.7% and 93.2%).  The disparities in services authorized are troubling as well – the percentage of admissions which were denied jumped 7.9 times from 3.3% to 26.4%.

Of course, there’s disagreement on the extent to which these numbers can be attributed to the switch in payment model – the Missouri Health Plan Association, which represents the three managed care Medicaid plans in Missouri, has slammed the report according to Kaiser Health News.  The disparities make sense to Joan Alker, director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, however, who says “Managed care is an effort to save money and that is done by getting rid of unnecessary care or coordinating care better, but a lot of managed care organizations cut corners.”

Whether the managed care structure is being administered poorly, unsuited for this patient population as a whole, or completely irrelevant to these alarming findings, the impact on an incredibly vulnerable patient population is too significant to ignore, and the state should consider getting to the bottom of it to be a top priority.


The New Medicare and Medicaid Bills

By: Erin Hussey, Esq.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the progressive push for Medicare-for-All. For instance, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is seeking to introduce an updated bill called the Medicare for All Act of 2019. If passed, this bill would transform the U.S. health care system as it would essentially create a “single-payer” system run by the government. Medicare-for-All has also created a lot of uncertainty. For example, Medicare does not cover certain long-term care and does not include coverage for hearing, dental, vision or foot care, but supposedly the bill proposes to add some of these benefits.

Given the uncertainty of how a Medicare-for-All model would work in the U.S., there could be more support for a bill that was introduced on February 13th, called the Medicare at 50 Act. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) introduced this bill which details a Medicare buy-in option for Americans ages 50 to 64, who have not reached the Medicare eligible age of 65. This would allow individuals in that age range to buy Medicare plans instead of purchasing on the Obamacare marketplaces if they do not have coverage through their employer, or as an alternative option if they do have coverage through their employer. Stabenow believes this will allow for lower premiums than what is offered on the individual market and the bill would allow those who qualify for the marketplace subsidies to utilize those funds to buy into Medicare. She also believes the bill would get bipartisan support and that it’s something that could work right now, whereas Medicare-for-all is a more drastic undertaking for the U.S.

To add another layer to the above, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) re-introduced a bill on February 14th called the State Public Opinion Act. This bill would allow those who are not already eligible for Medicaid to buy into a state Medicaid plan regardless of their income.

We will be watching to see how these bills play out and to see how much support they receive from both sides of the aisle.

 


SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act

By: Krista Maschinot, Esq.

It is no secret that this country has an opioid epidemic that has a rising death toll and price tag attached to it. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were approximately 63,632 deaths resulting from drug overdoses in 2016 with 40% of those deaths involving prescription opioids.1  A study conducted by Altarum, a health care research non-profit, found that the opioid epidemic, for years 2001-2017, cost this country $1 trillion.2  The total cost includes not just lost tax revenue and spending on health care, but also of lost wages, lost productivity, and social service costs.3

President Trump, earlier this week, signed into law H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act), legislation that the president states will put an “extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem.”  This bi-partisan legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 98-1 and the House by a vote of 396-14.  The hope is that this legislation will reduce the estimated 1,000 people treated in emergency rooms each day for opioid misuse and reduce the number of overdose deaths each year.   Highlights include:

  • Prohibiting the termination of Medicaid eligibility of juvenile inmates;
  • Requiring the establishment of drug management programs for at-risk Medicaid beneficiaries;
  • Requiring Medicaid to monitor concurrent prescribing of opioids and antipsychotic drugs for children along with having safety edits in place for opioid refills;
  • Requiring an opioid-use disorder screening for new Medicare enrollees;
  • Requiring controlled substances covered under Medicare to be transmitted through electronic prescription programs;
  • Requiring Medicare to cover certified opioid-treatment programs;
  • Incentivizing the use of post-surgical injections instead of opioids through increases to reimbursements at Ambulatory Service Centers.

A summary of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act can be found at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6.

Critics of the legislation claim it does go far enough to help the rising problem as it does not provide enough funding for addiction treatment.  

Have you considered ways in which your health plan can help combat this problem?  Perhaps by offering non-drug treatments for pain such as acupuncture, physical therapy, yoga therapy, or psychological interventions?   Reach out to our consulting team at pgcreferral@phiagroup.com for assistance. 

1https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html

2https://altarum.org/news/economic-toll-opioid-crisis-us-exceeded-1-trillion-2001

3Id.


Trump Administration Halts Billions in ACA Payments

By: Brady Bizarro, Esq.

The Affordable Care Act has endured quite the onslaught in the past year and a half. From seeing its outreach budget cut in half to the elimination of the individual mandate, Obamacare has really taken a beating. Now, the Trump administration has dealt another destabilizing blow to the healthcare law. On Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it would be forced to suspend some $10.4 billion in so-called “risk-adjustment payments” to insurance companies. These payments were designed to stabilize insurance markets by offsetting the cost to insurers who took on sicker, costlier patients.

This move came because of a February ruling by U.S. District Judge James Browning which held that the Department of Health and Human Services could not use statewide average premiums to come up with its risk-adjustment formula. In the view of the court, the agency wrongly assumed that the Affordable Care Act required the program to be budget-neutral. The Trump administration promised to appeal this federal court ruling, but in the meanwhile, it announced its decision to suspend billions in payments to insurance companies.

While the suspension of risk-adjustment payments directly impacts the fully-insured market, it will inevitably have a spillover effect into the self-insured market. Insurers have indicated that if these payments are not restored, they will be forced to raise premiums in 2019. You can bet that they will look to make up losses in their self-insured lines of business as well. That said, since healthier, less-costly employees tend to be in self-insured plans, the effect may not be so bad. Plans with more costly groups of employees will suffer far more.

Importantly, the Trump administration could issue a new administrative rule to address the concerns raised by the federal judge in New Mexico. It is unclear if the administration will respond, or will wait to fight the battle at the appellate level.


Freedom Blue II: The ACA’s Unlikely Ally

By: Brady Bizarro, Esq.

A few months ago, if I had told you that a republican governor of a deeply conservative state was ignoring Obamacare and was shut down by the Trump Administration, you may have called me crazy. Yet, that is exactly what the Trump Administration did to the state of Idaho on March 8, 2018. To understand why, we need to understand the bigger picture and what was really at stake in this fight.

Recall that Idaho, like many states, is facing a crisis in its state exchanges. The combined effect of the individual mandate’s elimination and rising costs for residents who earn too much money to qualify for Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) subsidies has led many healthy people to drop out of the market, leaving the state exchanges in a crisis. In response, Governor Butch Otter issued an executive order back in January that permitted health insurers in his state to sell health plans on the individual exchange that did not comply with Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) rules. Essentially, the state’s Department of Insurance (“DOI”) would have permitted plans to charge individuals more based on a pre-existing medical condition (or to deny coverage in some cases) and to impose annual and lifetime limits on claims, among other things. Blue Cross of Idaho, the state’s largest insurer, announced that it planned to sell “Freedom Blue” plans based on the new state guidance at as much as fifty percent less than typical ACA plans.

On March 8th, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) warned Idaho that if it did not enforce Obamacare, the federal government would be forced to step in to do so. This reaction surprised more political experts than it did legal experts. After all, why would the Trump Administration come to the defense of Obamacare; a law which the president and his party have long decried? The answer is because much more was at stake than Obamacare; the rule of law itself was at stake.

A fundamental legal principle is that federal laws are the supreme law of the land. This is known as the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Another well-established legal principle is that the federal government cannot commandeer the states to force regulators to enforce federal law. Essentially, states have no obligation to enforce federal law; but if they fail to do so, the federal government must step in. That is, unless the federal government decides not to intervene. Think of the example of marijuana legalization under the Obama administration. In that case, the federal government decided that it was not worth spending millions of dollars to enforce certain federal drug laws (and it largely still maintains that position under the current administration). By contrast, in the case of “sanctuary cities,” the federal government has decided to step in and enforce immigration laws that some states and municipalities are not enforcing.

Despite the different approaches outlined above, many legal experts will tell you that it is dangerous to permit the executive branch to selectively enforce the law when it wants to. That may be why the Trump administration stepped in to block Idaho’s actions. It likely decided that it was not worth setting a precedent in this case, especially because there are still other alternatives that Idaho can pursue to alleviate the issues it is having with rising premiums. We will be following this situation to see how the state responds to this latest setback.