Commonwealth Study Finds Access to Health Care for Low-Income Populations Varies by State

September 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Disparities, Health Reform, Medicaid 

Doctor's OfficeThe Commonwealth Fund (“Commonwealth”) has recently released its first-ever Scorecard, which provides a state-by-state comparison of the health care experiences of the 39 percent of Americans with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The report, titled Health Care in the Two Americas: Findings from the Scorecard on State Health System Performance for Low-Income Populations, finds striking disparities by income within and among states, and many news sources have quickly made these findings known to the public.

The purpose of the study was to identify opportunities for states to improve how their health systems serve their low-income populations and to provide benchmarks of achievement tied to the top-performing states. The report is based on thirty indicators of access, prevention and quality, potentially avoidable hospital use, and health outcomes, but does not analyze the potential effect of the 2010 healthcare law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). This law was designed, in part, to guarantee healthcare access for all Americans no matter where they live and the study’s lead author and Commonwealth’s senior vice president Cathy Schoen has suggested that “[w]e ought to be able to close the geographic divide … There is potential for a real leap forward.”

More specifically, the study finds that the poor in the highest-ranking states are more likely to be covered by health insurance, to have a regular source of medical care, and to get recommended preventative care. Health system performance for low-income populations in leading states is often better than the national average and better than it is for high-income populations in other states. Several news articles have pointed out that Texas is the state with the largest rate—55 percent—of uninsured low-income adults. Nine of the ten states at the bottom were in the South–other states at the bottom include Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming, all of which have refused to expand their Medicaid programs. New Jersey is ranked number 26. It is also among the states that will participate in the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.

Significantly, Commonwealth notes that having low income does not have to mean below-average access, quality, or health outcomes. Further, the Scorecard finds much less state-to-state variation in health and health care experiences among people with higher incomes.

As the ACA continues to take effect, the report is optimistic that the Act “represents a historic opportunity for states to provide better health care to economically vulnerable people by providing resources to overcome the geographic and income divide—especially for states with high rates of poverty.” In light of the Senate’s recent 100-0 vote to avert government shutdown, the date on which health care exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act will go into effect, October 1, looms ahead.

Photo, of a doctor’s office in New Orleans, courtesy of Bart Everson.

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Adventures in Health Care Cost Cutting

March 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Health Reform, Medicaid 

pasquale_frank_lg11

Expect to keep hearing more talk about health care cost cutting, despite charts like this. It’s an idee fixe of the Wall Street/Washington corridor, and will only be implemented more vigorously over time.  So perhaps we should take stock of a few cost cutting initiatives. Medicare Part D, it seems, is coming way under its projected budget.  But maybe that’s because of ”a sharp fall in the number of breakthrough drugs,” a sign that innovation in pharma is stalling.  Cost cutting triumph, or logical outgrowth of a system that fails to reward actual contributions to health?

There’s also been a lot of pressure on skilled nursing facilities to hold the line on costs.  What are we getting in return? Here’s a summary from OIG:

Skilled nursing facilities (SNF) are required to develop a care plan for each beneficiary and provide services in accordance with the care plan, as well as to plan for each beneficiary’s discharge. . . For 37 percent of stays, SNFs did not develop care plans that met requirements or did not provide services in accordance with care plans. For 31 percent of stays, SNFs did not meet discharge planning requirements. . . . [R]eviewers found examples of poor quality care related to wound care, medication management, and therapy. These findings raise concerns about what Medicare is paying for. They also demonstrate that SNF oversight needs to be strengthened to ensure that SNFs perform appropriate care planning and discharge planning.

I’m sure the health care cost cutters will use this evidence to demand the SNFs be paid even less–rather than, say, investing real funding in proper training and pay in this vital service sector.  At some point, though, costs get cut so much that Medicaid will become little more than a meaningless plastic card, and “SNF” will stand for “Scarce Nursing Forever.”

This post first appeared on HealthLawProf Blog.
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Professor John Jacobi in The Record on ‘How Medicaid expansion will help New Jerseyans’

jacobi_johnProfessor John Jacobi published a feature Op-ed in The Record, New Jersey’s most awarded newspaper, on the impact Governor Chris Christie’s decision to expand Medicaid under the ACA will have.

Professor Jacobi writes:

GOVERNOR CHRISTIE’S decision to expand Medicaid coverage to more residents will improve the health of many low-income New Jerseyans, and save the lives of some. In addition, the expansion dovetails with other reform efforts in the state, furthering implementation of innovative programs for the poor and vulnerable.

The governor’s announcement is great news for low-income individuals. The Rutgers Center for State Health Policy estimates that the expansion will lead to an enrollment increase of about 234,000 in NJ FamilyCare, which combines New Jersey’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The expansion addresses gaps in the current Medicaid system, under which many poor people were ineligible even if they had absolutely no income or assets.

The expansion will plug those gaps, allowing people to enroll so long as they are lawful residents with an income of no more than about $15,414 per year, which is about the gross income of a full-time minimum wage worker.

Health insurance coverage is important to personal health, and it is simply not true that all Americans have meaningful access to health care. As the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has found, people who have health insurance — including Medicaid — have better access to a regular source of health care. Those with no coverage, in contrast, are more likely to do without medically necessary care, particularly for chronic conditions, and to not fill prescriptions due to cost.

As a consequence, the uninsured are more likely to be in “fair” or “poor” health — and to die before their time. Medicaid expansion will keep people healthy and even save lives.

 

Read the full feature, “How Medicaid expansion will help New Jerseyans

 

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Mental Health Update: Expanding Services, But Limiting Access

February 6, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Medicaid, Mental Health 

zack-buck_4As I mentioned here last month, government leaders are turning their attention to mental health issues — focusing on diagnosis and access to treatment, in particular — in the wake of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December.  Even though it remains unclear whether or not the shooter suffered from any form of mental disorder, many leaders have argued that expanding treatment access for those suffering from mental disorders will prevent future tragedies.

As President Obama pledges to define the new mental health essential benefits under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), state leadership is also beginning to react.  Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) — the leader of the state that had cut mental health funding by nearly 40 percent from 2009 to 2012 (mentioned here) — is now leading the call to increase funding and services for those diagnosed with mental illness.

In addition to her proposal to increase funding for mental health services by $16 million in the summer of 2012, Haley has now called for an additional $11.3 million in funding for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (“SCDMH”); in fact, her total proposed budget for the SCDMH in the 2013 budget is $17 million.  Haley has been particularly outspoken on the issue, noting that “[t]here is nothing wrong with someone who has a mental health issue….  There is something very wrong when that person doesn’t get treatment….  These are good productive citizens that deserve to live good, healthy life [sic].  And if given treatment they can be incredibly successful.  If not given treatment, we as a state have failed.”

She has argued that increasing funding for mental health treatment can prevent another tragedy like the one seen at Newtown.  Treating an increase in mental health funding as an alternative to implementing additional gun control or gun safety measures, Haley mentioned that “[n]o amount of gun control can stop someone from getting a gun when they want to get it.  What we can do is control mental health in a way that we treat people.”

Undoubtedly, the increase in funding is an abrupt policy change from South Carolina’s recent history.  From 2008 to 2012, the state was cutting funding to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health by an average of $70 million per year.

Ironically, however, Governor Haley is speaking during the exact same time that all states are deciding whether or not to expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA — which would affect many individuals’ access to mental health services.  Just earlier this week, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) agreed to expand his state’s Medicaid program, while Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) has decided to opt-out of the expansion.  Corbett’s refusal made Pennsylvania the eleventh state to decline to expand its Medicaid program.  And who else is staunchly opposed to expanding her state’s Medicaid program?

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

This past summer, Governor Haley announced “via Facebook that South Carolina ‘will NOT expand Medicaid, or participate in any health exchanges’” (emphasis in original).  According to the Health Affairs Blog, South Carolina’s refusal to expand its Medicaid program would prevent more than 500,000 South Carolinians from being granted healthcare coverage.  In other words, if Haley had decided to expand her state’s Medicaid enrollment pursuant to the ACA, South Carolina’s Medicaid enrollment would increase from about 951,000 currently (which is nearly one in every five South Carolinians) to nearly 1.5 million in FY 2014.

Governor Haley’s recent positions create a situation in which the state is increasing funding for mental health service offerings in the state, but is refusing to expand coverage (paid for in whole by the federal government for three years) to many individuals who currently lack access to the services. Needless to say, positions taken on health policy issues cannot be examined in isolation.

Indeed, according to the Congressional Budget Office, if all states agreed to opt-in to the Medicaid expansion under the ACA, 13 million more Americans would have their mental health treatments covered by Medicaid.  However, given the policy positions like those of Governor Haley, this — unfortunately — remains highly unlikely.   Treatment offerings can increase, but if individuals do not have insurance coverage to pay for those services, access and receipt of those services is likely to remain largely elusive.

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Post-Federalism Medicaid?

August 18, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Health Law, Medicaid 

pasquale_frank_lg1Legal blogs have covered the Medicaid expansion in great detail. Now the law review scholarship is starting to emerge. Here’s one piece sure to make an impact: Nicole Huberfeld, Elizabeth Weeks Leonard, and Kevin Outterson on “Medicaid and Coercion in the Healthcare Cases.” From the abstract:

For the first time in its history, the Court held federal legislation based upon the spending power to be unconstitutionally coercive. Chief Justice Roberts’ plurality (joined for future voting purposes by the joint dissent) decided that the Medicaid expansion created by the ACA was a “new” program to which Congress could not attach the penalty of losing all Medicaid funding for refusing to participate. NFIB signals the Roberts Court’s interest in continuing the Federalism Revolution.

The Court relied on, seemingly modified, and strengthened at least two existing elements of the test for conditional spending articulated in South Dakota v. Dole. Clear notice and germaneness now appear to be folded into the newly fashioned yet undefined coercion doctrine, which relied on quantitative as well as qualitative analysis to determine that the Medicaid expansion was unconstitutionally coercive. The Court is now actively enforcing the Tenth Amendment to protect states from federal spending legislation. NFIB raises many questions regarding implementation of the Medicaid expansion as well as the ACA. The dockets will experience the reverberations of these open questions, as well as the Court’s invitation to explore the coercion doctrine.

For the near future, at least, the authors believe we are “plunged into Justice Cardozo’s ‘endless difficulties.’” For the long term, policymakers may want to take the advice of political science professor Andrea Louise Campbell:

[States are] ill suited to redistributive policy because they [have] an incentive to provide the lowest possible means-tested benefits in order to repel poor people and retain affluent taxpayers. The Great Recession also laid bare the devastating costs of the inability of nearly all states to run budget deficits and to engage in countercyclical spending during economic downturns. For many years, governors have urged the federal government to take on the portion of Medicaid that pays for nursing home stays for the disabled elderly.

Maybe now the time has come to federalize Medicaid altogether. Doing so would remove an enormous burden from state budgets and put an end to variations in state policy toward the poor that can have near-barbaric results. For example, in Texas, one of the states whose government plans to opt out, the working parents of Medicaid-eligible children can only get coverage for themselves if their income is below 26 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of three, that’s $4,900 in annual income. Constitutionality is no barrier to federalization of Medicaid. The only question is whether it is politically feasible.

Huberfeld comes to a similar conclusion in another paper, arguing that “medicine generally and Medicaid specifically are already on the path to nationalization” and “Medicaid should be nationalized because federalism ideals are generally not served by the current structure.”

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