The Case for Medicaid Expansion

I have a piece (caseformedicaidexpansion-1-23-17) in the latest issue of the North Carolina Medicaid Journal arguing for Medicaid expansion. I wrote it last fall and thought it was going to be out during the Fall. I updated it briefly earlier this month, by invoking a Meatloaf song. The piece is based on the ACA payment formula and the Urban Institute’s modelling of expansion uptake and costs that they completed late last Summer.

The looming Cassidy-Collins Senate replacement bill actually includes even more advantageous Medicaid expansion terms for States like North Carolina than the ACA had (appears to have 95% FMAP for long run instead of 90%).

If expanding insurance coverage is an important policy goal, there won’t be a more advantageous way for States to achieve that goal than a Medicaid expansion with favorable terms like those included in the ACA, or in the Republican health reform bill that seems to be picking up steam in the U.S. Senate. Much like the ACA, expect the Senate to set the terms for what can actually become law re health reform in Republican controlled Washington.

Fact checking Medicaid expansion

Will Doran, a News and Observer/Politifact reporter has given a Mostly True rating to Governor Cooper’s claim that North Carolina is already paying for Medicaid expansion.

I have long been a supporter of Medicaid expansion as anyone who has read much of what I have written will know. I have a piece coming out in the next issue of the North Carolina Medical Journal that tries to make the case for the expansion (I was written last Fall, with a light update). I consider the case for expansion to be fairly straightforward, but there are many complicated moving parts to get both the coverage and financial numbers straight, and certainly to estimate what I would call derivative effects like jobs.

Just to help identify some of the complexities, I include a copy of my correspondence with Will when he asked my advice on this Fact Check. He wrote me On Jan 11, and I answered later that night while riding in a cab in Washington DC, so its not the most beautiful prose but you get the point (I italicized and bolded my answers here for clarity & I removed Will’s email and phone number):

Will

Some answers below.

From: Doran, Will
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2017 7:51 PM
To: Don Taylor
Subject: Media inquiry on Medicaid in North Carolina

Hi Professor Taylor, I’m a reporter for PolitiFact North Carolina and the News & Observer in Raleigh. I’m working on a fact-check about Medicaid and was hoping you could answer what’s probably a stupid question that I have.

North Carolina residents and business pay 2.4 percent of the taxes the U.S. government collects. Is it safe to also say that the state’s taxpayers cover about 2.4 percent of the federal government’s Medicaid expenses? Or is the math much more complicated in reality?

Math is more complex than this. It is possible this is a reasonable estimate, but I am not sure without some work and digging.

Here is a toe dip into the complexity. Social Security payroll taxes are a key source of federal taxes paid in, but they don’t go to Medicaid expansion, and another large tax are Medicare payroll taxes that don’t pay for Medicaid expansion. Medicaid (federal share) is generally funded from general tax revenue (income taxes) and there are a variety of taxes levied by the ACA that could be thought of as paying for the expansion. This post address expansion and taxes, but doesn’t really answer your question. https://donaldhtaylorjr.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/did-gov-cooper-raise-taxes-yesterday/

This link lists the ACA taxes https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/affordable-care-act-tax-provisions1

I also have one question that’s more policy-related, if I may take up a bit more of your time. Gov. Roy Cooper has said Medicaid expansion could create tens of thousands of jobs in North Carolina. But I know other states have not necessarily had that kind of result.

Kentucky, for example, has actually lost health care jobs since accepting the Medicaid expansion – despite a study that said the state would gain jobs. Is there any reason to believe that either scenario (the job gains or the job losses) is more likely to happen in North Carolina if we accept the expansion?

I am not sure. Surely someone must have done a summary of job impacts across states? Why did you pick Kentucky? There is a new model out focused on Michigan that predicts big job impacts….but I have read some criticisms of the study say the effect projected is implausibly large. The methodology of any given study in question is important. This is not really my area, but I will say from policy standpoint that I think job gains are what I would call derivative effects and not the primary intended effect. However, leveraging Billions of dollars into the state that wouldn’t otherwise be spent in the state will either increase jobs and/or wages paid to existing employees and/or expand revenue to health care providers that can be used for other purposes (like have a better bottom line). So, you could have derivative economic benefits even if you didn’t create more jobs. I don’t know this area better in part because I don’t think of jobs as the main point of Medicaid expansion. The key issue is how important is it to expand health insurance coverage? If it is impt, there will never be a more financially advantageous way for the state to do it.

I am sorry the answers are not simpler.

Don

I appreciate any help you can give me about either of these questions. And if a phone call works better for you, my number is xxxxxxx.

Thank you.

Will Doran

PS here’s a news article on the Kentucky situation if you’re not already familiar: http://www.wdrb.com/story/30603715/kentucky-medicaid-expansion-has-not-produced-jobs-beshear-claims

 

Is there any space for a Medicaid deal in N.C.?

Yesterday, a federal judge issued a 14 day temporary restraining order against the federal government granting the Cooper Administration’s request for Medicaid expansion. I am unsure if there will be more federal judges or if this is the end of the Governor’s request, because 14 days is lots longer than the Obama Administration has left.

In the longer run, is there any space for a Medicaid deal between the Governor and the General Assembly? A few thoughts:

  • North Carolina’s pending Medicaid 1115 waiver will be taken up by the Trump Administration. I doubt a Clinton Administration would have granted it without an expansion of coverage, but who knows what the Trump administration will do on any topic. But, the executive branch implements changes to Medicaid and typically negotiates with CMS about such things. Governor Cooper has obviously shown policy initiative here whether you agree with what he did about expanding Medicaid, or not. And he has nominated a seasoned health policy professional with great experience running CMS as his own Secretary of HHS–you couldn’t ask for a more capable secretary to lead a negotiation with CMS and to roll out a reform. The General Assembly needs the Governor and his team to bring about the reforms they desire for Medicaid.
  • The Governor showed the policy priority that is coverage expansion for Democrats by stating his intent to expand Medicaid as he did, at some risk politically. That may be dead, but the winds of health reform that have blown nationally in the face of Dems politically for the past 6 years are getting ready to change 180 degrees (google loss aversion). There will almost certainly be some maintenance of extra federal monies to states for expanding coverage to low income persons (just look at the GOP Senators asking for this in States that have expanded), and if there is not a maintenance of the private insurance coverage gains that have come via the ACA, there are going to be 500,000 angry North Carolinian’s with subsidized coverage today who no longer have it. To expand coverage, the Governor will need to the General Assembly to finance North Carolina’s share of any such coverage expansion using federal money with presumably fewer strings attached than in the ACA 1.0.
  • I can think of one big idea that could improve the odds of a deal. First, assuming new flexibility for states in Health Reform 2.0, I would suggest the state saying we will work to expand coverage of low income persons and reforming the delivery system while giving the federal government the responsibility for financing Long Term Care in Medicaid, especially for the so-called dual eligibles who are covered by Medicare and Medicaid (much reading on this here). The dual eligibles are the most expensive part of Medicaid and their care wasn’t changed by the ACA, and the pending 1115 waiver doesn’t address dual eligibles. Off-loading financial responsibility for this group while taking more responsibility for low income persons in return for flexibility in how that is done is a trade that makes sense for N.C. because this effort can more directly help us move towards a stable safety net and individual insurance market to run along side our employer based insurance system.

The short, and obvious answer is that the Governor and the General Assembly need each other to achieve their goals. And the people of North Carolina need for them to figure this out. Perhaps the policy space needs to expand to work out a deal that makes sense for everyone.

Gov Cooper Plans to Expand Medicaid

North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper announced today that he will expand Medicaid via an “amendment to the State’s Medicaid program” by this Friday, setting up more conflict between him and the North Carolina General Assembly. Several quick thoughts in what I am sure is just the first step (and not the last one) in this process.

  • While running Medicaid is the essence of an Executive Branch State government function (along with education and corrections), the fact that the N.C. General Assembly passed a law in 2013 explicitly not expanding Medicaid sets up another round of conflict between the Governor and the General Assembly over the separation of powers. I have no idea of how that plays out legally.
  • Gov Cooper said he was encouraged by “people in Washington” to take this action which presumably means the Obama Administration, who could in theory act quickly on the request. Perhaps it could be undone soon by the Trump Administration, I don’t know.
  • The emerging details of the Republican “Repeal and Something…” on the ACA in Washington may have provided some of the impetus for the urgency of this action. It looks increasingly doubtful that a clean repeal will be achieved, and with vague notions from Republican leaders in Washington saying they won’t remove coverage from people or states in any replace plan, this move could redefine the baseline against which a future block grant or increased flexibility in expansion monies could be provided.
  • In policy terms, expansion would make North Carolina’s pending 1115 waiver a better policy. Here are some thoughts I have (along with my friend Aaron McKeithan) about the waiver (with me putting on my ‘benefit of the doubt’ hat; maybe Republicans could do the same and we might stumble into a deal?). Here is a past white paper I pitched  that makes the point that expansion helps to pave the way for fundamental reform of the Medicaid program and overall health care system in North Carolina. We need a reform that expands insurance coverage while moving away from fee for service in a manner that increases the value we get for the Medicaid dollar spent in our state. Again, the 1115 and expansion go together, they aren’t in opposition in policy terms.
  • Gov Cooper calls on the hospitals in the State to pay for expansion since they will benefit greatly in financial terms from expansion. There are a variety of details that can achieve such a self financing, and paying for the expansion is the easiest call ever for the hospitals of the State. For a large health system (like Duke or UNC), the magnitudes might be on the order of “we will give you $50 Million a year in return from $500 Million a year” in increased revenue.

I have a paper coming out in the North Carolina Medical Journal soon that makes the case for Medicaid expansion. The Urban Institute has the best projections/numbers on expansion. I will link up my piece and say more about the financing details when the piece comes out, but it is fairly straightforward to develop an expansion plan in which the total cost to North Carolina is self financed by the hospitals and health systems in the State..

Comment on N.C. Medicaid Waiver

Aaron McKethan and I submitted the comment linked below on North Carolina’s pending 1115 Medicaid waiver to CMS. Short version is there are some good ideas to work with, some potential problems, the most expensive part of Medicaid (dual eligibles) are excluded from the waiver and lots of reform work is needed there, and the waiver discussion gives our state a chance to reconsider Medicaid expansion–which would really allow our state to jump start state level health reform. If we committed to transparency and evaluation of the results, we could even become a national leader in this area.

pdf (Taylor_McKethan_NC_Medicaid_Waiver_Comments_7202016)

N.C. Medicaid Reform Waiver Draft

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released the detailed outline of a proposed Sec 1115 Medicaid waiver request yesterday, doing so much earlier than the June 1, 2016 deadline imposed by last year’s budget. I am travelling in England and haven’t given it a read, but will get back with thoughts as I am able.

Rose Hoban is a great source of news on this and all things health policy in North Carolina.

“This is really the end of the beginning; this is the first hurdle,” said Dee Jones, who was hired to lead the new Division of Health Benefits, which will run the new Medicaid program. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

A Few More Thoughts on N.C. Medicaid Reform

A few more thoughts expanding on my post last week on the Medicaid reform plan the North Carolina General Assembly passed yesterday:

  • North Carolina will have to get a waiver to implement this policy outline. I call it an outline because there are many details to be resolved before the initial waiver is due per the law (June, 2016); the law is 14 pages long, the waiver will be dozens if not hundreds of pages long.
  • The most likely thing to happen to North Carolina’s Medicaid program as a result of this law is nothing. I figure the passed law is 5% of the work, with 95% of the work to be done in the waiver process.
  • If Medicaid expansion is added as a part of the waiver, there is a chance to get a waiver from this policy outline that could be approved. Without expansion, I don’t think it will get approved.
  • The next President’s administration will almost surely judge the waiver. I am hearing the June, 2016 deadline is for a general outline of the waiver, and not the waiver itself to be submitted to CMS. If that is true, there is no way the Obama Administration will decide on this waiver.

North Carolina Medicaid Reform Bill Moves Ahead

The North Carolina General Assembly released what appears to be the compromise version of Medicaid reform that is poised to become law. It is similar to what was released in early August. Several big points.

  • The big idea is to allow private managed care companies to bid for the right to provide Medicaid services on a statewide basis (a bidding process will yield 3 options; full capitation), while also allowing up to 10 “provider led entities” (PLE) to bid to provide services regionally. On PLE, think big health systems and aggregations of same into new organizations here (Duke, UNC, Carolina’s Health Care, etc). The Senate wanted outside managed care companies to run a privatized Medicaid, the House wanted in-state solutions to move toward full capitated care (Sec 4, pp. 2-3). They have set up a test of the two approaches.
  • They have carved out the so-called “dual eligible” population. This makes sense in policy terms, and is something I suggested in my January, 2014 proposal for Medicaid reform along with a Medicaid expansion (they aren’t doing the expansion part). However, the dual-eligibles are also the most expensive part of the Medicaid program, primarily because they are receiving huge amounts of Long Term Care, most typically in nursing homes. The bill calls for study of how to bring dual eligibles into fully capitated plans in the future (Sec 5(11) p. 6). I don’t expect that to ever come about. Let me put it another way: if there are for profit private managed care companies who are (1) going to go fully at risk for widows in nursing homes with Alzheimer’s disease who are dual eligibles at (2) capitation rates that save North Carolina money, I want to make sure I don’t own their stock.
  • Community Care North Carolina (CCNC) gets a reprieve of sorts. They provide primary care case management and are well thought of nationally and in State, but the Senate has been desperate to get rid of them. Here is a post I wrote about 2 years ago on CCNC and statewide bidding for capitated Medicaid. CCNC can continue providing case management, but the bill imposes a contracted rate cut; they are legislating the outcome of a negotiation (Sec 7, p. 7). My hunch is that CCNC in whole, or in part, will turn up as important in some of the provider networks, most likely the homegrown PLE who will bid regionally.
  • Create a Division of Health Benefits to replace the Division of Medical Assistance, and run this program, with all employees exempt from the State Employee Act rules (Sec 13(e)(g)(1), p 10).
  • The sleeper section that I suspect will be revised. There are some very aggressive transparency provisions, that I applaud conceptually, but Sec 13(e)(9) p.10-11 says that the new Division of Health Benefits will put on their website monthly the number of enrollees by county and eligibility category for Medicaid, and the per member per month spending by category of services (itals mine). If they mean the premium the state pays to the company/PLE, then that is straightforward, but that is not what the text says. This sounds like claims based analyses (actual payments for care that the managed care company pays docs, hospitals, etc). The managed care companies will certainly consider this information to be proprietary. Reading this section makes me wonder if the NCGA really understands what they are passing.
  • The biggest fallacy in the entire bill is that the N.C. General Assembly “is not responsible for cost overruns” and so can wash its hands of future mistakes. This is how the entire enterprise has been messaged; if there are cost overruns then the state is not on the hook financially for them, but the managed care companies or or the Provider Led Entities are. That runs afoul of the provision above (if the companies have to eat the losses, why do they have to show the claims?). The impulse of the section above is that the General Assembly knows that cost if not the only important thing, but the care that North Carolinian’s receive is also important. There are some decent ideas in this bill, some bad ones, and most importantly some missed opportunities (not expanding coverage). However, the residual claimant if it all goes bad is the North Carolina General Assembly–they will never be arms length from Medicaid. It, along with education, tax code and corrections, is the fundamental essence of State Government.

New North Carolina Medicaid reform proposal

The North Carolina Senate released a revised Medicaid reform proposal yesterday, that signals the beginning of the last stages of negotiation with the House. Some highlights:

  • Instead of relying totally on private managed care companies as did the initial Senate proposal, the revised version would also allow so-called “Provider Led Entities (PLE)” also enter into capitated arrangements to cover Medicaid beneficiaries (page 1, lines 27-31).
  • Organizes the state into “at least 5 and no more than 8” regions for the purpose of Medicaid contracting, with each county having to be in one region (p 2, lines 3-5).
  • All Medicaid beneficiaries except for Dual-Eligibles must be a part of the new at-risk, capitated program. Excluding the dual-eligibles is a big deal. They are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, and are among the sickest, most expensive Medicaid beneficiaries, in large part because they are receiving lots of long term care in addition to acute care. Excluding them increases the chances this approach will be reasonably successful. However, the dual-eligibles (many posts) are also the most expensive and difficult group of beneficiaries to care for (p 3, lines 14-16).
  • The proposal insists on 3 statewide contracts between managed care companies and/or PLEs that can deliver the full benefit package in all 100 counties; the bill would allow regional contracts as well for subsets of the state in addition to the 3 statewide contracts. Providing such as expansive benefit package in all 100 counties is a big lift for any MCO and PLE (p 2, lines 15-30).
  • Medicaid beneficiaries will have at least 3 choices for open enrollment, but not more than 5 (3 statewide and up to 2 additional in a given region). The proposal also calls for auto-enroll procedures if someone doesn’t make a choice (p 2, lines 29-31).
  • Medicaid contracting for Medicaid primary care case management with Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC) would end as of April 30, 2016 (p 25, lines 15-44). The goal of the Senate (unlike the House) is to end CCNC, but I wonder if portions of CCNC will become a key part of either a statewide and/or regional PLEs?
  • MCOs or PLEs that bid are forbidden from limiting a providers ability to be a part of another bidders network (p 3, 28-29).

I put forward this white paper for Medicaid reform in North Carolina in January, 2014. I don’t have a problem with moving toward managed care, and explicitly favored allowing both managed care companies and providers (like health systems and the like) to bid for covering patients. I have always been skeptical of the grandiosity of the Republican plans (3 choices of plan in each county, rapid shifting of beneficiaries), and would prefer moving slower in terms of adding Medicaid beneficiaries into a such a system. In fact, I would start with newly insured persons covered by a Medicaid expansion (the NC Senate hasn’t proposed such an expansion), while this bill only moves existing beneficiaries without expanding coverage under the auspices of the available Medicaid expansion. This bill does exempt the dual eligibles by my read, which makes good sense.

Key questions that are floating in my mind.

  • Will BCBS NC bid? What will the State Employees Health Plan do? These two entities are the existing N.C. grown groups with the best chance of pulling off the 100 county coverage required for the statewide contract.
  • Is CCNC dead, or will they emerge as important for either a statewide bid, or more likely some regional bids? They are the existing entity in the State with the most experience of coordinating the care of Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • Will the big health systems throw in together in some type of consortia to fight off the out of state managed care companies? I would guess that yes they will.
  • What is the reform plan for the dual eligibles, the most expensive group of beneficiaries in the health care system?

We will see now what the House says.

update: revised for clarity and fixed a couple of typos

N.C. Hospitals to help finance Medicaid expansion?

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says that he is still exploring options for expanding Medicaid, including having hospitals help finance the 10% of the total cost not covered by the federal government in the out years.

“They would have to have skin in the game to cover the extra 10 percent,” McCrory said.

This comment is the strongest signal I have seen that the Governor is serious about moving ahead, because he has laid down the marker of what the hospitals who so favor expansion will have to give to get it (and they will go along under terms like this).
The simplest mechanism through which the largest hospitals (that are most typically linked to University health care systems) would be via the capping of the North Carolina sales tax exemption granted to Not for Profit organizations in the state. This post from Summer, 2013 notes that around 75% of the value of this tax exemption flowed to hospitals. During the last long session of the North Carolina General Assembly, the hospitals were at odds with the N.C. Chamber over this policy, but the real issue between them was Medicaid expansion. Essentially, they were willing to give up the heretofore unlimited state and local sales tax refund, but only if they got Medicaid expansion in return.
The tax reform passed in 2013 capped the amount of state and local sales tax refund that a Not for Profit organization (hospital, University, small 501 c 3) at $45 Million dollars, which was just above the amount that Duke (combining University and Health System) received in 2014, the biggest in the state (G.S. 105-164.14(b) see page 55).
G.S. 105-164.14(b) – Cap on Refunds for Nonprofit Entities and Hospital Drugs: This subdivision is amended to add “[t]he aggregate annual refund amount allowed an entity under this subsection for a fiscal year may not exceed thirty-one million seven hundred thousand dollars ($31,700,000).” The amount applies to refunds of State tax only. A local aggregate annual cap is added in G.S. 105-467(b) in the amount of thirteen million three hundred thousand dollars ($13,300,000). (Effective July 1, 2014 and applies to purchases made on or after that date; HB 998, s. 3.4.(b), S.L. 13-316.)
So, the General Assembly set a cap in 2013 that didn’t apply to anyone yet. Over time it will start to apply, but there are very few Not for Profit organizations that have more than several hundred thousand dollars of this refund, so dropping the cap well below $45 Million annually will most hit (1) Universities; and (2) large hospitals/health care systems. The 10 or so biggest would essentially pay the way for the rest of the hospitals, and smaller 501 3 c organizations could maintain their state and local sales tax refunds.
Inside baseball for sure, but look for this to be the way that hospitals/health systems and the Universities that own the big ones to be the way they “help pay the state’s cost of Medicaid expansion.”