Insurance Coverage and Medical Care

A new organization in Utah, the Utah Alliance for the Determinants of Health, has been formed to improve overall community health by addressing social needs such as housing instability, utility needs, food insecurity, interpersonal violence and transportation. These are all non-medical factors that influence a person’s health. Public health researchers suggest that social determinants of health may account for up to 60 percent of health outcomes.

Virginia Legislature Votes for Expansion

On May 30, the Virginia Senate voted, with 4 Republicans supporting the measure, to expand Medicaid eligibility to all individuals with income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, according to the Washington Post. Later in the day, the House of Delegates approved the bill by 67 to 31. Gov. Northam, a pediatrician who campaigned in 2017 on expanding Medicaid, is expected to sign the bill.

Recent polls record the American public’s concern about health care costs—and analysis documents the increase in out of pocket costs, up 11 percent on average in 2017. Policymakers worry that national health care spending—reaching $3.3 trillion or $10,348 per person in 2016 according to the official federal estimate and accounting for 17.9 percent of gross domestic product—is unsustainable.

At a recent meeting I attended in Washington, D.C., a group of researchers and health care industry officials addressed the question “Why are Healthcare Prices So High, and What can be Done About Them?”

My biggest take aways were slides showing that 50 percent of healthcare cost increases are driven by the prices charged and that Medicare and Medicaid have been able to hold healthcare prices steady while private insurance has seen a 70% increase since 1996.

While state policy makers frequently express concern about the increasing percentage of state funds required to fund their Medicaid programs, the programs bring in large amounts of federal dollars to states. Across all states, two thirds of all federal grant funds received by states in 2017 are for Medicaid health services for low-income, disabled and elderly individuals. 

Jason Helgerson, leaving his job this week as New York Medicaid director after 7 years,  blogged in Health Affairs about the lessons he learned.  He says in the post that when his New York experience is combined with the previous 4 years as Wisconsin Medicaid director, he is the nation’s longest-serving Medicaid director. The average tenure of a Medicaid director, according to Helgerson, is 19 months.

Earlier this week, the head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Seema Verma, travelled to Arkansas and signed a waiver request to require Medicaid enrollees to work or prepare for a job. The work requirement will only impact the expansion population, specifically childless adults 19 to 49 years old. They will be required to work or participate in activities such as volunteering or vocational training for 20 hours per week. The requirement will be phased in between June and September 2018.

Both chambers in Wisconsin have passed a $200 million reinsurance plan that would provide funds to insurers for high-cost patients’ expenses to prevent ACA marketplace premium increases in 2019. The Governor has come out in support of the program and is expected to sign the bill, according to the Journal Sentinel.

CSG Midwest
The idea of requiring able-bodied adults to work or be actively seeking it as a condition for government assistance is certainly not new, but its application to Medicaid is as of January, when the Trump administration began approving some states’ applications to impose work rules as a condition of eligibility for this public health insurance program.

Open enrollment for health insurance policies sold under the Affordable Care Act marketplaces ran for 6 weeks the end of 2017. Enrollment was down from 2017 – by 3.7 percent – but nonetheless 11,760,533 Americans selected a health insurance plan for 2018.

Read about top health issues facing states in 2018. Medicaid expenditures are 30 percent of states general fund budgets and states are looking for ways to cut costs. The opioid epidemic shows no signs of letting up, increasing the need for treatment, harm reduction programs and prevention. Questions of how to provide health service to the growing aging population and rural populations are top-of-mind in many states. Finally, state policymakers are beginning to look at the social determinants of health, searching for strategies that are more preventive in nature.

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