The Center's work on 'Health Policy' Issues

The Center works to ensure that federal and state health insurance programs provide coverage that meets the health care needs of low-income children and families, as well as seniors and people with disabilities. The Center also works to remove barriers preventing eligible families from gaining access to health coverage.


Wisconsin and Wyoming Tally Fiscal Cost of Rejecting Health Reform’s Medicaid Expansion

August 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Recent budget reports from Wisconsin and Wyoming show that their failure to adopt health reform’s Medicaid expansion is costing them millions of dollars in forgone budget savings.

In Wisconsin, the legislature’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that the expansion, which covers non-elderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty line, would have saved the state $206 million in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years combined.

Governor Scott Walker chose instead to extend Medicaid coverage to adults only up to 100 percent of the poverty line through a separate waiver.  This means that the federal government is paying for the expanded coverage at the state’s regular Medicaid matching rate of 59 percent, rather than the much higher matching rate for health reform’s Medicaid expansion.  (For states that expand to 138 percent of poverty, the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the cost through 2016 and no less than 90 percent thereafter.)  The difference in matching rates is the main reason for the $206 million in forgone savings.

Wisconsin could still save between $261 million and $315 million over the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years by adopting the expansion during next year’s legislative session, the report estimates.  Gov. Walker has justified his opposition to it by arguing that the federal government would ultimately renege on its financial commitment, but those fears are unfounded.

In Wyoming, the state health department projects that the Medicaid expansion would save the state $50 million a year on other health programs for low-income uninsured residents.  As a result, Governor Matt Mead is moving to advance the Medicaid expansion during the coming legislative session.  More than 17,000 uninsured residents would gain access to coverage under the expansion, the Urban Institute estimates.

The 27 states (including Washington, D.C.) that have adopted the Medicaid expansion are already seeing dramatic gains in health coverage and reductions in the cost of providing uncompensated care to the uninsured.  Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the other 22 states that have not done so could realize similar benefits.

States Seeking to Expand Medicaid Through Waivers Can Learn From Arkansas, Iowa, and Michigan

August 22, 2014 at 11:05 am

The federal government is considering proposals from Pennsylvania and Indiana to adopt health reform’s Medicaid expansion through a demonstration project, or waiver, and New Hampshire will soon submit its own.  The experience of the three states — Arkansas, Iowa, and Michigan — that have expanded through a waiver suggests that while the federal government will work with states to craft reasonable expansion plans, there are limits to the programmatic flexibility it will grant, as we explain in a new paper.

Waivers provide states with additional flexibility in how they operate their Medicaid programs, but they cannot be used to impose onerous requirements that make it difficult for eligible individuals to gain and maintain Medicaid coverage.  This principle has informed how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has responded to waiver proposals so far.

Among the takeaways:

  • States may not disenroll people with incomes below the poverty line for non-payment of premiums.  While Iowa has received approval to charge beneficiaries with incomes between 50 and 100 percent of the poverty line modest premiums starting in 2015, the state will waive premiums for individuals who complete health risk and wellness assessments or attest to financial hardships.  Importantly, the state cannot disenroll individuals from coverage if they do not pay their premiums.
  • States may not require individuals to pay cost-sharing charges above what is allowed under Medicaid rules.  Medicaid cost-sharing rules provide states with significant flexibility while providing significant protections for beneficiaries that are intended to minimize barriers to necessary health care services.  The rules include special protections barring cost-sharing for children and pregnant women and for certain services such as family planning, emergency services, and maternity care.  People with incomes above the poverty line may be charged higher amounts, and providers cannot deny services to people with incomes below the poverty line who cannot afford to pay.  States must apply these protections to the newly eligible adults regardless of whether states expand Medicaid through a waiver.
  • States may not overly restrict certain benefits.  States have significant flexibility regarding benefits for newly eligible adults and can largely align their benefits with the benefits that private market plans provide.  Still, HHS has provided very limited waivers of Medicaid benefits.  And in Arkansas and Iowa, which are enrolling some or most of their expansion populations in private plans offered in the health insurance marketplaces, HHS has required that states augment marketplace benefits to ensure beneficiaries have access to the same benefits than if they were enrolled in regular Medicaid.
  • States can’t condition Medicaid eligibility on employment or participation in work search activities.  In December 2013, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett proposed a Medicaid expansion waiver that would require anyone working fewer than 20 hours a week to register with the state’s unemployment compensation program and engage in 12 work search activities per month to remain eligible for Medicaid coverage.  Those judged not to be in compliance would have their health coverage revoked.  Gov. Corbett subsequently submitted a revised proposal to HHS that would charge beneficiaries differential premiums based on whether they are working or engaged in work search activities.  In response to Pennsylvania’s proposal, HHS has indicated that it is unlikely to approve waivers that condition either Medicaid eligibility or premium amounts on compliance with work search or other work-related activities.

Click here to read the full paper.

Federal Medicaid Matching Rates Have Remained Stable, New Study Shows

August 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Some state policymakers opposed to health reform’s Medicaid expansion continue to argue that the federal government will likely renege on its commitment to permanently pick up nearly all of the cost.  Some assert that Congress frequently changes the formula that determines what share of states’ Medicaid costs the federal government will cover (also known as the FMAP).  As we noted in February, that’s false, and a new report from the Urban Institute concurs.

The report finds that policymakers have only cut the FMAP once, in 1981, when President Reagan and Congress enacted a temporary cut.  The most recent FMAP changes were temporary increases to give states fiscal relief during the past two economic downturns.

States are headed down divergent paths based on whether they have expanded Medicaid.  The 27 states (including the District of Columbia, see map) that have taken up the Medicaid expansion are experiencing large gains in health coverage.  As a result, hospitals are providing much less uncompensated care than just a year ago.

Unfounded concerns of a future drop in the federal matching are no reason for the remaining states to stay on the sidelines and miss out on the many benefits of expansion.

CBO Findings Refute the Medicare Part D Myth

August 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm

The Medicare drug benefit’s lower-than-expected costs do not reflect efficiencies produced by competition among private insurers, as we’ve repeatedly explained.  The main factors were the slowdown in per-capita drug spending throughout the U.S. health care system and lower-than-expected Medicare Part D enrollment — and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concurred with our analysis in a recent report, finding:

  • National drug spending growth fell unexpectedly because many drugs went off-patent, the use of lower-cost generic drugs increased substantially, and fewer new drugs, which tend to be more costly, came to market.  National drug spending in 2012 was therefore much lower than what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ actuaries projected in 2003 when the Medicare drug benefit was enacted.  CBO states that “spending per beneficiary in Part D has been lower than CBO projected in part because of those developments affecting nationwide drug spending.”
  • Part D enrollment was also lower than CBO projected — by 12 percent, in 2012.  CBO originally assumed that participation in the drug benefit would be similar to enrollment rates in Medicare Part B.  But CBO now believes that Part D participation is lower than in Part B likely because Medicare beneficiaries must actively enroll in the drug benefit — which can reduce participation — while eligible individuals are automatically enrolled in Part B and must actively opt-out.
  • CBO thus concludes: “Taken together, the unexpected slowdown in national drug spending per person and smaller-than-expected enrollment in Part D can account for nearly all of the difference between CBO’s original estimate and actual Part D spending” (italics added).

That’s all consistent with our analysis as well as that of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that there “is compelling evidence that factors other than competition offer the best explanations for the lower-than-expected spending trend” in Part D.

The Tax Rules That Health Care Assisters Need to Know

July 31, 2014 at 4:39 pm

“Navigators” and others helping people apply for health coverage need to understand basic tax filing rules because eligibility for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and premium tax credits for coverage bought through federal and state Marketplaces is based on Internal Revenue Code definitions of income and household.  We’ve developed The Health Care Assister’s Guide to Tax Rules to help fill this need.

The guide provides basic information on relevant tax rules, including when someone is required to file taxes, what filing status options are available, the rules for claiming someone as a tax dependent, and what sources of income are taxable and therefore counted in determining eligibility for Medicaid, CHIP, and premium tax credits.  It also shows how Medicaid uses an individual’s tax filing status to determine who is in his or her household, and how Medicaid’s household rules differ from those used for premium tax credits.

Understanding these issues can help health care assisters work with applicants for health coverage, especially those who have complicated family situations or unpredictable sources of income or are not familiar with filing taxes.