Thursday, September 30, 2010

qotd: Provider rate cuts and new benefit restrictions in Medicaid

Kaiser Family Foundation
September 2010
Hoping for Economic Recovery, Preparing for Health Reform: A Look at Medicaid Spending, Coverage and Policy Trends
by Vernon K. Smith, Ph.D., Kathleen Gifford and Eileen Ellis

In FY 2010, 48 states implemented at least one new policy to control cost and 46 states plan to do so in FY 2011 with some states reporting program reductions in multiple areas. While many states mentioned that ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) helped to avoid or mitigate provider rate cuts, states still took action in this area. In FY 2010, 39 states implemented a provider rate cut or freeze compared to 33 states in FY 2009. In FY 2011, 37 states have planned provider rate restrictions. More than any other area, provider rates are linked to economic conditions. Under budget pressure, states turn to rate cuts to have an immediate budget impact and when conditions improve states are able to restore or enhance rates. States must balance the need to control costs with ensuring that provider rates are sufficient to maintain participation and access to services for enrollees.

In FY 2010, 20 states implemented benefit restrictions, the largest number in one year since the surveys began in 2001 and double the number from FY 2009. In addition to this record level of benefit restrictions in FY 2010, 14 states have planned benefit restrictions in FY 2011. These benefit restrictions include the elimination of covered benefits as well as the application of utilization controls or limits for existing benefits.

Under health reform, Medicaid will be expanded to cover nearly all individuals with incomes below 133 percent of poverty resulting in a large adult expansion in most states, particularly adults without dependent children who had historically been barred from coverage under the program. This expansion provides the foundation for new coverage under health reform. Not surprisingly, Medicaid officials are playing a lead role in preparing for health reform implementation, in many cases alongside insurance commissioners. Some of the key challenges that states will face in implementing reform include implementing the Medicaid expansion, transitioning to a new income eligibility methodology for Medicaid, setting up Health Insurance Exchanges and re-designing eligibility systems to coordinate with the Exchanges. These challenges are magnified by recent administrative cuts and state workforce reductions limiting states' capacity to focus on new responsibilities. Many states said that they need
timely regulations and guidance as well as financial support to help them move forward and meet tight implementation timelines.



Comment:  In spite of the infusion of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), states are implementing Medicaid provider rate cuts and implementing Medicaid benefit restrictions. Yet with the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Medicaid program will be greatly expanded to include almost everyone with incomes below 133 percent of poverty.

Medicaid always has been and always will be a welfare program for low-income individuals. Serving a population that lacks an adequate political voice, it also has been and always will be a chronically underfunded program.

Most physicians who do accept Medicaid patients do so, in spite of inadequate reimbursement, because they believe that everyone should have health care. With a much greater volume of Medicaid patients some physicians will certainly face the dilemma of crowd-out of privately insured patients because of the Medicaid overload in their appointment schedules. 

Imagine a physician facing Medicaid overload, declining net revenues, and frustrations of trying to help patients negotiate a system with diminishing benefits and with impaired access to specialized services because of a lack of willing providers. 

Certainly some physicians will feel that they have no other choice than to close their practices to Medicaid patients. What will that do to other physician practices that are already overloaded with Medicaid patients?

Adverse selection can sink insurers, but it would be much more tragic to see adverse selection sink the practices of those physicians who are trying their hardest to do the right thing.

If everyone were in the same health care program, say an improved Medicare for all, an underfunded, segregated sector of stigmatized and humiliated welfare patients wouldn't even exist. They would have access to the same care the rest of us have. Wouldn't that be nice for a change.

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