Waiting area in a doctor's office

Churntables: A Look at the Record on Medicaid Redetermination Plans

By Cathy Zhang

The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) expires at the end of this week, with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra expected to renew the PHE once more to extend through mid-July.

When the PHE ultimately expires, this will also trigger the end of the Medicaid continuous enrollment requirement, under which states must provide continuous Medicaid coverage for enrollees through the end of the last month of the PHE in order to receive enhanced federal funding. This policy improves coverage and helps reduce churn, which is associated with poor health outcomes.

After the PHE, states can facilitate smooth transitions for those no longer eligible for Medicaid by taking advantage of the full 12- to 14- month period that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has established for redetermining eligibility.

In August 2021, CMS released guidance giving states up to 12 months following the end of the PHE to redetermine whether Medicaid enrollees were still eligible and renew coverage. Last month, CMS released new guidance specifying that states must initiate redeterminations and renewals within 12 months of the PHE ending, but have up to 14 months to complete them. The agency is encouraging states to spread its renewals over the course of the full 12-month unwinding period, processing no more than 1/9th of their caseloads in a month, in order to reduce the risk of inappropriate terminations.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

Affirming Nondiscrimination Rights: HHS Needs to Acknowledge a Private Right of Action for Section 1557 Violations

By Cathy Zhang

Last week, on the heels of attacks on trans youth and their families in Texas, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a notice and guidance expressing support for transgender and gender nonconforming youth and highlighting the civil rights and privacy laws surrounding gender affirming care.

OCR all but names the Texas attacks as unlawful under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability by federally funded health programs or activities. It notes that for federally funded entities, restricting medically necessary care on the basis of gender — such as doctors reporting parents of patients to state authorities — “likely violates Section 1557.”

The guidance directs those who have been discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or disability in seeking access to gender-affirming health care to file a complaint through OCR. HHS can go further, however, by formally acknowledging that individuals have a legal right to enforce Section 1557 when they have experienced prohibited health care discrimination.

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Up close shot of an orange prison jumpsuit

Prison Health Care is Broken Under the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy

By Sarah Wang

Incarcerated individuals need health care, but punitive policies make securing access to care particularly difficult among this population, which numbers about 2.1 million as of 2021.

As a first step to protecting incarcerated individuals’ right to health, Congress should repeal the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy (MIEP).

The MIEP, established in 1965, prohibits Medicaid from covering incarcerated individuals, despite any prior eligibility. Through the MIEP, two populations are affected: first, jail inmates, defined as those convicted or accused of a crime, and second, prison inmates, defined as those convicted or awaiting trial. In other words, both convicted individuals and those still presumed innocent are stripped of their access to the federal health insurance program for low-income individuals.

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Image of a pile of contraceptive pills.

The Contraceptive Coverage Mandate Is Urgently Needed

By Gregory Curfman

Within the coming months, the constitutional right to abortion, which has been in place for nearly 50 years, is likely to be overturned.

In this light, it is more crucial than ever that women have unfettered access to contraception at no charge. Accordingly, the Biden Administration should act now to return the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage mandate to its status originally intended by Congress in 2010.

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Concept: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The Paradoxical Legal Treatment of Preventive Medicine

By Doron Dorfman

Preventive medicine is a tool used by individual patients, primary care physicians, and governmental agencies to preempt illnesses rather than to treat them after they have arisen. Despite this salubrious aim, stigma, shame, and fear often are attached to the use of preventative care.

The stigma around preventive medicine can arise from the tendency to view such measures as a proxy for risky or otherwise socially marginalized behavior or lifestyle. Why would someone use a preventative measure if they are not at high risk as a consequence of their own choices?

Consider, for example, what I call “sexually charged” preventative health measures like the human papillomavirus vaccine or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a highly effective daily drug regimen that prevents HIV infection, which has become specifically popular with gay and bisexual men.

As I discuss in a forthcoming paper, PrEP has been viewed by policymakers and health care professionals as a “license for promiscuity” due to the fear of risk compensation, meaning the adjustment of risky behavior by those who take PrEP to potentially have sex with more partners and with no condoms. Such views are reflected in Kelley v. Becerra, a case pending before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, where plaintiffs wish to purchase insurance that excludes coverage for PrEP and contraception, to which they object to on religious and moral grounds.

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rear view of a dump truck loaded on the road laden with scrap metal

It’s Time for Biden to Scrap Trump-era Junk Plans

By Cathy Zhang

Open enrollment for the health insurance marketplace begins on November 1.

Among the options available to consumers will be short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI), also known as junk insurance plans. The Trump administration facilitated the proliferation of these cheap, underprotective plans in an attempt to undermine the marketplace, and the Biden administration has yet to reverse that policy.

As part of the Biden administration’s public effort “to restore and strengthen Americans’ access to quality, affordable health care,” the administration needs to take executive action to protect consumers and eliminate junk plans.

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Illustration of a family and large clipboard with items in a list checked off. All are underneath a large blue umbrella

Churning Point: Lessons from Medicaid Pandemic Policies

By Cathy Zhang

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring widespread health coverage took on a new sense of urgency, leading many states to implement policies to address the longstanding problem of Medicaid churn.

Churn is a persistent problem in the U.S. health care system. Changes in health insurance coverage disrupt care and worsen self-reported health at significant rates, even for individuals who go from one insurer to another with no gap in coverage. Legislation enacted as a stopgap measure during the pandemic may present a path forward for securing more durable Medicaid coverage beyond the public health emergency.

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Picture of north star in starry night sky.

Health Justice as the Lodestar of Incremental Health Reform

By Elizabeth McCuskey

Health justice is the lodestar we need for the next generation of health reform. It centers justice as the destination for health care regulation and supplies the conceptual framework for assessing our progress toward it. It does so by judging health reforms on their equitable distribution of the burdens and benefits of investments in the health care system, and their abilities to improve public health and to empower subordinated individuals and communities. Refocusing health reform on a health justice gestalt has greater urgency than ever, given the scale of injustice in our health care system and its tragic, unignorable consequences during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Close-up Of Stethoscope On Us Currency And American Flag.

America’s Underinsurance Crisis in the Age of COVID-19

By Dessie Otachliska

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the underinsurance crisis that has long kept millions of Americans on the precipice of financial disaster — just one unexpected illness or injury away from bankruptcy.

A 2019 Gallup poll showed that 25% of Americans reported delaying treatment for serious medical conditions due to cost concerns — the highest proportion since Gallup first began asking the question in 1991. Even during the pandemic, when medical treatment could mean the difference between life and death, studies show that nearly 1 in 7 Americans would avoid seeking medical care if they experienced key COVID-19 symptoms because of fears associated with the cost of treatment.

These statistics are unsurprising, and the concerns they underscore well-founded: the average treatment costs for COVID patients with symptoms serious enough to require inpatient hospital stays range from $42,486 for relatively mild cases to $74,310 for patients with major complications or comorbidities.

In the pandemic context, hesitance to seek medical treatment due to fear of the associated cost has proved tragically fatal. Darius Settles died after being dissuaded from seeking further COVID-19 treatment due to his uninsured status. The Nashville, TN hospital where Settles originally received care had failed to disclose the possibility that his medical costs would be covered by the federal government. And, despite the availability of reimbursement funds, the hospital nonetheless sent his widow a bill for a portion of his treatment costs.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

The Many Harms of State Bills Blocking Youth Access to Gender-Affirming Care

By Chloe Reichel

State legislation blocking trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care puts kids at risk, thwarts physician autonomy, and potentially violates a number of federal laws, write Jack L. Turban, Katherine L. Kraschel, and I. Glenn Cohen in a viewpoint published today in JAMA.

So far this year, 15 states have proposed bills that would limit access to gender-affirming care. One of these bills, Arkansas’ HB1570/SB347, already has become law.

This legislative trend should be troubling to all, explained Cohen, Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. In an email interview, he highlighted “how exceptionally restrictive these proposed laws are,” adding that they are “out of step with usual medical, ethical, and legal rules regarding discretion of the medical profession and space for parental decision-making.”

Turban, child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine also offered further insight as to the medical and legal concerns these bills raise over email.

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