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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Emergency room.

Hospitals in Poor Rural Counties Face the Greatest Financial Threat from COVID

By Robert I. Field and Anthony W. Orlando

The latest wave of COVID cases and hospitalizations has raised concerns about the financial resilience of many hospitals in the United States. Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed shortages of medical supplies, exhaustion of frontline workers, and the overflow of patients beyond the physical capacity of hospital beds and buildings. Now, after nearly two years of repeated COVID surges, there is a real danger that some institutions might run so low on funding that they will need to downsize or close altogether.

Large hospitals in metropolitan areas have, for the most part, weathered the storm. Ample financial resources enabled them to survive with fewer lucrative elective procedures and sudden overwhelming demand for less profitable intensive care for COVID patients. But in many parts of the country, especially rural regions, smaller hospitals lack such financial cushions. For them, COVID could be an existential threat.

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Person in nursing home.

Struggles Over Care Will Shape the Future of Work

By Andrew Milne

The future of work will largely be the future of care work. Health care is rapidly becoming the largest employer in the U.S., expanding to serve the fastest growing demographic, aging seniors. As a lawyer for seniors in need of free legal services, I see my clients struggle to access care made scarce by the for-profit care industry’s understaffing and underpaying of workers attempting to meet the growing need. The future of work and of aging will be shaped by struggles over care from both giving and receiving ends, perhaps against those profiting in between.

Recall that the first COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. spread between nursing homes. These facilities, like most nursing homes, are for-profit businesses that pad their margins by cutting labor costs. The resulting understaffing has deadly effects in normal times. The pandemic intensified those effects, as underpaid care workers, forced to work at multiple facilities to survive, unintentionally spread the virus between facilities.

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Empty nurses station in a hospital.

The AMA Can Help Fix the Health Care Shortages it Helped Create

By Leah Pierson

Recently, Derek Thompson pointed out in the Atlantic that the U.S. has adopted myriad policies that limit the supply of doctors despite the fact that there aren’t enough. And the maldistribution of physicians — with far too few pursuing primary care or working in rural areas — is arguably an even bigger problem.

The American Medical Association (AMA) bears substantial responsibility for the policies that led to physician shortages. Twenty years ago, the AMA lobbied for reducing the number of medical schools, capping federal funding for residencies, and cutting a quarter of all residency positions. Promoting these policies was a mistake, but an understandable one: the AMA believed an influential report that warned of an impending physician surplus. To its credit, in recent years, the AMA has largely reversed course. For instance, in 2019, the AMA urged Congress to remove the very caps on Medicare-funded residency slots it helped create.

But the AMA has held out in one important respect. It continues to lobby intensely against allowing other clinicians to perform tasks traditionally performed by physicians, commonly called “scope of practice” laws. Indeed, in 2020 and 2021, the AMA touted more advocacy efforts related to scope of practice that it did for any other issue — including COVID-19.

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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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Chicago, IL, USA - October 18 2021: BinaxNOW Covid-19 Antigen Self Test. Results in 15 minutes at home.

The Devil is in the Details with Biden’s Free COVID Testing Plan

By David A. Simon

Yesterday, President Biden announced a new requirement that private insurers must reimburse purchases of at-home COVID-19 tests.

This represents a significant departure from current policy, which only requires insurance companies to pay for testing at the direction of a healthcare provider. The new policy has yet to take effect — the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will release formal guidance for private insurers by January 15th.

Removing the need for clinician approval to access free COVID-19 testing is a noteworthy step; however, the new policy raises a host of questions that remain to be addressed, which are discussed briefly below.

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A male pharmacist is examining a drug from a pharmacy inventory.

HHS’ New Prescription Drug and Health Care Spending Rule

By Cathy Zhang

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services — alongside the Department of Labor, the Department of the Treasury, and the Office of Personnel Management — published an interim final rule requiring health insurance plans and issuers on the marketplace to report data on prescription drug and health care spending to the three Departments.

This rule is part of a series of rules issued by the Biden Administration to implement Title I (No Surprises Act) and Title II (Transparency) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

Call Your Senator and Help Give Doctors a Break

By Jacob Madden

Want to help make a big change for our nation’s overworked doctors? Call your senator and tell them to hire more.

In March of this year, Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced S.834, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act to confront the country’s growing shortage of doctors.

The proposed legislation will increase the number of resident physician positions supported by Medicare by 2,000 each year from 2023 to 2029, for a total of 14,000 newly supported positions.

This legislation could make a small but significant dent in the nation’s physician shortage. By 2034, the Association of American Medical Colleges expects a shortage ranging from 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians, and 21,000 to 77,100 non-primary care physicians. Take both worst-case scenarios, and we are short 125,100 doctors.

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Blister pack of pills, but instead of bills dollar bills are rolled up in the packaging

What Democrats’ Drug Pricing Plan Means for Consumers

By Cathy Zhang

At the start of the month, Democrats announced a new drug pricing plan, detailed in the House’s Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376). In the immediate short term, the drug pricing plan has enabled the $1.75 trillion bill to go forward through the House. If ultimately enacted, it will generate savings for consumers, some more directly than others, and at a more modest pace and magnitude than many had hoped.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

The Barriers to Aging in Place

By Renu Thomas and John Roth

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks associated with institutionalized care for the elderly, and has further shifted sentiments toward a preference for aging in place. But most seniors and their loved ones don’t realize the barriers that make aging in place a difficult proposition until a crisis occurs and they’re faced with finding services.

Take our family, for example. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and it was after his first fall and discharge from the hospital that our family realized my parents’ independence was severely limited. We knew their house was not wheelchair or walker accessible, but we also needed to address other issues as well; neither of them could drive anymore, so how would we get them to appointments, how would their prescriptions and groceries get picked up, and how could we prevent them from being socially isolated? Like many families, we do not live nearby, let alone in the same state, which made coordinating these services even more challenging.

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