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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Baby feet in hands

Regulatory Barriers Present Challenges for At-home Birth

By Bailey Kennedy

Statistics released at the end of last year confirmed what many already knew anecdotally to be true. Many women had turned to home births during the pandemic.

While the absolute number of women who chose to use home birth to deliver their children was quite small — about 9,000 more women chose to give birth at home in 2020 versus 2019 — the percentage increase was notable. In South Dakota, an eye-popping 68% more women gave birth at home during the first year of the pandemic, as opposed to prior years.

The reasons for this shift were as varied as the women who made the decision to give birth in a non-hospital setting. Some women cited concerns that they were especially susceptible to COVID-19; others feared not having access to the support of family and friends if they chose to give birth in a hospital. Others, of course, had been interested in giving birth outside of a hospital prior to COVID, and would have done so even in the absence of the virus.

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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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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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Glasses, case for contact lenses and eye test chart on mint background, top view

Medicare Poised to Expand Vision, Hearing, and Dental Benefits

By Bailey Kennedy

Though Pres. Biden’s expansive infrastructure and social spending bills remain mired in Congress, it still seems likely that his administration will preside over one of the most dramatic revisions in America’s public safety net since the Great Society.

One of the most discussed provisions in the omnibus bill would expand Medicare benefits to include hearing, vision, and dental care. Currently, millions of Americans are forced to go without the types of care that the proposed Medicare expansion would address. And seniors, in particular, are likely to deal with vision and hearing-related health care issues, which pose a high financial burden.

While the proposed expansion has met pushback, including these aspects of health care in standard insurance plans is significantly overdue.

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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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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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Doctor, DNA, microscope concept illustration.

Legislative Success in FL Suggests Time is Ripe for Further Genetic Nondiscrimination Protections

By Anna C F Lewis and Anya E R Prince

On July 1, a law banning the use of genetic information by life, long-term care, and disability income insurers took effect in Florida.

Florida’s success marks a potential turning point of bipartisan appeal for this issue.

The passage of this law, which we explore in a recent article published in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), was propelled by a campaign that argued that an individual’s DNA should not be weaponized against them, that affordable insurance shouldn’t just be for the genetic elite, and that an individual should be able to keep their genetic data private.

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A calculator, a stethoscope, and a stack of money rest on a table.

Why Our Health Care Is Incomplete: Review of “Exposed” (Part II)

By: Daniel Aaron

Just last month, Professor Christopher T. Robertson, at the University of Arizona College of Law, released his new book about health care, entitled Exposed: Why Our Health Insurance Is Incomplete and What Can Be Done About It. Part II of this book review offers an analytical discussion of “cost exposure,” the main subject of his book with a focus on solutions. Read Part I here.

Baby solutions

Prof. Robertson writes two chapters on solutions. In the first, titled “Fixes We Could Try,” he offers reforms, from mild to moderate, that would make cost exposure less harmful. The chapter largely retains the analytical nature of the prior chapters, but it comes across like a chapter he might have rather not written. This is evident in the following chapter’s title, “What We Must Do.” It’s also evident because some of the proposals do not seem fully considered, and in some ways appear more controversial than the more comprehensive solution offered later. Read More

A calculator, a stethoscope, and a stack of money rest on a table.

Why Our Health Care Is Incomplete: Review of “Exposed” (Part I)

By: Daniel Aaron

Just last month, Professor Christopher T. Robertson, at the University of Arizona College of Law, released his new book about health care, entitled Exposed: Why Our Health Insurance Is Incomplete and What Can Be Done About It. This book review will offer an analytical discussion of “cost exposure,” the main subject of his book.

What is cost exposure in health care?

Cost exposure is payments people make related to their medical care. There are many ways patients pay – here are a few common ones.

  • Deductible – Patient is responsible for the first, say, $5,000 of their medical care; after this point, the health insurance kicks in. Resets each year.
  • Copay – Patient pays a specific amount, say $25, when having an episode of care.
  • Coinsurance – Patient pays a specified percentage, say 20%, of care.

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