Photograph of a doctor holding a headset sitting in front of a laptop

How Telehealth Can Reduce Disparities

By Jenna Becker

Telehealth can and should be used in an intentional effort to reduce health disparities.

Increased COVID-19 mortality rates in communities of color have been a constant, tragic reminder of the ways in which systemic racism causes poor health outcomes in the United States. Immigrants are facing an increased risk of illness and limited access to care. Rural Americans may face an increased risk of serious illness.

Telehealth can reduce barriers to care that these groups face, such as lack of access to transportation, culturally-competent providers, and childcare.

The last six months have seen rapid growth in the use of telemedicine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to urgent need, regulatory agencies and private insurance companies have loosened requirements that previously inhibited the use of telehealth.

The expansion of telehealth and removal of traditional barriers to care may lead to more equitable health outcomes.

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Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet Sarpatwari, Charlie Lee, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on pharmaceutical law and policy.

Below are the abstracts/summaries for papers identified from the month of June. The selections feature topics ranging from the cost of delayed generic entry in Medicaid, to challenges with false negative tests for SARS-CoV-2 infection, to difficulties in implementing and enforcing state opioid prescribing laws. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, USA - JUNE 8, 2019: First ever Medicare for All rally led by Bernie Sanders held in The Loop of Chicago. Crowd holds up a sign that says "Medicare for All Saves Lives".

Medicare for the Poor

By David Orentlicher

While Medicare-for-All has proved controversial, every Democratic presidential candidate should embrace one of its key elements—folding the Medicaid program into the Medicare program. That would be much better for patients, doctors, and hospitals. It also would be much better for public school children.

Medicare would be a much better program for patients, doctors, and hospitals in several ways. Lower-income families suffer because Medicaid is a federal-state partnership, and some states have stingier Medicaid programs than do other states. In particular, Florida, Texas, and twelve other states have not signed up for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, leaving more than two million lower-income Americans uninsured. Under our current Medicaid system, access to health care for the indigent depends where they live. Folding Medicaid into Medicare would give the poor access to health care in every state.

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Ambassador-at-Large Deborah Birx giving a speech from a podium with an American flag and PEPFAR banner in the background

One of the Biggest Public Health Initiatives in History: PEPFAR and HIV

By Daniel Aaron

In October, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a conference of world-leading experts in HIV/AIDS to discuss one of the biggest public health successes in history: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR was launched in 2003 in response to a burgeoning global epidemic of HIV. The program offered $2 billion annually, rising to about $7 billion in 2019, to surveil, diagnose, treat, and reduce transmission of HIV around the world.

PEPFAR prevented what could have become an exponentially growing epidemic. It is estimated to have saved more than 17 million lives and avoided millions of new HIV infections. As a result, the speakers at the conference were quick to extol the virtues of the program. Professor Ashish Jha called it an “unmitigated success”; Professor Marc C. Elliott named it a “historic effort”; Dr. Ingrid Katz described PEPFAR as “nothing short of miraculous.”

However, several undercurrents within the conference, as well as more explicit points made by several panelists, suggested the importance of enlarging the discussion beyond PEPFAR itself to include other policies that impact HIV and AIDS, and even other diseases.

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John Cogan on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry

Recorded at the 2019 annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools during a panel reviewing the year in health care financing, this episode features a talk by Professor John Cogan from the University of Connecticut School of Law. Professor Cogan focuses his research and teaching on health care organizations and finance, health law and policy, federal health programs, health care fraud and abuse, and health insurance law. He is the co-author of a treatise on Medicare and Medicaid bankruptcy issues, as well as the author of numerous scholarly articles on a range of health insurance topics, including the Affordable Care Act and HIPAA. In this talk Professor Cogan discussed first, Medicaid: including expansion, work requirements, and the latest court decisions; second, Section 1557 and the proposed civil rights regulations; and third, the DeOtte v. Azar case and the resultant contraceptive mandate mess.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in health law and policy. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts or Google Play, listen at Stitcher Radio, Spotify, Tunein or Podbean.

Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find me on Twitter @nicolasterry and @WeekInHealthLaw.

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

Pennsylvania Not Alone in Denying Abortion Coverage for Low-Income Women

By Adrienne Ghorashi

Last week, a lawsuit was filed challenging Pennsylvania’s decades-old statute restricting the use of state Medicaid funding to pay for abortion services. The lawsuit, brought by a group of abortion providers in the state, claims the restriction discriminates against low-income women on the basis of sex, in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Read More

A data set that looks like America

By Oliver Kim

May marks the annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which recognizes the history and contributions of this diverse population in the United States. Accounting for that diversity though is one of the challenges facing the Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) community: for example, the Library of Congress commemorative website recognizes that AAPI is a “rather broad term” that can include

all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).

Understanding that diversity has huge policy and political implications, particularly in health policy. Read More

Massachusetts Wants To Drive Down Medicaid Drug Costs: Why Is The Administration So Nervous?

This new post by Nicholas Bagley and Rachel Sachs appears on the Health Affairs Blog. 

Although drug formularies are ubiquitous in Medicare and the private insurance market, they’re absent in Medicaid. By law, state Medicaid programs that offer prescription drug coverage (as they all do) must cover all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however expensive they are and however slim their clinical benefits may be.

Massachusetts would like to change all that. In a recent waiver proposal, Massachusetts asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow it to adopt a closed formulary in Medicaid. That would allow Massachusetts to exclude certain brand-name drugs from Medicaid, increasing its leverage in price negotiations beyond what it can achieve through existing utilization management techniques like prior authorization.

Among Medicaid advocates, the proposal is controversial. Some fear that state budgets would be balanced on the backs of Medicaid beneficiaries, who could be denied access to expensive therapies. But Massachusetts thinks there’s room to drive down drug spending without threatening access to needed medications. In any event, the state has to do something. Drug spending in Massachusetts has increased, on average, 13 percent annually since 2010, threatening to “crowd out important spending on health care and other critical programs.”

By all rights, CMS should welcome Massachusetts’s proposal. Closed drug formularies are tried-and-true, market-based approaches to fostering competition over drug prices, and the Trump administration’s Council on Economic Advisers recently released a report saying that “government policy should induce price competition” in Medicaid. If Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar means it when he says that “drug prices are too high,” letting Massachusetts try out a formulary makes a ton of sense. […]

 Read the Full post here!

Block Grants: Sound Theory or Doomed to Fail?

Block grants are all the rage. Take the latest G.O.P. proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act: the Graham-Cassidy bill. It proposes to replace the current system and instead give grants to the states, essentially taking the funds the federal government now spends under the ACA for premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion and give those funds to the states as a lump sum with little regulation.

There is a complicated formula by which the bill proposes divvying up this money among the states. Many think the formula is unfair, that it benefits red states over blue states, and that it just flat isn’t enough money. These are incredibly important concerns. But let’s put them to the side for just a moment and consider the theory behind block granting. Is there any world, for instance assuming that the amount and allocation of the funding could be resolved (probably crazy talk), in which switching to block granting may actually improve upon the status quo?

Proponents of block granting health care make two main arguments. First, it will reduce costs. By block granting Medicaid and the ACA subsidies, we end the blank check open entitlement that these programs have become and give states more skin in the game. Second, these cost savings will come from empowering states to innovate. States will become more efficient, improve quality, and solve their own state-specific problems.

These arguments have an understandable appeal. But how will states really react to providing health care coverage on a budget? Read More

CMS Publishes Final Rule Revising and Expanding Conditions for HHA Participation in Medicare and Medicaid

By Wendy S. Salkin

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized a rule concerning home health agencies on January 9th, “Medicare and Medicaid Program: Conditions of Participation for Home Health Agencies.” The rule has been a long time coming, since the proposed rules were set forth on October 9, 2014. This is the first time that CMS has successfully updated the home health agency (HHA) conditions of participation (CoPs) since 1989.

The aim of the final rule, according to CMS, is to “improve the quality of health care services for Medicare and Medicaid patients and strengthen patients’ rights.” The final rule

revises the conditions of participation (CoPs) that home health agencies (HHAs) must meet in order to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The requirements focus on the care delivered to patients by HHAs, reflect an interdisciplinary view of patient care, allow HHAs greater flexibility in meeting quality care standards, and eliminate unnecessary procedural requirements.

According to CMS,

[t]hese changes are an integral part of [the Agency’s] overall effort to achieve broad-based, measurable improvements in the quality of care furnished through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, while at the same time eliminating unnecessary procedural burdens on providers.

As is likely well known to readers, the use of home health services in the United States is widespread. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, as of 2014, there were 12,400 home health agencies in the United States and, during 2013, 4.9 million patients in the United States received and ended care from home healthcare workers. These numbers have since risen, and today in the United States there are nearly 12,600 Medicare and Medicaid-participating home health agencies and more than 5 million patients. Home health care serves a wide range of purposes. The Medicare website touts it as “usually less expensive, more convenient, and just as effective as care you get in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (SNF).” In addition to serving the aims of treating illness or injury, according to Medicare home health care “helps [patients] get better, regain [their] independence, and become as self-sufficient as possible.” Some examples of what home health care providers do with and for patients, upon doctor’s orders, include: wound care, patient and caregiver education, intravenous or nutrition therapy, injections, monitoring patient health condition, monitoring patient drug and treatment use, teaching patients how to care for themselves, and coordinating care between the patient, their doctor, and any other caregivers. Read More